In my belated educational experience, I took a course with Dr. Yumi Pak called *Black Women Write Social Justice.* The general gist of the seminar was looking at black women's writing across generations and geographies to find commonalities, contradictions, and contrasts of the general experience of "Black Women." ***
Toni Morrison was, of course, on the syllabus. I had never read her--for some reason, the cover of the tattered copy of The Bluest Eye in the library terrified me as a child. Was it a horror novel? Was someone being terrorized by a single blue eye? I peeked at the first page once and its choppy, almost robotic sentences seemed to support my sudden fear of this text. ***
Years later, when I learned it was about colorism and rejection, I still didn't want to read it--now that was a true story of horror for me, having seen these entwined elements play out painfully in my family history. So you can understand my trepidation towards having to read Morrison for a grade. ***
Despite that class being the inspiration for getting my PhD, and more classes with Dr. Pak exposing me to the full breadth and beauty of Morrison's prose, I didn't fully "get" Morrison until teaching Beloved this past year. Maybe it was because I've been beaten down a bit by graduate school and have had my fragile confidence in my writing steadily shaken (a sidenote: I briefly flirted with being an author. I have a few publications under my belt, but never felt secure enough in my skill to commit to it).
Being on the other side of the syllabus provided a new perspective. I had to guide students through the text and convince them of its worth; I was no longer a passive consumer of words, I was in partnership with them. And perhaps that is what Morrison meant by the existence of language, of words. She is now gone, but she speaks, she continues to speak. We not only listen but speak with her.
13901 month ago
When I went to see the "Paris-Londres: Music Migrations (1962-1989)" exhibition [thanks to Anne-Marie Angelo for mentioning it!], I was not expecting it to be housed in a building constructed for the 1931 L'Exposition coloniale. ***
This building has been repurposed as an aquarium + museum of immigration, but the colonial wall art remains, and the upper galleries are devoted to the history of the exposition. Considering the difficulty I had with getting a ticket to the museum (the woman at the desk assumed I was there for the aquarium 😒), I couldn't help but be extremely skeptical about "Paris-Londres."
My travels to London and Paris this month have been illuminating. And this exhibition has (unintentionall?) links to all of the ones on display in these two metropoles. Dr. Angelo recommended this because I was curious about any narratives of Black European history that didn't circle back to African Americans in Paris. This was it, but between it being housed in a colonial building (that isn't easy to get to) + the lack of a strong curatorial voice--and it being in the "history of immigration" section ... 😬
The message was very muddled!
Has anyone else been to Paris to see this? It's on until next January, I believe, so plenty of time to do so!
Glad I was able to see this in Paris, though it would have been interesting to be able to compare the NYC version to this one. ***
Since my trip is both research and autoethnographic--and I am a public historian--I found myself less interested in what was on display than on observing the audiences. ***
Paris is much browner and blacker than I expected (Johny Pitts' Afropean said so!) , and seeing this exhibition in a museum that has historically ignored the black presence in art (history) was...disconcerting? Bemusing? Intriguing? The crowd was incredibly diverse--which is not a typical experience in art museums--and I wondered if this was because of the city's demographics or because of this exhibition? If my French was better, I would have liked to have asked visitors their opinion. ***
👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 The curator, Dr. Denise Murrell, is officially my academic heroine.
18601 month ago
The accumulating pile of books I have purchased on this trip. My exam reading list is going to be so lit!
3601 month ago
Another dope exhibition in London: Get Up, Stand Up Now.
My time here in the UK is just about over, and I've been an observer, a looker, a spectator, feeling simultaneously very American yet also very much a part of the crowd of black people in the city.
