Hello, white people. Thanks for stopping by and reading!
As many of you may already know, during the Memorial Day holiday, the History Channel began airing a four-part remake of Roots—the iconic miniseries tracing a black family’s history starting in West Africa, through American chattel slavery and up to the present day. As you can imagine, watching a depiction of the centuries-long capture, enslavement, rape, displacement, torture and murder of our ancestors can be a pretty harrowing and emotional experience for black people. And I can imagine that the fact that this capture, enslavement, rape, displacement, torture and murder was done at the behest of some of your ancestors is probably quite awkward, especially when you’re interacting with your black co-workers the morning after a Roots episode.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to give you a helpful guide on exactly how to do this.
Just don’t. This is the safest bet. Of course, we (black people) are not stupid. While the effects of slavery linger—and probably always will in America—we realize that the events depicted in the story happened hundreds of years ago. We also realize that you don’t own any slaves and that there’s even a chance that none of your ancestors did, either. Again, we know this.
But the morning after we just watched Kunta get his foot chopped off … or whipped into accepting “Toby” as his name … or have his daughter sold away is not the best time to ask us about when we’re going to finish that late TPS report. Or stop past the cubicle to ask about Memorial Day weekend. Or send us a Paperless Post invitation to your family’s annual deep-woods potluck. Or use the word “picnic” in any context.
Because while we are very aware that you personally didn’t do any of what happened, there’s somewhere between a 47 and 92 percent chance that Roots-watching residue might make us hate white people for the next 24 to 144 hours. So it’s in everyone’s best interest if you just keep your distance for a little while. Maybe even use a few of those paid-time-off days and come back to work when we’re not fantasizing about choke-slamming overseers. (And yes, since none of us personally know any overseers, the protagonist in those fantasies may very well be you.)
If you must interact, don’t bring up or reference Roots. Or 12 Years a Slave. Or slavery as an institution. Or racism. Or Clarence Thomas. Or … you get my point.
I know, I know, I know. You knew Roots was coming on this week and you wanted to show your true allyship by consuming it. Your weren’t around for the first iteration—and you were in a “different mental place, intellectually” then anyway—so you wouldn’t have appreciated it. But now you drank your big-ass Roots cup of lemonade and you’re poised and ready to tell Keisha at work how it tastes.
But, as well-intentioned as you might be, this is not the time to corner us at the watercooler because you had some “questions” about the historical accuracy and present-day relevance. Or share at lunch that you were so moved that you’re thinking of renaming your pit bull “Chicken George.” Or send an email to your black work BFF asking if it’s still OK for you to sleep with Kenya from accounting because that “whole slavery thing” made you feel guilty about your relationship. Or call a staff meeting just to officially apologize on behalf of white people.
If you must talk, keep it professional and nonracial. Safe subjects include the functionality of dry erase markers, the weather, the skyrocketing cost of parking meters, determining what exactly makes a dress a “sundress,” Klay Thompson, which bathroom is the best to take a dump in and eggs Benedict.
If you’re still anxious to talk about Roots, wait a week. I still advise against doing this. Only certain vetted and next-level white people are able to effectively pull off the post-Roots-viewing Roots conversation with a black person. This entails a greater degree of difficulty than bringing a batch of potato salad to a black barbecue.
But if you believe you’re able to pull this off, make certain to avoid each of the following words and phrases:
* “Are you sure … ?”
* reverse racism
* consensual sex
* silver lining
* “Is it really true that … ?”
* “The NBA and the NFL”
* collard greens
* “LeVar Burton’s post-Roots career”
* “I see both sides”
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.