The Strengths of Abolitionist Rhetoric in 2018

I was particularly interested in the Prison Abolitionist Movement mentioned in Mariame Kaba’s essay “Free Us All” that we read for Friday’s class. I was familiar with the concept of prison reform and even the arguments in decreasing the numbers of prisons across the country, but I had never heard of prison abolitionism. It piqued my interest especially because I’ve taken a lot of history classes here (mostly with Dr. Behrend) where I’ve worked semi-extensively with the eras of slavery, emancipation, and their lingering effects on contemporary American society.

This got me thinking… What were the benefits of speaking the language of abolitionism in 2018? And, how did this engage with course concepts of memory and forgetting? Continue reading “The Strengths of Abolitionist Rhetoric in 2018”

The Two Angolas

“The Lousiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola, is situated on the lush land of a plantation of that name founded by a slave trader.” This detail can be found in the chapter of Solnit and Snedeker’s Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas entitled “Of Levees and Prisons.” The statement is steeped in layers of history and competing narratives: a great place to slow down for some thorough examination. Continue reading “The Two Angolas”

Waterbearer by Lorna Simpson (1986)

A few weeks ago, I went to the Albright-Knox and saw an exhibition titled “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-1985,” and one piece that stood out to me was Waterbearer (1986) by Lorna Simpson. The subject of the piece is a black woman who is pouring water out of two jugs—one plastic, one metal. I’ve inserted images of the piece below:

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Cemetery Celebrations and the Segregation of the Dead – Part 2

Inspired by the budding area of digital humanities at Geneseo, for about a month now I have been slowly working to accumulate the ideas from my previous cemetery celebrations post into a digital humanities project. Finding photos from my childhood in Green-Wood Cemetery and constantly seeing the giant Road Atlas I bought for this class in my peripheral pile of books sparked the idea to combine multiple types of information onto a map of Green-Wood Cemetery.

The map covers a wide array of topics related to or from this class. Whether locating residents of the cemetery (such as Samuel Morse, “Boss” Tweed, and even Brendan and Connor Moore) and linking them to our class discussions, acknowledging my struggles to remember the events of my childhood, or simply pointing out a few interesting facts about the Cemetery, I have tried my best to make sure you can find something interesting and worth further research (and perhaps spark a blog post of your own if you feel particularly inspired).

Via Google MyMaps, I present: The Segregation of the Dead and the Living in Green-Wood Cemetery.

Continue reading “Cemetery Celebrations and the Segregation of the Dead – Part 2”

The Conundrum of Color-Blindness

When Kathryn Miles wrote about the tragedy of the Moore family in her book Superstorm, she provided several details for the context of their story: Damien and Glenda Moore and their two sons were beloved in their Staten Island neighborhood. Damien was an Irish immigrant and naturalized American citizen, and his Irish blood showed in one of his son’s red hair. On the day that Hurricane Sandy hit New York, Damien hadn’t returned from work and Glenda started to panic. Worried for her husband’s safety, Glenda packed her boys into her car and began the drive to Damien’s workplace. On the way, the car got stuck in the floods and they were forced to evacuate the vehicle. While desperately looking for safety, Glenda lost her grip on her sons and they were swept away by the rushing water.

And that’s where Miles ends her account on the Moore family.

One vital detail that Miles omits is that Glenda Moore is black, and her sons were mixed-race. It’s an odd thing to ignore after numerous mentions of her husband’s ethnicity. Another thing that was left out of Superstorm was Glenda’s desperate pleas for passage into locked homes after being trapped in the storm, all of which were ignored. Observers of the story have agreed this was an unfortunate consequence of her race. The Moore boys may still be alive today if this weren’t the case.

It’s clear that Miles’s rendition of the tragedy of the Moore family was an attempt at racial colorblindness. Colorblindness, as the name implies, is the practice of intentionally ignoring someone’s race and all of its connotations in an effort to promote equality. It’s very much an idealist concept, for if everyone adopted it at once, choosing to defer the harsh memories of racial tension, then the world would likely be a better place. It’s undeniable that, by definition, universal colorblindness would cause an instantaneous end to all racial prejudices, including hate crimes, profiling, and systematic segregation. Colorblindness was even a cornerstone concept in Martin Luther King’s visions for the Civil Rights Movement.

However, Miles’s use of colorblindness demonstrates how it can be a double-edged sword. While her telling of the tale of the Moore family was obviously supposed to serve as an anecdote for Hurricane Sandy’s deadly force, her omission of certain details shows an overlooking of the major moral takeaway from the story. The problem with racial colorblindness is that if an individual practices it in a society that doesn’t, then the individual is knowingly dismissing the plights of those that regularly experience racism. Although the racial conflicts of the Moore story weren’t directly relevant to the narrative Miles was trying to tell, it was still insensitive to not address them. As an author, Miles willingly chose not to tell the parts of the story that would potentially raise awareness of the racism that still plagues this country.

