Why searching for your roots?

There are other people in the room, including descendants of plantation owners, some of whom are nobility, as is Maartje Duin’s mother.


I am approached by two young women who are also on the side of the people who invested in plantations and who think and write about this period. They’re not out yet.

One of them wants to ask me a crucial question: “My father wonders: what’s the point of always wanting to search for your roots?”


I am thinking of the YouTube video by Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the man I spoke to in the US in 1988 while writing my dissertation on black people’s narrative techniques. He is also the researcher responsible for revealing Oprah Winfrey’s family tree. The images show how happy people become from finding their roots and how they grow in a mental sense from a ‘nobody’ to a ‘human being.’ The findings appear to have a healing effect.


My answer: “If your father wanted to, he could always consult an archive by just opening a drawer, so to speak, to bring out his family history. The descendants of slaves cannot. Everything has been taken from them: their family, their name, their identity. They were chattel, or a commodity, not people. Nothing was written down. The enslaved must now ground themselves by finding their roots. Many unconsciously still feel like a ‘nobody’.”


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