It is the last week of Black History Month and I have chosen to dedicate this Writer’s Quote Wednesday to the much loved and highly controversial, Alex Haley. Born Alexander Murray Palmer Haley, he is best known for writing The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots: The Saga of an American Family.
The controversy surrounding him is centered on his book Roots which he maintained was an accurate history of his family traced all the way back through his ancestor Kunta Kinte. Kunta was stolen from Africa and brought to America as a slave and renamed Toby. He states that the family history was told to each successive generation and through research he was able to find the exact village his African ancestor was from.
Years after the book was written Haley was sued for plagiarism and settled outside of court. It is a known fact that much of his book was stolen from at least two other sources, Harold Courlander’s The African and Margaret Walker’s book, Jubilee. And worse, the rest, all the “facts” of his family history, was pretty much made up. I did not know this when I first read Roots as a teenager. I learned it many years later and I felt so, so betrayed. I refused to believe it at first but the more I read on the subject the more it became apparent that Haley had lied to us all.
Having said that you are probably wondering why I have chosen to write about him. It is because regardless of the controversy, when I read Roots, it changed me. I saw the history of slavery and this country in a new light. Growing up I knew that my family must have descended from slaves but we have no history, no country, no culture we can say we are from. And so I felt no connection to the nameless, faceless ancestors who lived and died so I could be here.
Roots gave the ancestors of black people in America a face, Roots made them real. I know these were not my ancestors but mine were something like that. Mine lived through that terrible time, they suffered, and it was more horrible than I was ever taught in school. So while the story may be made up, and it may even be pieced together from other’s work, I cannot discount the way it made me feel. I at least give it that credit.
The copy I have was stolen from my own father’s book shelf (or maybe my grandfather’s, I can’t quite remember) over 15 years ago. I have read it many times over and the cover is now torn and barely hanging on. For me, in addition to the story, this book has sentimental value as well.
“In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.”
― Alex Haley
I chose this quote because, like Haley, in my writing and in everything I do I try to find the good. Some times it isn’t so easy though. As I get older I feel myself becoming more and more cynical but I am fighting it. I am beginning to feel very down about the state of the world and people in it and finding the will to be compassionate and caring isn’t as easy as it once was
There are so many people in this world who are angry and distrustful and have lost the ability to see goodness and beauty and I don’t want to become one of them. Life is hard and full of ugliness and too much of what I read, particularly on the internet, reflects that. Too much of it has become negativity talk and ranting. Not enough of it is about goodness, beauty, positivity, or compassion.
I do not mean we shouldn’t be writing about bad things but we can show the good too, even if it’s a good that doesn’t exist yet. There is a goodness in all truths when you are showing something to the world that needs to be seen. So try, in everything you write, to show some good because the world already has more than enough bad stuff in it. And the worse things get, the more we need to be shown some good.