Language is very important when considering the appropriate feeling about the history of black slavery from the perspective of a black person, because as a black man there is definitely strong feelings when the topic of slavery is brought up. For clear context in this particular article, when I refer to slavery, I am specifically talking about the transatlantic slave trade which started in the 16th Century. There was inter-African slavery happening at the time too, and had been happening around the world for centuries before, so the concept wasn’t new to the Africans when the Portuguese first landed. However, it is said that the Africans slaves were sold by other Africans traders, and slaves were also captured. Either way, the life of a slave was set for humiliation, torture, mental degradations, physical harm and death. I understand that it takes a lot of strength to endure such a terrible set of circumstances but I am battling with the concept of being proud. It is difficult for me to fully comprehend the harrowing procedure slaves had to go through and it seems disingenuous for me to be proud of the fact that such a high level of suffering occurred to innocent men women and children.
I know it’s definitely easier to deal with if you can hold your head up high and look the descendants of slave masters in the eye and say it didn’t affect you, but it did. Constantly being surrounded by the generational oppressor, and having to navigate through the system built buy slaves, but controlled by the oppressor automatically induces anxiety which manifests itself in self hate, anger, depression and insecurity. This can be seen from country to country where black people are always at the bottom of the ‘totem pole’ and show real signs of stress and trauma due to environmental conditions they have to endure, whether extreme poverty, crime or discrimination. Acting like a victim doesn’t help, but pretending that slave history is something to be happy about doesn’t seem right. Black people can gain strength and inspiration from knowing the hardships we’ve come from and the progress that has been made but I find it difficult to stretch my feelings on this subject to anything remotely joyous.
One thing I find interesting about modern day black people is that we do seem to celebrate and glorify the strangest things. Turning negatives into positives, and the trivial in to the grandeur. Someone getting released from prison, someone getting away with murder, active drug dealers giving back to the hood, owning a gold chain and wearing Jordans. These are phenomena synonymous with black contemporary culture and the media is definitely doing an excellent job at perpetuating this. I can understand the intention behind people trying to find the positives in such a heartbreaking series of events but those positives have to reflect reality. I am not happy or proud that my ancestors had to endure slavery and I am not sure if many people are. My feelings about slavery are more empathetic than celebratory and even though there are parts of me that come out more educated when taking in slavery stories, I think the linear concept of the slavery narrative is saturated and at my ripe old age doesn’t do much for the soul.
Usually I can find emotions quite clear cut and definitive. I generally find it easy to accept how I’m feeling about a particular subject and move on from there. From researching and writing I can say that I don’t think I precisely know how to feel about slavery. I am proud that black people have shown signs of greatness and contributed to science, technology and the arts. From David Adjaye to Larry Elder. From Akala to Mo Ibrahim. From Hattie McDaniel to Oprah. There is strength, intelligence, integrity, combativeness, authenticity, power, wealth and courage in black icons of the past present and future and that is where I choose to focus my attention. Slavery has shaped the way that black people as a collective have turned out but there is still excellence amongst the tragic. I would never want anybody to go through what my ancestors went through and I have nothing but the deepest sorrow and empathy or the suffering that occurred. Sadness I feel but I cannot be proud about what happened during slavery as I find it difficult to hold the two emotions simultaneously about a specific subject.