“Its truth is far greater than fiction.” – Frederick Douglass
I recently watched “12 Years a Slave”, Director Steve McQueen’s powerful new movie about Solomon Northup, a free-born African American who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. My first reaction was stunned silence. In grade school you quickly read over the horrors of slavery, but when you see these horrors portrayed in such a monumental film you quickly realize that no book or movie can fully capture the repulsions of slavery and how slavery still affects the African American community today.
“We’re living in a time where much of the country is seemingly fatigued at the mention of slavery, in a country where adults line up to support a woman who lost her job for demonstrably racist behavior and where grown, educated men feel entitled to use the term “race card” and deride those interested in “ethnic sensitivity” in major publications. We’re living in a time where the dominant reaction to America’s brutally racist past (toward not just blacks, but all affected minority groups) is more “get over it” than “never forget” (Kia Makarechi).”
“If you doubt that or think that’s conjecture, you’re probably not paying close enough attention. The America we live in today is one in which southern school boards are trying to gut curricula of references to slavery and judiciaries are upholding laws banning ethnic studies classes because they might “breed racial resentment.” At the same time, people are fighting to memorialize the Confederacy and for the right to wave the pro-slavery union’s flag… (Kia Makarechi)?”
I believe that “12 Years a Slave” should be required viewing for EVERYONE, especially young African Americans. I pride myself in being a knowledgeable and educated African American male, yet this film made me realize how little I really know.
“12 Years” made me sad because of what my ancestors had to endure and proud because we as a people were able to survive.
I pray America, in particular African Americans embrace this film because we as a people do not know nor do we fully embrace our history. If we did have a full appreciation of our history, I think we would be able to free ourselves from the mental slavery we find ourselves in today. Today, in the African American community there is still value placed on “skin color” and hair. Today, our families are still being broke up, due largely in part because our men are irresponsible. Today, we still turn our back on one another when our fortunes change. Today, the intellect and work ethic of African Americans are constantly questioned. Physical chains no longer bind us, but mental chains do.
Northup’s memoir was published only 160 years ago, African Americans have come a long ways since then and still has a ways to go. African Americans make up 13.6% of the U.S. population, but African Americans make up 40.2% of all prison inmates. According to Author Michelle Alexander more black men are behind bars or under the watch of the criminal justice system than there were enslaved in 1850. Author Michael Tadman wrote that a child in the Upper South had a 30% chance to be sold south by 1860, yet today 70% of our children are born to single mothers many with absentee fathers. African American boys face harsher punishment in school than their white counterparts and are 8 times more likely to be killed by a gun.
You cannot run from yourself, and thus we as Americans cannot run from our history. “12 Years a Slave” is nothing more than a survival story, but not just the survival of one man, it is the story of survival for an entire race of people. We are not our skin color, we are not our hair, we are not welfare queens, thugs, or shiftless, we are survivors! We survived the Middle Passage, the Second Middle Passage, Chattel Slavery, and Jim Crow and if we embrace our history and one another we will not only survive, we will thrive. Watch this movie, take your children (if they are of age), parents, and tell your friends. This is a movie everyone should see.