We have all seen the facebook statuses and instagram posts “Good Morning Kings and Queens,” “You are descended from royalty” etc etc. And though it does paint a nice picture of blackness to juxtapose against the reality of our situation (under-valued, underrepresented, disenfranchised, and discriminated against), the idea of black royalty is simply a bandage over a decades old wound and is, historically, not even particularly true.
This is not to say that there were not kings and queens, or their equivalent, ruling on the African continent during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. There are chiefs with mad power and influence still active in certain African countries today. However these people, powerful and influential as they were, were not being kidnapped and sold to Europeans. And if by some accident these chiefs were accidentally captured and enslaved, their experiences were largely different than those of their non-royal counterparts (See: Olaudah Equiano). Many of the people sold to Europeans during the Atlantic Slave Trade were prisoners of war of weaker tribes, captured and sold by more dominant tribes to prevent capture themselves. Our enslaved ancestors were not royalty, they were sacrifices.
This truth however, does not make our lives, or our ancestor’s lives, any less valuable. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the intrinsic value of life, and about how, honestly, it’s not that well understood. People’s lives are not valuable because of where they come from, or their jobs/accomplishments, or what exactly they do with their lives. People’s lives are valuable simply because they exist. We as individuals may have more respect for people based on their actions, but our level of respect should not in any way influence our perception of their right to live. The absolute value of the life of the young man pursuing an education, and the absolute value of the life of the young man selling dope on the corner, should be equal. However, we as people don’t see life that way. Life is valued based on what a person has done or will do. This value system explains why we falsify our lineage, claiming royalty in the distant past to overshadow the bondage of our more recent history–theoretically making us more valuable in the eyes of society (and ourselves). To claim that we are descended from Kings and Queens is to say “My ancestors weren’t just slaves, they were descended from royalty. They were valuable. I am valuable.”
My issue thus, isn’t so much the fact that we claim royalty, but why we feel the need to do so. 150 years post slavery, and we are still trying to prove our value, both to ourselves and to the world. And that’s depressing. We shouldn’t have to justify our right to exist. And we certainly shouldn’t have to do so using monarchy, the European system of delineating prestige and power. We are trying to prove to white people, that we are equal to white people, by adopting their standard for the attribution value. And that’s really messed up.
My great grandmother was a sharecropper, my grandmother was a sharecropper, and my ancestors were enslaved. And that’s ok. Because the triumph of my lineage lies not in what my ancestors were forced to be, but in who they were. The triumph of our people is intrinsic in the very fact that we exist. We are here today, which means that someone survived for us. Someone endured for us. And that is worth celebrating.
I’m an Indian, born and grew up in India, will hopefully die in India. I read your post and it felt so humane and so well thought out. The intrinsic value of life being important simply because it exists. The fact someone endured and sacrificed and survived and we are here because of them. It all makes me glad to be alive. My country is celebrating its 76th year of Independence from the British Crown, of which we were slaves for close to 200 years. It is not easy to break the chains of colonialism. Even today, we use their language, their customs are handed down to us, and we employ their power structures and carry forward their ideologies of discrimination. Yet both your and mine histories stretch further back from the recent centuries of bondage and exploitation. We may or may not be descended from royalty. It does not take away from the value of our present and the hope that we may contribute to a better future, not only for our groups but also for the world in general.
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Very very beautifully said, Shriya. Thank you so much for reading.