Slavery’s Wages

I was in grade school when the television show Roots, based on Alex Haley’s famous book, first aired. It was a big deal, at least among adults, and my parents insisted that my sister and I watch it. We dutifully sat down in the front the walnut-veneered TV cabinet as my father adjusted the rabbit ear antennas to get a good signal. For an eight-year-old, Roots was disorienting, often boring, and occasionally very disturbing. The images of LeVar Burton’s Kunta Kinte enduring the brutal Middle Passage and of the slavers throwing the sick Africans overboard are still with me today. Sitting in an air-conditioned living room in a California track house, I didn’t quite grasp what it had to do with me. This all happened a long time ago, I thought. It seemed like another one of the period costume dramas that my mother watched on PBS, but with many

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