Jericho Brown Talks Paradise/Paradiso

I honestly don’t know what it is, but I keep finding connections between the stuff that we talk about in class and the things that I’m reading on the side. To be more specific, I’m currently reading a book of poetry called The New Testament by Jericho Brown, a well-known contemporary poet who talks about race.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates on Reparations

I just read “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates… it’s such a well-written, informative piece about what our next steps should be as Americans. It goes deep into our history and highlights specific examples of how we have neglected rights that our Constitution grants. The reading isn’t tough. It moves back and forth through time often, but it feels more like sitting on a rocking chair and being swayed.

I’ve pasted some quotes that shook me. Give the article a read, please. It’s long, but powerful. I must warn you that some images and statements are triggering. Tread thoughtfully.

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We Are Dazzled, Not Destroyed

To begin this post, I want to draw attention to Frank’s post “Just Make It Go Away,” which highlights the way that Morrison and Dante both use blindness as a way to describe some of their major characters. The article that Frank brings into his post, “On the Hideous Whiteness of Brexit,” points specifically to the distorting lens that having white privilege has on people. The article’s author, Akwugo Emejulu, pays particular attention to how this whiteness is not an excuse for being blind, which is exactly what Morrison does in her novel, Paradise.

Part of my thought project focuses on how Dante’s perceived image of Beatrice distracts him from seeing what was truly important: his own personal development on his journey to heaven. Dante writes “Dazzled, not destroyed” when characterizing the type of blindness that he experiences. This not destroyed part — it’s really important! It draws attention to how we can repair it. Hurting is not an excuse to give up. Emejulu mentions it in his article, “Bexit shows us how whiteness, as a power relation, operates in ways to cast itself as both a ‘victim’ and an ‘innocent’ simultaneously,” amplifying how we mustn’t fall into the narratives that often plague people who have suffered. Continue reading “We Are Dazzled, Not Destroyed”

Forward then backward

Please take the time to read this essay, “Making America White Again,” by the author of our class’s readings, Toni Morrison. She talks about a push and pull: the whitening of America. The topic she discusses makes me think of the progress that we have made in recent years. Morrison writes “These sacrifices, made by supposedly tough white men, who are prepared to abandon their humanity out of fear of black men and women, suggest the true horror of lost status.” It makes me question if I have taken much of what the United States has given to me and my family for granted.


Drawing Parallels through Oral Histories

I found the fact that Morrison includes Patricia as a kind of oral historian in Paradise to be jarring considering the fact that I worked at a museum which created a project that recorded the histories of people who are of mixed descent. I wanted to do some work addressing the parallels between Patricia and the work that Brooklyn Historical Society did using the blog post that I wrote about Lacy Shwartz, a mixed-race woman whose Jewish family never told her that she was half black.

Shwartz, whose story is documented in her short documentary, Little White Lie, talked about the sentiments she garnered as a biracial woman. She said that being mixed was a category of being black, “When you are defaulted into the black student union, even though you have black pigment in your skin, there is also a white privilege that you have to let go of. I’m aware of it and I definitely certainly embody it.” Shwartz talked about how as a light-skinned black woman, she at times had a “passing privilege,” which she had to let go of. The same idea is built upon in Morrison’s Paradise.

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We live in a democracy

I woke up today disoriented, unable to think clearly about our country’s future. Yesterday, Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. America has spoken. Although this means that many of our constitutional rights have taken a hit with a win by Trump’s linear and alienating rhetoric, it also means that we must come together to teach people love. I saw the following Saturday Night Live skit on my newsfeed this morning and it made me feel better. I hope that it leaves you all in the same spirits.

On the discourse of punishment…

Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer and activist that fights for what goes unnoticed in our justice system. But alongside this, Stevenson works to reteach American history… Stevenson forces his audience to remember the amount of black bodies that have been lynched and enslaved in our country’s history by demanding that we build them memorials and museums. One of the ways I was introduced to him was by watching this TED Talk at the museum I worked at last summer. It motivated me to rethink the ways that my education has been framed and I hope it will do the same for those of you who choose to watch it as well.

How to Feel About Prisons

I wanted to start a conversation about prisons in the United States. But first, I’d like to start with a little anecdote. A couple years ago my older brother used to hang around the wrong group of people. We live in the hood in Brooklyn and so part of this meant dealing with the culture of the hood. One day, my brother was hanging out with these kids on the train, skipping train cars, which is illegal, and got targeted by the cops. Under the impression that the friends my brother was with were carrying weed, he started running away from the cops. After tripping, a cop finally caught hold of him. Quietly, he said that my brother was lucky he hadn’t put “three rounds in his back.” Continue reading “How to Feel About Prisons”

Black History is American History

A question that Beth posed in class this week asked us to understand what Toni Morrison means when she stated that her literature is intended for black folks. In this blog post, I’d like to dive into what I believe that she meant, with a special mention to a quote from the PBS film, Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery, that stated indignantly that “slavery is indeed an institution that is American.”

Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery noted the contextual history of Morrison’s novel, Mercy, by placing us in the time leading up to slavery – the movement that occurred during the Middle Passage and then the buying and selling of black bodies. In Mercy, a work of historical American fiction, the quote “slavery is indeed an institution that is American,” should be noted in categorizing the novel as a work of “historical American fiction.” Among the many statements mentioned throughout the film, each able to shake the roots of what Joan Dayan recalls as “the sorcery of law… hidden at the heart of the modern state,” and which Beth sites in her “The Archive of the Archive of the Archive,” stating that slavery is an institution that is still present in our American ways and that its history will continue to haunt black lives is what brings Morrison’s work to life today. I inferred that this is what the producers of the film want us to learn from saying that. The statement is supported by reference to how the Declaration of Independence, the doctrine that asserts our nation’s foundation, was not made with consideration for black lives. The plethora of these kinds of dismissals present in our history continues to subjugate and dehumanize black people in the United States. It highlights a modern slavery that is a relic of what was never dealt with during Reconstruction.

Moreover, I think that stating that “slavery is indeed an institution that is American” brings currency to what we study in class. Saying that slavery is American includes its history and all of its implications in our present day society. It denies the perspective that some Americans have of “colorblindness” and elucidates Morrison’s assertion that her literature is meant for black people. It is meant to empower black people and to remember black history. It includes black lives, and the history of these black lives, and contextualizes this history to our present day society, giving a voice to the #BlackLivesMatter movement today.

For all these reasons, I applaud the showing of Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery because now, we know in brevity what we are working with. We know that what Morrison is teaching us is a delicate balance of our American history, including what has been erased and what we are yearning to learn.