Huffpost Black Voices
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Kelly Smith Beaty Headshot

A Note of Thanksgiving to the American Slaves

Posted: Updated:

The film 12 Years a Slave came out almost two months ago. I saw it during the Thanksgiving holiday.

I'm late.

I know.

But if any of you are anything like me, despite the film's critical acclaim, and countless, impassioned pleas for us to "go see this film!," you didn't.

If you felt anything like I did, you didn't rush out to the theater because as much as you knew should see this story, you rationalized that you simply "can't deal with that right now."

By "that" you might have meant the anger that you would feel while watching merciless whips tear into defenseless black flesh.

"That" could have been the agony of witnessing mothers and their young daughters being brutally raped by drunken masters who viewed their female slaves as property, thereby granting them unrestricted access to their bodies and their humanity.

"That" could have been your concern that tomorrow morning you'll have to get up and work alongside your white colleagues while trying to remind yourself that these are different people and that this is a different time.

"That" could simply be that you are well-versed in the story of slavery, and don't need yet another reminder of the harsh and indigestible truth about the grotesque beginnings of being black in America.

In the year that injustices were perpetrated against Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride, the very year that the Voting Rights Act was overturned, and the exact same year that we watched attempts to filibuster the free world's most powerful leader into a symbolic figure head, it should be easy to understand why some of us were less than enthusiastic about seeing anymore of "that."

I get it. And that is exactly why it took me nearly two months to conjure up the courage to take the emotional journey that I knew awaited me via 12 Years a Slave.

But alas, I went. I watched the film and I experienced every emotion I anticipated, often times with indescribable intensities. I was angry. I was woeful. I was resentful and much more.

But after the final credit rolled and as the theater's lights begin to rise, I felt another sentiment that I had not expected.

I felt tremendous gratitude.

I was thankful to the slaves who had come generations before me and endured a life of atrocities that I still cannot fully imagine.

I was thankful that they had the strength to withstand whippings that I was too weak to even watch reenacted on screen.

I was thankful that they had the keen intellect to outsmart their masters by dumbing down in their presence so that their ability to read, write, or simply comprehend would not be a threat to their very survival.

I was thankful to the women who, through no consent of their own, gave their bodies to monsters they could have never loved and bore children whose very flesh tones would be lifelong reminders that they had no right to choose.

I was thankful to them for being survivors.

I was thankful to them for being champions.

I am thankful to them for being our original heroes.

As I sat and stared silently at the screen I often thought, "I don't know how our people survived slavery."

But they did.

They survived.

They survived so that we could be free.

They survived so that we could live a life of dignity, possibility, and achievement.

They survived so that we could serve as living proof that hardships which are designed to kill us, will only make us stronger.

They survived.

Today I -- we -- roam freely through America's streets and transact dealings at some of the highest echelons of business and society.

They survived so that we may thrive.

So this Thanksgiving weekend, I am truly reminded of the greatness from which we come and my heart is filled with gratitude.

I am reminded that our kindred found hope in the depths of hell. And I as I look around at the abundance of "thats" in our society today -- that need to push onward for justice, that need to persist for equality, that need plow forward for dignity, that need to persevere for life -- I am thankful that although yesterday I felt weary, today I feel like pressing on.

Thanks to the stories of Solomon and Patsy, when the labor gets tough, the temperatures get high, and the pain seems too much to bear, I'll ask myself, "What would our enslaved ancestors do?"

And with pride, I will answer back, "They would survive."

Because "that" is what we do.