A kind of double-consciousness so to speak. **
I told a friend that I constantly saw people trying to read me based on my clothes, my hair, my complexion, my walk, and either ignoring me or being visibly relieved once I opened my mouth and they heard an American accent. **
The two exhibits I saw--Faith Ringgold and this one, which both grapple towards a particular identity within blackness (historically and contemporary and future)--were artistic manifestations of the anxiety/tension/uniqueness of black identity and diaspora. Because as much as I know I am black, etc etc, my identity does not read clearly outside of the US context. And this goes for signifiers of class especially (I could go on a huge tangent about this!).
So now I am left wondering what does the African Diaspora really mean once you're "on the ground"? I now realize that I can study and praise and get excited all I want about historical and contemporary people forging these connections, but it's messier when you think about the privileges inherent in being able to travel, pursue an advanced degree, be an artist, writer, gallery owner, etc. It's a messiness that might not fully match the politics the diaspora strives to fight for.
A portrait of Nella Larsen (📸: Carl Van Vechten). Larsen, born in 1890s Chicago to a mother from Denmark and a father from the Danish West Indies, existed in the in-between space of identity. My questions about women in the Black Atlantic are intricately linked to her voyages to Europe, and her description of this experience in her work.
It seems astonishing, but until George Hutchinson's recent biography of Larsen, many scholars were skeptical of her claims (in her fiction) of living in Denmark as a child. The inability to believe that Larsen could occupy multiple sites (Danish, European, Caribbean, immigrant) other than those assigned to her (just "black") reminds me of essays about Afropolitanism (h/t to @msafropolitan) and @emmadabiri's ruminations on her experience as mixed race, as black, as Irish, as Trinidadian, as Yoruba, and raised in Atlanta and in Dublin, in her book Don't Touch My Hair. Also @hdurrow has written her own story as half Danish and half black in The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.
Helga Crane, the protagonist of Quicksand, belongs everywhere and nowhere. Jim Crow America forces her behind the color line that her white mother, stepfather, and half siblings do not experience. Her light skin and long hair allow her to "pass" as part of the educated Black Elite, despite being raised in a white immigrant community. Through Helga, we are taken from Chicago to the US South to Harlem to Copenhagen, tracing her search for home/identity. ***
Europe holds a fascination for black Americans. Even today, many black travelers marvel at the 《equal》treatment they receive overseas. Helga's European sojourn is fraught with this freedom? I'm not going to spoil the novel, but it's one of those conundrums of leaving a hostile home in search of a welcoming one. What ends up turning out to be home? And is movement a temporary solution?
8402 months ago
Eartha Kitt in Paddington Station, 1960
This time next week I will be in England for a combined research trip/autoethnographic exploration. My dissertation project is borne from meditations on home and diaspora, on existing in the nebulous, in-between world of possessing multiple identities and geographies in a single body. ***
I always joke that I am a child of the diaspora--my physical appearance bears the markers of the transatlantic slave trade and the troublesome nature of the "Talented Tenth." My family history stretches from the tonied black neighborhoods in Harlem and Philadelphia to the working class grind of Kansas City and Pittsburgh, and migrations to/from Panama, Germany, and the Dominican Republic. Let's not talk about my being raised in three different states, with attendance at about ten K-12 schools spread across them. Now, as a PhD student, I have the disconcerting and bemusing experience of soaring beyond the dreams of my immediate family, yet have lodged myself right back in the milieu of my distant relations (which is an incredibly complicated situation).
Thus, the search for home, a place of belonging, even within the community/family to which I ostensibly belong, remains a crucial anxiety that drives me to look for and seek out how black women before me (and currently) dealt with this. ***
I think about Eartha Kitt especially, and how her career was built upon this state of in-betweeness: mixed race. Not soulful enough for the "race" market, yet too black for pop music. An American abroad. A performer (of the Dunham school!) whose skill with languages and diasporic dances allowed her to occupy multiple professional spaces. ***
What does travel, artistic expression, and performance do for the in-betweeness? Is the ability to be read in multiple and in particular ways, a form of belonging?
47002 months ago
Virgil Abloh "Figures of Speech" + visitors shoes + Jonathas de Andrade "One to One"