Remembering as Living, as Moving Forward

January 15, 2019 at 4:32 pm Leave a comment

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Last September I discussed my dissertation research of lynching memorial sites and the emotional toll of studying this topic at Artspace New Haven’s “Paying Homage: Soil and Site Summit.” In the conclusion of my presentation, I stressed the importance of recognizing the histories of racial violence as a means to addressing the legacies of those deep wounds. After the event, an African-American woman told me that although she appreciated my talk, she was “raised to keep going, to keep moving forward. The past is not something [she] lives with.”
I just listened. I didn’t argue with her because as an African-American person I understand that desire to erase this pain. It’s hard to be in “the hold.” (If you’ve read Christina Sharpe’s book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being,* you know what I mean by “the hold”). That desire protects those of us who experience anti-Blackness. But it also obscures reality and makes it impossible to address the ongoing violence. The past lives with us; it lives within us. The past is now.
Maybe I should have said these things. Instead, I took in a deep breath. At that time, I felt that I had already made my case and that she wasn’t speaking with me. She was talking to herself- rationalizing her mode of living. We were in different places.

I often flashback to that moment. It reminds me of the words of poet June Jordan:

“… I got to thinking about how some of us choose to remember, and why, and how: why we do not forget. And I got to thinking about the moral meaning of memory, per se. And what it means to forget, what it means to fail to find and preserve the connection with the dead whose lives you, or I, want or need to honor with our own.”*

I believe the land and our social structures retain memories even if many people prefer to forget or disengage in efforts to “move forward.” I choose to remember, or rather, I need to remember. I need to honor those who came before including those who experienced extreme cruelty. They made me possible. They make envisioning better tomorrows possible.

My presentation “Haunted Futures: Historical Trauma, Our Bodies, & Place” offers an overview of my dissertation, which examines the interplay of race, public memory, historical construction, aesthetics, and ethics in contemporary memorials to lynching violence.

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Our panel “Hallowed Ground – Honoring History Through Soil and Site”- Vinnie Bagwell, Don Gathers, La Tanya S. Autry, and Brontë Velez; Moderator: Kenneth Foote.
The recording is available on Vimeo.
[I start at 39:09.
Duration approximately 10 minutes. Link: https://vimeo.com/294844499.]

*Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Durham, NC: Duke University, 2016.
*June Jordan, Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays of June Jordan, New York: Basic/Civitas Books, 2002, 5.

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Entry filed under: Art.

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