Subjectivity of Post-Mortem Identity

Since writing about my experience at the wake/funeral services that I attended this past weekend, I have had an urge to talk about the body politic and what social factors are capable of altering it. Specifically, I would like to talk about the social implications on the subjectivity of post-mortem burial rights. An identity is only what the actions of the person make it. After someone becomes deceased, who has the right to speak for an identity that’s been, to society, used up? A person’s identity is only useful to society after death to remember; serving as an agency to the performance of memory – but it is too subjective to claim that everyone’s identity is “useful” in the grand scheme of things. Now, that’s not to say that identities are not important, because self-expression is important in everyone; but to further a societal gain, one’s identity must impact the factors that benefit a society. For example, my identity means nothing to someone who is involved in the Labour Party of the U.K. – they do not benefit from my existence, I do not benefit from theirs.

The use of one’s identity after death is subjected to both laws and social implications, and in doing so, a performance of memory is being executed. One specific example that comes to mind is the African Burial Ground National Monument based in Lower Manhattan. This monument, a former burial ground for both enslaved and free African Americans, contains the remnants of over 15,000 skeletal remains. The identities of each skeleton are unknown, therefore useless on their own in understanding the impact of the enslaved peoples on the chronicle of NYC’s construction; however, collectively, they serve as one identity that alters the body politic. Because of the numerous amounts of remains, the body politic surrounding the individual skeleton is altered by society’s historical need to preserve information. According to the National Park Service, “[m]emorialization and research of the enslaved African skeletal remains were negotiated extensively between the General Services Administration, the African – American descendant community, historians, archaeologist, and anthropologist, including city and state political leaders.” The deliberation of the right to use a person’s identity serves to the performance of memory by collectively gathering a common component of the skeletons – all of them worked on the construction of NYC, most being enslaved – and using that information to amass knowledge pertinent to scholarship and understanding. This deliberation is also in accordance to the law, for it, according to Roach, “transmits effigies.” It does so by permitting the identity of thousands of remains to perform under a unified meaning – the impact of enslavement on the construction of New York.

            Every identity is important, but it’s what you are remembered for that is especially important.

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