Recently, there were two events that have profound implications for the Black Community. On the one hand a new version of the classic miniseries based on the late Alex Haley’s book, “Roots” was featured over the Memorial Day Holiday. There were elements in the story that did not appear in the original miniseries; it was well acted and provided a fresh perspective. Though a lot of people initially yawned and rolled their eyes at the prospect of yet another story about slavery, it turned out to be a significant offering. On the other hand, the Black community, along with numerous others, is reeling at the news of the transition of the great Muhammad Ali.
You might ask how these situations are related – and the answer lies in the juxtaposition of two concepts – powerless self-determination. When looking at the institution of slavery in America, the evil that permeates every aspect of it can turn the stomach of reasonable people. The inhumanity evident in the practice of slavery was designed to destroy the self-determination and will of the slaves. The lead character in Roots, Kunta Kinte, was determined to maintain his original identity, and he was beat mercilessly for his recalcitrance. Fast forward to the present and we see somewhat of the resurgence of the Kunta Kinte spirit in Muhammad Ali.
Make no mistake – Muhammad Ali’s greatness lies in his pugilistic skills, but it doesn’t stop there. Ali was great because he served as a paragon of self-determination. He defied the opposition thrown at him when he changed his name from his “slave name,” Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, when he became a member of the Nation of Islam. As a “Black Muslim” he endured all types of abuse, but he did not waiver in his resolve to stick to his religious convictions. Along these same lines, he refused to serve in the military because it was against his religion. Though Ali was not subjected to the same type of physical trouncing that Kunta Kinte faced, he was, nevertheless, vilified on numerous levels, not only by white people, but also by many Blacks.
Now, Ali, as an African American, most likely had slavery somewhere in his ancestry. This means that his ancestors survived, and he was able to draw upon his genetic strength to face contemporary America with incredible courage. In so doing, he served (serves!) as an exemplar of virtue, as a king of Kujichagulia. Ali, of course, had his flaws, but he demonstrated integrity to a very great extent and was able to become the heavyweight champion of the world, as well as a heavyweight champion of downtrodden humanity.
Back to Roots: based upon the current challenges facing the Black American community, it is evident that something is wrong. When looking at problems on many levels including Black on Black murder, rampant disease, and burgeoning self-hatred, it appears that the slave chains were removed from the slaves’ bodies and replaced with chains on people’s minds. This is best exemplified by the ignorant rant proffered by “Snoop Dogg” (or Snoop Lion, his latest moniker) against the remake of Roots. Snoop, who is known for being a former gangster, for glorifying alcohol and drugs, pimpdom, and other debaucheries is a very good example of why a remake of Roots was necessary. Too many Black people have been lulled into a sleep of forgetfulness, which makes them fair game for psychological exploitation. In this regard, Snoop is a shill for enemies of the Black community.
Finally, when looking at the spirit of Kunta Kinte and Muhammad Ali, it becomes obvious that the best tool with which to combat the psychic malaise demonstrated by Snoop Dogg and his ilk, is integrity and Kujichagulia, self-determination. These can serve as a foundation for a better set of circumstances for Black people in America. It will be important for a dialogue catalyzed by movies like Roots and folk heroes like Muhammad Ali to help point the way to a better future. After all, if we ignore the past, we won’t be clear about a way ahead. A luta continua.