Alex Haley’s Roots reframed America’s discourse on race. The best selling novel and award winning miniseries centered the nation’s history around the experiences of African Americans. The multigenerational saga of Kunta Kinte’s descendants and their roots became a paradigm for American dreaming. This essay examines the scriptural qualities of Haley’s Roots, contending that the story has had a binding effect on America’s racial consciousness. Building on the work of Vincent L. Wimbush and James W. Watts, it approaches Haley’s Roots as a case study in the anthropology of scriptures. A discourse analysis of media allusions to Kunta Kinte underscores Roots as an interpretive site around which Americans uproot, route, and root for a sense of meaning. When read critically, Roots provides a vocabulary and grammar for articulating inter- and intra-racial dynamics, but also the politics that accompany the phenomenon of scriptures.


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A mashup of some of the Roots references analyzed in the article.


Richard Newton, “Reading Alex Haley’s Roots: Toward an Anthropology of Scriptures,” Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts & Contemporary Worlds 9, no. 1 (2018 [2013]): 1-26, DOI:10.1558/post.27507.