Black Heritage

As the debate continues over on Parableman’s blog over that racist Condi Rice poster I’ve been contemplating a few things. One of them is the claim that the descendants of Africans brought to the Americas as slaves have been stripped of their heritage. Time and again I have encountered the idea that today’s blacks have been somehow lessened because they can’t trace their family trees even as far as the slave ships their ancestors were dragged off of.

Some intrepid soul in my husband’s family traced their family tree all the way back to the May Flower. They also traced the family roots to some nobleman from North Umbria who left England and changed his name upon arrival in the colonies. There are various versions of the family name scattered through out the cemeteries of small towns of my husband’s home state dating back to the 1700s and 1600s. He has ancestors among the founding fathers of many of these towns.

I on the other hand can only get as far back as two or three generations before things get murky. Having emigrated away from the country of my birth doesn’t help any but I doubt I would have an easy time tracing my ancestry back very far even if I did go back to the old country to do research.

Now some people would suggest that I should feel some type of way, namely hurt, inferior or stripped of my heritage, because of this. But I don’t understand why. A lot of people had to have been born and had to die for any of us to be on this planet. Are you really any more or less of a person if you don’t know who a small fraction of those people were?

All I really know about my African ancestors is that some of them came to the Americas on slave ships and some of them were responsible for putting their brethren on those slave ships. I know even less about the various European ancestors thrown into the mix. I do know that they were all survivors because they survived long enough to reproduce enough people to produce me.

Blacks in the Americas have a new heritage born on the shores of the New World. To ignore it while pining over what was left behind in Africa generations ago is a dishonor to those who survived and thrived in the New World.

Wrapped up in this idea seems to be the false assumption that all blacks who settled in the Americas did so as slaves. As long as there have been free whites on American shores there have been free blacks. And no they did not live as second-class citizens. Those who met the requirements (of age, owned land, etc.) voted and held public office. These people were farmers, businessmen, and skilled tradesmen.

For much of American history there have been thriving black communities in the south and the north. When faced with a prejudiced society that said they could not participate they built their own society. Schools, businesses, property, they had it all. This is the heritage of blacks in America as much as slavery is.

There’s a lot more to the history of the black man in the Americas than modern blacks seem to know or care about.

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