While colorblindness is, in theory, an effective method to combat racism, it only achieves its goal if everyone in a society practices it at once. If there are only a few people practicing it in a racially divided country, then those people’s refusal to acknowledge the racial divide only strengthens it. Because of this, it’s practically impossible for an entire society to adopt colorblindness without a major, unprecedented social upheaval. However, it may not be too late to become a more color-sensitive society. It is, after all, everyone’s personal responsibility to remember and respect the historical and current issues that people of color have faced for decades.

Response to Christina’s post on sentinel species

A few weeks ago, Christina wrote a rich blog post about using the concepts of sentinel species and range to contextualize post-Katrina New Orleans as a “canary in the coal mine.” She discussed how what happened in New Orleans allowed for increased discussion on topics like climate change, the environment, and how our government reacts to disaster.

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Violence as the Performance of Waste in Northern Irish Poetry

This semester, I am taking English 403 with Dr. Robert Doggett and the course is about northern Irish poetry during the Troubles. The Troubles was a multiple decade long time period of horrendous, terroristic sectarian violence in northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics. Examining the works of Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and others, a central, recurring theme found across their poetry was a comparison of beauty and atrocity on the same spectrum when writing about corpses and the violence during the Troubles. I couldn’t help but relate the ideas discussed in Engl 403 with Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone” as giving meaning to dead corpses through artistic performance has been central to discussions in both classes.

A constant issue these poets seem to grapple with is balancing appreciation for the individuals’ lives who are lost without creating a rallying cry for further violence. The poets literally objectify the dead corpses and make artifacts out of memory through performance. Roach would note that the attempted closure these poets look for in light of their catastrophic realities (men, women and children died everyday in random explosions and shootings based solely on religious associations) is Eurocentric as the poets recall the past memory of the individuals lost, while emotionally turning to the future as “God’s will be done.” This final line, found in Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone,” is most pertinent as the violent performance of wasting lives resulted entirely from religious hate and cultural misunderstanding. People felt that they were absolved of accountability because their violence was collateral damage resulting from a Holy War that had to be waged.

The random killings, led by groups like the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Ulster Defence Association (UDF) felt random and especially devastating as most of the lives lost were those of completely innocent, everyday civilians. The violence was direct and intentional as hundreds of lives were wasted over arbitrary, cultural distinctions and the poets’ works relating to the Troubles served as “both quotation and invention” through artistic performance. The memory of individuals were brought to the forefront then manipulated by the poets to create a work of art that attempted to properly remember the lives that were wasted. Roach includes a quotation that “Spirits always addressed humans as bodies.” (Echoes in the Bone, p. 35) In many of the poems we read, they view the dichotomy of beauty and the sublime, or what humans can understand, compared to what they cannot. This further connects with Patricia Smith’s “Ethel’s Sestina” found in Blood Dazzler. In that poem, Smith introduces Ethel Freeman’s body while alluding to her “wait for salvation.” Dealing with Ethel’s dead body sitting in the middle of the street for days is difficult, but glorifying her life through her connection with God, and more importantly her sorrowful son, creates a sort of beauty in the absence of life within her body, or eventual corpse.

The Impact of Vividness

Monday’s analysis of the photosets from The Cut and New York Magazine reminded me that I have a photoset of my own I’ve been meaning to blog about. In December 2014 my mom and I spontaneously traveled the four and a half hours from Chipley, Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana. My mom brought her Nikon, which I staked claim to for the three days of our trip. At sixteen, I was slowly discovering that popular and famous things sometimes deserved their hype; including ketchup, Beyonce, and New Orleans. However, as a tourist I wasn’t satisfied with only experiencing and capturing the hot spots of the city. I wanted more than Bourbon street and the French Market; I tried to capture otherwise overlooked spaces. Linked is a public Google Drive Folder containing some of my photos from that trip. While reflecting on and picking out my photos for this post, I realized that the photographers included in the New York Magazine gallery may have had similar attitudes in their own work.

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Black Muddy River

For quite some time now, the topic I’ve wanted to write about has been the beauty found in waste, but it’s a hard thing to conceptualize. When we read “And Then She Owns You” in Blood Dazzler, I was struck by how genuine and real the writing was. It inspired me to endeavor to notice the beauty in something normally seen as worthless or ruined. At the same time, I wanted to know just what it was about this aesthetic that was so captivating. Lonnie Holley has done a better service to waste as art than I ever could.

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