On Being the Descendant of a Sellout

Bolu Kuku, Contributor

After the miscarriage of justice in the case of Breonna Taylor’s murder, Tamika Mallory, co-founder of the Woman’s March, had this to say about Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron: “Cameron is no different than the sellout Negroes that sold our people into slavery nd helped white men capture our people…all our skinfolk ain’t our kinfolk, and [Cameron does] not belong to Black people at all.”

I do not fully agree with that statement. I understand and validate the overwhelming frustration that the ruling produced, and I believe Cameron’s actions are rightfully condemnable. Mallory’s words, however, did not fill me with any righteous anger but with a sense of estrangement. My initial reaction was to accuse her of racial gatekeeping, but I knew it was deeper than that.

My parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents and so on were born and raised in Nigeria. It makes sense then to conclude that my direct ancestors were spared from the trans-Atlantic slave trade for some reason. Did they simply live farther inland than what the colonists
wanted to travel through? Or perhaps, they had enough money or influence to be slave traders themselves?

If my ancestors were slave traders, then no wonder I was so unsettled by Mallory’s words. If those whose families willingly came to the US from West Africa bear similar circumstances, then what a peculiar position we have.

In this time of racial reckoning, it seems we dance on a thin border, separated from both sides by a degree of difference. We are not white, but our ancestries do not bear the scars of racial oppression as deeply as Black Americans. The sting of microaggression is painful yet shallow-we have the privilege of knowing that the history of subhuman regard that fuels the act has little direct relevance to us, little power over us.

But should that degree of difference divide the Black American and African American communities? Absolutely not.

America is finally opening its eyes, at least a little bit, to the strife it has placed on the Black American community for centuries. The last thing that is needed right now is alienation. What is needed, now more than ever, is unity. We, like everyone whose personal, cultural, familial or ancestral roots begin in Africa, need to work together for the future that we want, that we deserve.

White supremacy is as real today as it was in the 1960’s and in 1619. It simply changes form and affects everyone in different ways. If we turn our struggle into a strict “with us or against us” mentality, if we group people under homogenic umbrellas, could we truly say we are any different from those who demean us?

Taylor’s death is a travesty, she deserved better. The court ruling is heart wrenching; the African diaspora and the United States at large needed better. The criticism of Daniel Cameron is fully

justified; he should have known better. But all our skinfolk are our kinfolk. It must be, if we want our future to be better.