The original 9 hour mini-series, “Roots” from 1977, is a grand saga that everyone really should watch in its entirety. If you saw it decades ago, it’s time to see it again. It’s not just the story of Gambians sold into slavery and the hardships they faced; it’s the story of all of us, of humanity, and a lack thereof. And at the very least, it should force us all to examine ourselves, our beliefs, and our ignorance.
While watching, an idea formed for another sweeping spectacle that I’d like to see: one telling the story of a Canadian First Nations family covering, say, 150 years up to the present. However, unlike Roots, this one would also trace a white family over the same period.
The first generations portrayed from each family would be generally equal in prosperity. That is, the white family would be poor immigrant farmers, perhaps trading and even socializing with their Native brethren. Relative equals.
Then, throughout the five or six generations leading up to today, we see the white family, having worked hard, slowly rise in stature - and we witness how similar situations with the whites are resolved differently from those of the First Nations families.
For instance, a white teen is caught shoplifting and given a conditional discharge, while the Native teen, tried for the same offense is given a prison sentence. The white teen then grows up to get a well-paying government job and can raise his kids in greater comfort, while the Native teen suffers horrific indignities in prison that lead him to addictions and inability to find gainful employment.
Show how the whites are climbing the social ladder, oblivious to the horrors going on inside the walls of residential schools, destroying souls.
Generation after generation, white privilege helps that family rise up, while the Native family sinks lower and lower – not through any lack of character or intelligence or anything other than circumstances based on the shade of their skin. And as this happens in different First Nations families, they marry and have kids that are raised in near impossible circumstances from which to overcome, and whites become more and more racist against what they increasingly perceive as an inferior people - as the prosperity gap widens.
The contrast between the intergenerational traumas the Native family deals with, compared to the prospering white family becomes starker with every passing generation until we reach today when, through the magic of fiction, 30 year olds from each family meet up again - and the rich white guy, a “nice guy”, brings the pan-handling Native in out of the cold for a hot coffee, and tries to get through to him that he could do so for well for himself if he just stopped being lazy and pulled himself up by his bootstraps.
That sort of thing.
If it was done right, it just might be able to help some whites gain a little clearer picture of the reality and, perhaps, lessen the great depth of our ignorance - just a little. Accuse me of being a sanctimonious twat if you like, I don't really care. But our collective, enormous willful ignorance is the biggest hurdle that we need to overcome, and I really see no indication of that happening.
What I do see is white soccer moms cheerleading for women's rights while not giving a second thought to the plight of "their sisters" who have no clean drinking water and tend to disappear regularly without much alarm being raised, and white men giving other white men a hand up when they fall on hard times - times that are nowhere near as hard as what their Native "brothers" face, but do nothing for them. (I'm one of the white guys who has greatly benefitted from that)
Anyway, rambling now, but someone go make that mini-series.