Monday, January 08, 2007

What a Free People Would Look Like

Is Freedom We Making: Revolutionary Grenada, Merle Hodge(above), 1982
"The Site of Memory", Toni Morrison, 1990
"Cotton and Iron" Trinh T. Min-ha, 1990
"Talking Back" bell hooks, 1990
"marginality as site of resistance" bell hooks, 1990
"Castration or Decapitation?", Helene Cixous, 1990
"Reflections on Exile", Edward Said, 1990
"Explantation and Culture: Marginalia", Gayatri Spivak, 1990
"Thoughts on Nomadic Aesthetics and the Black independent Cinema: Traces of a Journey", Teshome H. Gabriel, 1990
For the Life of Laetitia, Merle Hodge, 1993
Female Masculinity, Judith Halberstam, 1998

I've been quoting Ralph Ellison to an excess. "This society is not likely to become free of racism." And there is proof everywhere. My school is more committed to the supposed 'innocence' of rich young white men with histories of violence than it is to my basic well-being. "So it is up to Negroes to become their idea of what a free people would look like." And Hallelujah of my mentor has left the obviously inconsequential Campus Culture Commission to spend her time (i'm sure) on something more beautiful, valuable and real for all of us. I mean what is the point of a campus commission against racism when the bottom line is that wealth and the myth of racial innocence are more important than whether I continue to survive. Worst case scenario: some crazy black woman (me) who shouldn't be here anyway...throws off all pretenses of well-adjusted tokenism when she is forced to teach some flagrantly murderous student and bites hishead off (literally). Worst case scenario the next day the chronicle runs a headline "See? See how they are?" Not likely to become free of racism...
So what does a free people look like. What is the visual poetic act that Ellison is calling for? (plug: www.listeningproject.blogspot) What would a free people look like? That question goes beyond the terrain of most of the essays that I read from the Out There anthology, and I mean terrain literally. That question goes beyond dsicussions of the margin and the center...the power of inhabiting the margin, having a priveleged view of "both" spaces (hooks),or nomad sensibility (Gabriel), or the ethics of (possibly inherited) exile (Said), or privatized public silencing (Spivak), or the school of hard knocks (Morrison). But freedom is still a spatial relation and a gendered one. And space requires specificity. And it is key that our bodies not become the reservations, the ghettoes, the camps, the prisons that make the "normal" world profitable. Collective childcare does not look the same in NYC as it does in Durham NC (as I noticed this weekend). The creation of kinship through cell phone top-5 is not the same as a village drum circle. The flight from home (and nationalist false hopes) over the Caribbean Sea to Miami, New York, Toronto is not the same as a reverse transatlantic boat trip from Trinidad to England. That difference matters. As Audre Lorde says again and again...difference is what pushes us to consciously create our relations, our tellings. And some things remain at stake across technological eras, bodies of water, residential housing set-ups. And that matters too the same (but different?) with our voices.
So what I am trying to say is directed to you and to me and also to all of the activists that I'm working with their shared desires to share in the glamour of "creating a model". I want to say that yes...somethings like our well-being, our self-determination, our ability to create nurturing relationships, our self-expression, the sacred and lewd love that we can have for our own bodies, the millions of ways that we are and can be connected to each other...are at stake...across and across and across. But difference that which prompts us to speak...that which makes relation (telling) relevant to begin with is also a warning not to turn our visioning, our activism, our best things, our "us" into products. Into the new slaves of the information age where our silence (or co-optation) our affect is more important than our labor (wild paraphrase of Lorde again).
Right. I promise to be more engaged with the specifics of the texts nexts time. And did I say...check out the listening project. My archive (back to this thing about margins)is not bound by the strategy. My archive is alive (and I'm making a beautiful book about it.)

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