Call and Response – Essay 1

Now more than ever, history is crucial in learning and creating in the world we live in today. So much of American history revolves around the over representation of white people and dehumanization of minorities. Laws are created and communities unite, but after so many efforts into creating a truly equal world, one comes to accept the reality. History, America’s history specifically, has made it near to impossible to see each other as equals. But is that really what should be strived for anymore? Would it be enough to antone or reparate the generations of pain caused? A good definition for this is found in Kirsten Mullen and William A. Darity’s book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” reparations are defined as “acknowledgement, redress, and closure for a grievous injustice”. They state that we live in an America “that is unable to acknowledge and confront persistent racial inequality” leading to the pattern of racial injustices with African Americans we still see today. I think about this definition often when reading our texts.

Call and Response, The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition, edited by Patricia Liggins Hill, preaches and petitions for simply an understanding. While reading through Call and Response, I found the theme of unity and memory shining through the most. In Elsa Barkley Brown’s African-American Women’s Quilting states “I do not mean that white or male students can learn to feel what it is like to be a Black woman…I believe that all people can learn to center in another experience, validate it, and judge it by its own standards without need of comparison..”. It’s not necessarily equality, but empathy. Brown goes on to say “African-American women’s quilting… provides us with the framework..” to achieve it when color strips are different than the colors in the blocks or designs representing unpredictability and movement, change. I believe that we live in an American deceptive to change. We welcome it but at the same time we are conditioned and untrusting of what hasn’t conformed to the “norm”.

This is what I mean when I talk about over representation of white people in history, especially white men. You see it in propaganda from the early 1900s and in the higher power and authority during that time. When the United States was founded, it arose the contemporary concept of “race,” tied to the evolution of the terms “white” and “slave.” In the 1500s, Europeans established the terms “race,” “white,” and “slave,” and they brought these ideas and perspectives to North America. The words, on the other hand, do not carry the same connotations as they have now. Instead, the demands of a thriving American society would change the meaning of those words into new conceptions. 

In Suzan-Lori Parks’ An Equation for Black People she says “The bulk of relationships Black people are engaged in onstage is the relationship between the Black and White other”. She goes on to say that it is “high drama” but she also wonders “if a drama involving a Black people can exist without the White presence.”. This got me thinking as well, it simply takes one to unfairly disregard the other. She quotes from Toni Morrison’s Black Matters, “the presence of the White often signifies the presence of the Black…reduces Blackness to merely a state of non-Whiteness.”. In this equation the “Blackness” is people whose lives have consisted of “reactions and responses to the White ruling class.”  Parks emphasizes history as a crucial element in understanding African-American literature and art including daily confrontation of the White ruling class. 

I believe that there is a fine line between History and memory. Both equally coincide with each other to create stories to learn from, not to be repeated. In Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, she repeats a phrase at the end of the book, “this is not a story to be passed on” and at the beginning “deliberately buried but not forgotten”.  These phases from Beloved, speak volumes to the story’s message as a whole “this is not a story to pass on” and unclaimed recollections of servitude, painful experiences of exploitation and abuse that the protagonists deliberately strive to bury and forget but can’t. This also speaks to the more ignorance rather than “memory” of slavery and racism in America. Beloved tells its story through memory as it switches back and forth between past and present giving history its purpose. To compare and reflect, not to repeat. Despite their efforts to suppress their memories of slavery, the characters are haunted and tortured by them. Memory is constant, concrete, and inevitable in this work, and history stems from that.

 In W.E.B Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, He presents a question that, in my opinion, has a collective element. “Why did God make me an outcast and stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all..”. He goes on to say “…walls strait and stubborn to the whitest..” commenting on white ruling and  “..but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of the night..” commenting on the struggles of conforming to what white people would see as normal. He calls it “double-consciousness”- a sense of looking at yourself through the eyes of others and measuring your highs/lows to others successes/failures. There is no standard or expectation without this. Du Bois continues to state that he would not “Africanize” America because there is so much we have to learn from one another and therefore African American “blood has a message for the world”. History is memory, moments lived and remembered. 

All around I believe the undergird principles that guide this collection are the guiding principles that undergird Call and Response presentation African American tradition are as follows: unity, pride, and history as memory. Pride in that there is a refusal to conform to the white-washing American lifestyle. As if to erase the generational suffering of African Americans, with the white American lifestyle since many are under the assumption that African Americans, and minorities in general, would be better off. Would they? Who knows? But one thing is for sure that we cannot disregard a culture because it is simply different. Back then, and even today, African Americans had no choice but to unite and stick together as a community collectively suffering under the ruling of White people. The permanent psychological and emotional trauma that African Americans face is a harm that they bear collectively. Sharing their memory and pain creates a larger picture.