There has been more than ten days of major protests across the United States and numerous other countries around the world due to the horrific murder of George Floyd by ex-police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This level of outrage, with huge support by multitudes of White people, gives me hope that maybe, finally, there will be a serious effort to seek out and dismantle the insidious structures of racism in American society. Yeah, yeah, I know this is a hugely idealistic statement. You do get my eagerness to see necessary change happen though, don’t you? I have good reason for this passion, because there was a brief time in my life when I hated White people. Black people in America need a total and permanent break from racism. Enough is enough.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family
I was only 11 or 12 years old, a child when I watched the movie “Roots,” by Alex Haley. As a young, impressionable Black boy growing up in rural St. Mary, Jamaica, I was accustomed to seeing White American and European tourists, with the occasional Black tourist in the mix, passing my house in chartered tour buses. These buses of foreigners sometimes stopped at our roadside stall to buy fruits and boiled corn from my mom, the vendor. They all seemed nice. I enjoyed listening to their “strange” accents. I appreciated them for buying from us, until the story of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as told by “Roots” threw me for a loop.
How Kunta Kinte Changed My World
I can still recall feeling something changing in my young heart as I watched the movie. I felt a deep anger that I had never known before. There, so graphically and gruesomely depicted on our black and white television set, connected by its long cable to the tall outdoors antenna fixed to the side of the house and spreading its featherless wings above the roof, was the ugly and evil story of the enslavement of the Black race. Up to that point in my life, I did not know what hate felt like. I certainly had no hate for White people, but that was about to change.
My heart broke watching the movie as Kunta Kinte (played initially by LeVar Burton, then by John Amos – I had to look these credits up, since I hadn’t seen the movie since my childhood) was mercilessly flogged until he finally submitted to being called “Toby.” Under the merciless lashes of the slave owner’s whip, he had at first refused to accept his given name. I can hear the whip cracking even now, as it crashes upon his black skin, leaving deep lacerations in his back. I can hear the question again and again, “what’s your name?” Again and again he replies, “Kunta, Kunta Kinte.”
Hate Invaded My Innocence
As I sat there and watched this episode of the troubling miniseries, that I now realize was probably too much for a child to view without parental guidance and presence, tears silently streamed down my face. Unknown to me, the toxic condition called hate began to form within me and took root in my innocent heart by the time the series had come to an end. All of a sudden, the White tourists who passed my house and sometimes stopped to buy from us, were no longer welcome in my world. I was certain that I now hated White people for what they had done to my ancestors. How could anyone be so evil? I was only a child, “an inquisitive thinker,” my teachers told my mom. Still, how could I truly know what I was feeling?
I’m from a nation that was no longer being ruled by the colonial Whites from England by the time I was born. Our ancestors had valiantly “contributed” to the abolition of their own enslavement through violent uprisings. I already knew about that part of our history from school. The ultimate victory of abolition might not have been possible though, without the advocacy and logistical support of conscientious White people. These abolitionists helped the Jamaican slaves to be set free in 1865.
Native-born Black leaders had started governing our Caribbean nation in 1962 at Independence. Jamaica was not perfect, but I never personally experienced or saw racism while growing up there. We were a predominantly Black nation, with citizens from many other races and ethnicities. Jamaica’s national Motto is: “Out of Many, One People.” Television was my introduction to theoretical racism. We did have one residual evil, carried over from the colonial days – classism. This is where affluent or lighter complexion Blacks were viewed as more preferred. This particular “ism” often gave the preferred “classes” access to the better jobs, education and social opportunities.
Growing Into Social Consciousness
It was during these early years, up through my late teens that I became what we called in Jamaica, a “conscious youth” (today’s youth call this being “woke”). I became concerned about values such as equal rights and justice for all. A part of my social awareness education is owed to my beautiful cultural heritage of Reggae music. The masterful musical craft of legendary artists such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Third World, to name a few of the icons whose “conscious” lyrics spawned a generation of socially outspoken people. I am a product of that era.
