“Kindred” is NOT What We Think

Octavia Butler is celebrated as being the 1st Black woman to break into the genre of science fiction. Her books reveal a profound understanding of humanity. She did not want to be trapped in the framework of being a “Black author,” but simply wrote stories that resonated from her soul and did not always address Black history or topics. On the surface her book “Kindred” appears to be telling a story about slavery, but it is so much more than that. Let me warn you, because there will probably be a spoiler alert here, but even still you should read it (before watching the series) because this could not even begin to unveil the complexities and depth of the book.

Martin Luther King says, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” “Kindred” reveals the “inescapable” connection of humanity, but especially the connection between Blacks and Whites. Through cancel culture we are trying to break that entanglement, but in doing this we risk losing a piece of ourselves. Octavia Butler seeks to show that there should instead be an embracing of our entangled heritages and an effort to understand it. No matter how hard we try, we are drawn to unity. The unity I speak of is not a joyful unity, but a unity forged in the blood, violence, and tragedy. The centuries have passed, and the unity continues to hold an iron grip on our souls. The more we fight it the more we lose pieces of ourselves. It is a bond we CANNOT escape, so what are we to do?

The main character in “Kindred”, Dana proves to be a guiding light for me. The unity I speak of pulled her from the present into the plantation. When she first appears on the plantation, she is confused but over time she realizes she is pulled into the past to save the life of her ancestor…the master’s son. Each time he found himself in danger, Dana would be pulled into the past to rescue him. This continued from his childhood until he grew up. The book covers how she and her ancestor developed a bond that was so complex. They loved and hated one another. They recognized how much they need one another and no matter how much they detested that co-dependence, eventually it was something they had to accept. Dana found herself beaten, almost raped, and heartbroken constantly, but eventually she began to understand why it was important for her to keep going back.

I find that Dana being married to a White man also reveals the message Octavia wants to teach us. It is possible for our unity to be a beautiful one, but we have to choose it. We have to choose to know our tragic past and connection, instead of trying to rewrite it to make us feel better. We cannot rewrite the past, but we can embrace it and fight through it in order to preserve future generations. Dana continues to save her ancestor’s life until he is able to have sex with one of the slave women, Alice. This union created the direct ancestor to Dana. Unity had pulled her back to preserve her family line. Although it came through violence, it was the beginning of her family and could not be undone. If Rufus (the master’s son) had died, there would have been no Dana. As much as the stories of my great grandparents ache my heart, without the McKinney Plantation (where my ancestors were held captive) I would not be here. Without the plantation that held my great great grandmother in law, I would not have come to know the amazing love of my husband or had these 3 beautiful children. At the end of the story, Dana has one last encounter with her ancestor, Rufus. This time the connection he felt with Dana pulled him into following the ways of the plantation and he tried to rape her as well. She fought him off and was being pulled back into the present one final time and the pull was so strong that she found her arm caught back in the plantation and her body in the present. She literally had to lose her arm to get back home. She chose to cut off her arm, instead of staying in the past. She refused to allow the past to hold her back but she let her arm go, embracing her missing arm and her whole self was now healed. Her arm was forever stuck in the grips of the slavery that forged her existence. That past would ALWAYS have a piece of her, and her missing arm would be a constant reminder that she is always connected to the plantation. We all lost pieces of ourselves when our ancestors came into captivity, but like Dana still felt whole when she got back home, we can find wholeness and healing by embracing the scars of that past as a sign of how we have overcome. The ugliness of that history has made us into something beautiful.

I am not ashamed, and I am no longer angry about the slavery of my ancestors. I cannot escape that part of my story. Like Dana I want to preserve it so that the next generation understands where we have come from. I cannot remove White people from my life and lineage, and neither should I want to. Dana having a beautiful union with her White husband is a symbol of what is possible. Forgiveness is possible. Knowing our history while still loving the children of those responsible for the tragedy of my ancestors is possible. This love does not have to come about by forgetting or rejecting that part of my story, but the love can be genuine and unconditional, embracing how our lives were woven together through pain and how that pain made us the incredible people that we are. It has been our destiny to be together and to fight it is to fight an insurmountable force. “Kindred” is not a story to arouse our bitterness towards Whites and the system of slavery. Instead, it is a story to encourage us to stop fighting, because we will not win that fight, but maybe if we embrace the story, embrace the unity, and own that this is just our story that will ALWAYS be a part of us, we will save the souls of the generations to come.

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