Maybe My Ancestors Were Kings and Queens, but More Than Likely They Were Goat Herders ... and That’s Fine!

Coming to America screenshot (Paramount Pictures)
Coming to America screenshot (Paramount Pictures)

I get it, I get it, I get it, I get it.

No, I really do get it. I get the hell out of it. I get the shit out of it. I get it so much it hurts. And I don’t get everything. Shit, I don’t even get most things.


For instance, I don’t get why the orange juice McDonald’s gives you for breakfast tastes 75 percent better than the rest of the orange juice I’ve ever tasted—even though I know it’s nothing but Simply Orange juice, which I know because I’ve literally seen them pour the Simply Orange juice into my cup before.

I also don’t get why, in the chorus of “Dipset Anthem,” Juelz Santana says he’s “watching Shaft” and “clocking math,” because those seem like very time- and attention-consuming activities by themselves.

But I get why, as a response to H&M’s creation of an ad featuring a young black boy in a monkey hoodie, we turned him into Prince Akeem. And I get why, as a response to President Donald Trump referring to African nations, Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole countries,” we tweet-stormed the LinkedIn pages of every Nigerian-American Facebook friend with an MBA and an Audi. And I definitely get that part of the excitement with Black Panther is us watching black nobility kick ass and also having the opportunity to outfit ourselves in Negro Dungeons & Dragons cosplay.

This deification of kingdom and queendom is a natural response to a culture that devalues and dehumanizes us at every turn. And also, for those who’ve internalized this dehumanization—which, to be fair, is probably all of us to some degree—it’s a way of reminding ourselves that our histories and our peoples didn’t begin at slavery and haven’t always been as vulnerable.

But I just wish that those who choose to do this would just, well, stop doing it. Because kingdoms and queendoms are nothing to aspire to. Because as history has taught us, if you happened to exist in a place where there were kings and queens—and the kings and queens had actual power—and you weren’t part of that ruling class, your life probably sucked. Because that’s just what usually happens in places ruled by autocrats.

Also—and most importantly—putting all of your metaphysical eggs into the “We were kings” basket willfully ignores the fact that most people are not descendants of kings. That’s just not how kingdoms work! (Unless, of course, you’re from one of those countries where the king had many, um, partners. In which case, your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-uncle might have been the black Ramsay Snow. Congratulations.)


I’m not saying this to devalue anyone’s lineage. I’m actually attempting to do the opposite. If your ancestors were farmers or goat herders or tree cutters or hut builders or chicken-feather pluckers—which, again, they probably were—they deserve just as much reverence (if not more) as any sort of hypothetical nobility.

What the fuck is wrong with just being from some normal-ass and decent people? People who lived and loved and fought and hurt and sang and cried and dreamed and experienced and exhibited the full breadth of humanity? I mean, shit. Have you ever tried to herd a goat? I haven’t, but I’d imagine it’s much harder than sitting on a platinum throne and having eunuchs feed you seedless grapes.


And, well, this fetishization of power and noble lineage and pure bloodlines does nothing but mirror the oppressive and subjugating systems and mind states we should be attempting to destroy, not mimic. It’s basically “MAGA” with dashikis.

Again, though, I get it. I really do. I just wish that we (well, some of us) weren’t so quick to defend and define our humanity and our worth with castles and crowns. But maybe that’s just me. Blame it on that goat-herding gene in me.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Wild Cougar

Im. giving this post a standing ovation. All hail the regular people!!!!!!

I hail from ain’t shit negroes and working class stiffs, a few land owners, ranchers, gangsters (OG), hoes and upstanding ladies who had a hoe phase, bus drivers, janitors,  and way way back? I hail from one of the poorest tribes, the Balanta, of Guinea Bissau, who were beaten down into poverty because they refused to be colonized. Balanta means “those who resist”. They were given the name because they would not stop fighting back. I don’t come from kings and queens but I come from some of the most fightingest motherfuckers and Im so proud.