Hate Was Not Compatible With My Heart
I internalized the feelings of hate for about a year and a half. I watched “Roots” again the following year when it was replayed on TV. The second time was no less gruesome than the first. I could not fathom why Black people were treated that way. Kunta Kinte inspired me to be a proud Black man. I don’t exactly recall when, but a sense of determination based on my inherent worth (the thoughts instilled in me by my mom) began to replace the hate I felt. Thankfully, these negative feelings were not reinforced in our home. The fact that my parents did not have these feelings, and the blessing that I did not encounter this reality in my society made it easier for me to “overcome,” I suppose.
Hate was not a thing in our economically poor household. Yes, we struggled economically, but we were rich in others ways that at first I failed to appreciate. We children, of which I am the eldest, were and are still blessed to have both parents at home together. My mom stayed at home to take care of us. My father worked hard to provide for us. We didn’t have much, but we had a family. A complete family. I now realize how “rich” we were.
All White People Are Not Racists
Fortunately for me, I learned while still in my youth, that all White people are not racists. I am confident that were it not for conscientious White people who had the courage to stand up for the dignity of Black people, slavery would not have ended when it did. Many of the slaves paid the ultimate price with their lives. Today’s protests around the United States and the world because of the ingrained and continued maltreatment of Black people presents another powerful reminder of this sacred fact. Generalizations and stereotypes are never true of any people group.
Destruction of the Black Family
When I saw how the slave traders separated the enslaved Black families, often selling the men without their wives and children, in the same way one would sell cattle, it mortified me. Often, the men were flogged and emasculated before their women. “Roots” helped me to better understand and appreciate the cultural, spiritual and social messages of 1970s and 1980s Reggae. Black people have been subjected to some of the most horrid atrocities in human history. Music has been a source and outlet for comfort, empowerment and protest.
Black People Matter to God Too
God loves Black people with the same complete, unconditional love that He has for every other people on this earth. Contrary to the ill-advised notion of racists and the ignorance of White supremacists and White nationalists, Black people are likewise the sons and daughters of Adam. God later used the gene pool from Noah, through his three sons, to re-populated this earth after the Great Flood.
There is no other people on earth. It’s just us. We are all here because God made mankind in His own image, after His likeness. People are not good or bad because of the color of their skin. Every individual makes a personal choice about that. Black people are valuable as part of God’s diverse tapestry of humanity. That’s it. Period.
Bob Marley’s Songs of Freedom
The Black race has been traumatized by the brutality of our oppressors over the course of centuries, making us the race that has been thus treated longer than any other. The “legal” ending of slavery was, in the case of our brothers and sisters in America, simply replaced by a more sophisticated system, a.k.a., “The System” of enslavement without chains. Bob Marley understood this. He challenged us to “emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds…” I listened. That was the end of my brief experience with the destructive power of hate.
It is my view that Bob Marley, a Rastafarian, was more righteous than many who claimed (and claim) to be Christians. Instead of promoting hate, he called on us to be part of the solution. He championed a revolution through love and self-improvement, but definitely never assuming the position of doing nothing. “How long shall they kill our prophets (MLK, Malcolm X, etc), while we stand aside and look? Some say ‘it’s just a part of it, we’ve got to fulfill the book.” Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom. ‘Cause all I ever had, redemption songs… redemption songs… redemption songs.”
Now Fighting in the Struggle as a Christian
When I became a Christian at twenty years old in Jamaica, I had no idea at the time that I would travel the world, learn the ways and customs of other peoples by living outside of my homeland, and become an advocate of human and civil rights in America. As an immigrant and naturalized American citizen, I value the principles of our Constitution. It doesn’t allow for the mistreatment of any person or group of people based on any human construct such as race.
I identify racially, ethnically and culturally with the African American community. By my voice, my vote and my pen, I will continue to stand up for the noble ideals of liberty and justice for all, the only virtues that can ensure that as a nation we rise to the call to be a more perfect Union. I will champion the righteous cause of letting people know that Black Lives Matter Too… and help to educate all willing learners to do likewise. Jesus commands all mankind to love God supremely and to love all fellow men with the same love that we have for ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).
Dr. Everton A. Ennis is Founder and President of Class Act Consulting & Seminars that provides a range of professional services. He also owns Conflict Ministry Consulting Service, the sought-after conflict resolution training service for congregations. He also provides licensed general civil mediation services through Ennis Mediation Service.