I am watching Henry Louis Gates’ African American Lives II on channel Thirteen right now. Professor Gates is mining our nation’s history, focusing on African-American descendants of slaves, and the stories of their ancestors. It’s a very engaging piece of work, and I find myself swept up in Gates’ depiction of our shared cultural heritage.
When I watch something like African-American Lives, I am quite proud and interested in that history, in those people. My own people I would say. And I don’t want to forget these stories. At the same time, I realize that this tragic American history, the long tale of how and why people of African descent came to be Americans, necessarily highlights the failings of this nation. It underscores our historical racist legacy. And I want to be beyond that. I don’t want to be mad at anyone. No one alive today is responsible for what their ancestors did or did not do.
So my question is this, how do we negotiate race in a healthy, constructive manner today? How do we understand the history of diversity in this nation without reinforcing the types of behaviors and misunderstandings that make up racism in all of its forms? How do we put race in its place wihtout e-racing it?