Monday, October 12, 2009

Michelle Obama's Slave Ancestor and the U.S. Reaction To It

Last week, the New York Times apparently released a story that they had been researching for some time, that determined that Michelle Obama had an ancestor that was a slave here in the United States, and apparently the news was so shocking, NBC seemed to go out of their way to talk about it on several news programs (Today and NBC Nightly News) for at least two days. I wouldn't doubt that other channels also covered this story in depth. The thing is, I don't know what the big deal is. Or do I?

Being Black (I'm not African-American because I'm not from Africa) and growing up in Detroit, I got regular lessons on slavery, the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and most of the other slavery and civil rights related issues that Blacks faced here in the United States. While I'm not dismissing the significance of these things, I can say with certainty that to most Blacks that I know, the slave period of America isn't that big a deal any more. To have an ancestor that was a slave here? That covers far more than half of Black American families. We're not surprised that we had ancestors that were slaves less than 200 years ago, so why is every one else?

In fact, as my family and I discussed last week, we'd be very surprised if any Black family in America (whose ancestors were in the U.S. during the slavery period) today didn't have ancestors that were slaves. There are Blacks that have ancestors that came to the United States after slavery ended, but comparatively speaking, their numbers are tiny. I told my mother and sister this last week: you can take 100 Black Americans, at random, put them in a room, turn off the lights, reach out and touch any random person among them, and be over 99% confident that their ancestors were slaves in America.

So what's my point? We got over it. Yes, we're glad that we now have a Black president, but we're not sitting around waiting for him to invoke a slavery act to put Whites through what we went through. We're not waiting with baited breath for him to give us reparations for slavery... I sure as hell wouldn't know what to do with 40 acres and a mule, and I surely couldn't afford the taxes associated with the land.

In short, we celebrated Obama's victory in last year's presidential election because even though his father was not a slave here in America, his victory meant that we as a people have finally reached a level of equality here that our slave ancestors couldn't have dreamt about. It meant that we were that much closer to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream. That the country that we love has finally permitted us to participate in the highest office we as a country have.

I think the bottom line is that we Black Americans, whether we have the blood of slaves running through our veins or not, finally feel like complete Americans.

No comments:

Post a Comment