Last week I reluctantly gave in and decided to not watch my favorite character, Cookie, on the hugely popular television series, Empire. I instead watched the 3 part BET mini- series “The Book of Negroes”. The title references a historical document that list the names of former slaves, many who were Black Loyalist that helped the British in the Revolutionary War, and were willing to relocate to Nova Scotia in promise of better treatment, and more opportunities. It is brought to life by a fictional female character, Aminata Diallo, an African who was kidnapped from the continent and sold into slavery. Because she was able to read and write, Aminata was given the job of writing each name down of those who wanted to leave. In the latter part of her life she was given the opportunity to write her autobiography, which she also titled “The Book of Negroes”.
I’m not typically interested in watching stories like these because rarely is new information presented, or depth shown in the characters. But, this one surprised me. It sheds light on the global dependency of the institution of slavery, which caused many Africans to settle in various countries, not just the United States. It does not conveniently ignore the Africans who contributed to the daily practice of kidnapping other Africans from their village, and selling them into slavery. And, it also reveals the human need to be redeemed from a guilty past that haunts them into their present. Specifically, this is shown with Aminata’s husband, Chekura, who initially helped capture her when they were children, then was sold into slavery himself. As well as one of her owner’s Solomon Lindo, who taught her how to manage his business. However, he also secretly sells her daughter, but by the end of the mini- series gives her freedom, and reunites mother and daughter back together.
What I admired most about Aminata, was despite the amount of unfair tragedy and trauma she faced, she always chose to move forward. Often she had to decide whether it was time to give up or not, try again or not, and believe things could change or not. As hard as her life was, it would be completely understandable if she chose to bow out and accept her fate, but again she would not. Aminata was strong, educated, beautiful and carried these attributes with pride, even though they were thought to in some ways make things harder for her.
After watching, I could not help to make comparisons of what was considered hardship back then versus now. Unlike the 18th century, we do not have laws that enslave people, prevent them from being educated, and progress in life. Yet, we do now have a society that often resents those striving towards success, mocks handwork, having high morals, and those that have a desire to do better than what is in front of them. Not to mention, the rich controls the majority of the wealth, the poor continues to have assistance reduced, and the middle class is increasingly shrinking.
The after effects of slavery and additional enactment of laws that allowed for racism, injustice, and inequality to persevere has given way to many having little regard for their life or anyone else’s, division based on skin color, and an unwillingness to allow the majority to prosper instead of a small percentage. With this in mind, it can be easy to forget how grateful we should be to live in this century, and not be distracted by unfair disparities and policies that plague us. Inspite of it all, like Aminata, we must decide to still pursue our dreams and hold close to our beliefs. For ultimately, regardless of our circumstances, either we are someone that still does what they need to….. or we are not.
Rachel Bryant Lundy