Levar Burton

April 23rd, 2014 § Leave a Comment

Levar Burton. Yeah … well, no, not that Levar Burton, not the Star Trek Levar Burton. And while we’re here, what was the deal with that head band thing pulled over his eyes? Weird, right? Anyway, I’m talking about the Roots Levar Burton. Kunta Kinte. The African slave of indomitable spirit.

Alex Haley’s novel was adapted into a TV mini-series in 1977, the year of my family’s immigration. I can still recall the visceral reaction I had to the depiction of Kunta Kinte being ripped from his homeland – a pastoral of hope and promise – being paraded in front of jeerers, and then sold like an animal. It was about as much outrage as I’d experienced in my eight years of life.

Why? Why did I have such a strong reaction? I have to think that it had something to do with identifying. Of course, I’m not comparing the experience of the willing immigrant family to that of one kidnapped, brought by boat to be sold into slavery. By any standards, I had a safe, comfortable transition. Yet humiliation is its own kind of suffering. And being mocked and laughed at is not easily forgotten. Having been dropped into a foreign land, lost in language, with no place to plant a bare seedling of an identity, my heart was drawn toward a people I hardly knew, to their ongoing struggle that was suddenly, in a minuscule way, mine.

It didn’t end there. From Martin Luther King Jr to Malcolm X, from Soul Train to Run DMC, Good Times, Cooley High, and White Shadow, as a newly minted American minority, I tied a part of myself to the most prominent struggle of a people for human dignity that our Nation has known. And to think, it all started for me with of all people, Levar Burton.

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