Socialist Worker

Shipped off and enslaved to build a new world of wealth

by Anthony Hamilton
Issue No. 2540

Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) in the promising remake of Roots

Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) in the promising remake of Roots (Pic: BBC/A+E)

The remake of 1970s TV series Roots personalises the struggles that slaves faced and helps expose the roots of racism today, writes Antony Hamilton

Roots is a brilliant remake of the late 1970s TV series which follows the life of Kunta Kinte through captivity and freedom.

From the beginning, we are greeted with an eclectic mix of characters—each with their own personalities, ideologies and dreams.

They live in the 18th Century kingdom of Juffere in Gambia, west Africa. Their culture and traditions are shown as they are, not glamourised or undermined but with the complexities that everyday life brings.

The boys’ transition to adulthood, the role of women and, crucially, the slave trade define the first episode, throwing Kinte into a series of challenges.

This is not the view of Africa in the 18th century which is characterised by barbarism and underdevelopment but one that is harsh, challenging and beautiful all at the same time.

Kinte is swiftly forced to come to terms with European colonialism.


The destructive effect of the slave trade pressured African tribes and nations to develop militaristic regimes, both to protect themselves from the foreign invaders but also to sell their neighbours in the hopes of being spared themselves.

Slave systems existed in Africa before the Europeans came, similar to those of the Greek and Roman empires. But the transatlantic slave trade radically changed old concepts of slavery.

People were taken in their millions, entire landscapes destroyed and shipped off to build a new world of wealth for an emerging capitalist class.

The story of Kinte personalises the struggles slaves would face.

First is captivity—being taken, branded and forced into shackles. Second is the middle passage—held for months in the hull of a ship with only scraps of food to keep the slaves alive.

The middle passage was plagued with death, infestation and mutilation. For millions this was the final stage. But for those who made it to the Americas the final stage was back-breaking forced labour.

The series brilliantly depicts the resilience of the slaves, their attempts to overthrow their captors and work together despite originating from different and often hostile tribes.

When Kinte reaches the Americas he’s met with brutal racism. First from the traders who treat him as a curiosity and value him based on his shape. And, second, from the house slave who is won to the culture of their captors.


The ideology of the plantation owners is summed up by the slave driver who says, “you don’t buy a slave, you make a slave”.

The brutal reality of life on the plantations—collective punishments and examples made of slaves—force Kinte to submit initially, but he plots his resistance and maintains his faith and roots.

This mini-series comes at a crucial time when Muslims are blamed for the ills of society and protesters are compelled to fight for something as simple as saying “Black Lives Matter”.

It is a welcome challenge to the institutional racism black people face on a daily basis and a way of exposing the roots of where it comes from.

The rest of the series looks promising, keeping true to the original novel by Alex Haley. It’s definitely worth watching.

Roots starts on Wed 8 Feb, 9pm, BBC Four or online

People’s struggles are what music should be about

The battle by workers at Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire against cuts underlines an album from music duo Darkstar.

One of Foam Island’s standout tracks features the chilling announcement that asked people to decide where the £69 million of cuts should fall.

James Young of Darkstar told Socialist Worker that the album, written during the 2015 general election, was influenced by the alienation young people felt. “People couldn’t identify with the options in front of them,” he said.

“And there was no way that Labour under Ed Miliband was appealing to working class kids in West Yorkshire.”


He thinks that “selfish” infighting in Labour at the moment is losing the momentum for leader Jeremy Corbyn. “There are too many obstacles within the party for Corbyn to succeed.”

Foam Island is a subtly but unapologetically political album. Another track describes the struggle of day to day life.

James said, “Foam Island was ignored by major publications.


“We felt the effects of people not paying it attention—you have to have one eye on making enough money to get by. We spent a lot of the advance we got on the recordings in Huddersfield.”

He talked about how music is shaped by its time. “Foam Island is about a malaise, how you can’t really relate to the options in front of you,” he said. “We’ve seen that with things like Trump’s election recently.

“I think the Democrats missed a huge trick with Bernie Sanders, I feel like he would have conveyed a message to people who are struggling.”

As Chantelle, featured in the album, says, “There doesn’t seem to be anybody current who understands the problems we have. It’s a different kind of struggle now.”

Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line

Two World Wars. The moon landings. The digital revolution. This exhibition of extraordinary maps looks at the important role they played throughout history.

Mapmaking has been an integral part of human existence for thousands of years. This exhibition looks at snapshots from this history.

From the original sketches for the London Underground network to imperialist war propaganda there is much to see.

Map lovers will no doubt enjoy a trip to the British Library for this, but even they may be left wondering if the £12 entry fee is really worth it.

British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB. Open until 1 March

After Sheku

Why did Sheku Bayoh die following his arrest on the morning of 3 May 2015?

He died of asphyxiation after being pepper-sprayed, restrained by up to nine police officers, and kneeled on by two police with a combined weight of around 43 stone.

This documentary follows Sheku’s family over 20 months as they try to find out how he died within two hours of being arrested in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

To keep up to date with the campaign or make a donation go to Justice For Sheku Ahmed Tejan Bayoh on Facebook

Available to watch on BBC iplayer

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Article information

Tue 7 Feb 2017, 15:38 GMT
Issue No. 2540
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