As a child, the worst media imagery experience for me was to be placed in front of a television set and made to watch a television series called Roots, written by Alex Haley. Never in my life had I been exposed to such sadness, hate, fear, oppression, and trauma of a generation of people whom I was told I had descended from.
As a child, I was very intuitive to my surroundings when it came to human emotion and behavior. During the Roots miniseries, the death of Fiddler was the most emotional moment for me. The moment caused me to reflect on my life and how I had been taking it for granted during my youth. With mindfulness, I continued to watch the episodes while realizing how misinformed I had been up until that point.
My world of television viewing had changed after watching Roots. I was no longer able to think as a child and watch the television shows of the day such as George and Louise Jefferson (The Jeffersons), Good Times, The Brady Bunch, Sesame Street, Schoolhouse Rock, and so on. These shows were no longer real to me.
Like a coming-of-age experience, this miniseries summoned me to a visionary awakening, a vocal calling from my ancestors as their spirits reincarnated me. After the miniseries had aired, I began to understand that The Creature from the Black Lagoon was not the scariest movie that I had ever seen as a child. The scariest movie of all time was now replaced by the miniseries Roots, and like an orphaned child wanting its parents’ embrace, I was left holding onto haunting images of events that should not have happened.
Since the airing of Roots I began to pay attention to imagery and how things are portrayed to the public, especially those having to do with African Americans. I’ve since learned that everything that is Black is not evil, and as a child I didn’t have to wish to be another color based on fear.
I’d like to believe we have moved past the days of horrifying images, but I recently saw a national news story regarding a man, Otis Byrd, 54, from Vicksburg, Mississippi, who was found hanging by a bed sheet from a tree in an apparent lynching. Since the story aired, many unanswered questions have risen, especially from African Americans.
After hearing the story, I became intoxicated with emotion. I imagined the muffled cries of the lynched man’s sonnet gently playing its melody in my ears. I became saddened at another life lost and another family in pain.
The full details have not come out as to what really happened, but with so much going on in the world it is hard to stay encouraged and hold onto words like forgiveness, patience, trust, acceptance, and hope.
My anger of unresolved historical wrongs that continue to present themselves — even today — cries out harshly like razor blades cutting through my skin. But I move forward and rise in faith, despite the verbal negativity and imagery that I’ve seen and experienced.
Ellis is a freelance writer that lives in Minneapolis.