Last night PBS aired the first two of four parts of African American Lives 2 by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Having a background in genetics – as well as being African-American – this was of great interest to me. For me, after watching this program, this shows the importance of HR 50 being revisited. The damage that has been done to our psyche is immeasurable. We had been stripped from many of the things that Islam says gives a man dignity: his lineage, his intelligence, his language.
For example, comedian Chris Rock wept when he learned for the first time that his great-great-grandfather , after having endured slavery for twenty one years, volunteered and fought in the Civil War, served as an elected official in the South Carolina Legislature, was thrown out of th Legislature by bigots and died owning dozens of acres of land. He mentioned that had he grown up knowing that, he may not be a comedian today:
“Until I lucked into a comedy club at, you know, age 20, just on a whim, I assumed I would pick up things for white people for the rest of my life, If I’d known this, it would have taken away the inevitability that I was going to be nothing.”
So many African-Americans think in this same way. That we must be on the bottom. This is part of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and being cut off from our history.
I will also note that when other Muslim cultures know their roots it is celebrated, but when an African-American Muslim explores his/her roots, it is denounced somehow as “nationalism”. Nothing could be further from the truth. We also have a right to know our lineage as well.
The African American Lives 2 website allows you to view all twelve profiles, learn more about DNA and the scientific methods used for this series, a historical time line, and share personal stories.