Black Feminist Genealogies, Black Feminist Histories & Queering the Family Tree

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2 thoughts on “Black Feminist Genealogies, Black Feminist Histories & Queering the Family Tree

  1. I’ve been walking around with this question for the last couple of weeks and everytime i mean to sit down and write a response I get ellipses and unfinished sentences…with that said here goes a couple thoughts:

    I think you are exactly right in invoking language about the personal and reproductive labor. For social history, it seems like especially critical intervention because it requires us to grapple with meaningful human connections.

    I was having a conversation with my white, gay, progressive neighbor about andrew jackson the other night. Neighbor is from central TN, and despite being left on just about everything politically, he started to give a really cautious defense of Jackson’s Indian removal policy. He was basically like, “I don’t agree, but I think I can understand the animosity that a Scots-Irish frontier family could have towards the indians. What he said basically echoed the basic Bacon’s rebellion, proto white supremacist argument about why planter’s made concessions to landless whites but it got me thinking about how genealogy, like you said, sort of encourages us to naturalize (if not empathize) certain connections over others. Genealogies are inherited and if we don’t trouble–historicize, if you will–our genealogies, we yield the past to the tribalists, carnival barkers, and other psuedo scientists.

    One other thing had me thinking about this. I was following the fallout between Shayne Lee and Tamura Lomax in the comments section over at Crunk Feminist. The level of vitriol being tossed back and forth made me want to go back to Tamura’s actual review to see what was the genesis of the beef. One thing that jumped out to me over there (beside the tone of the review) was how she repeatedly evoked history(main critique was that lee’s work took an ahistorical approach to black feminist thought). While she did not follow though with specific examples of how the history was weak, I found it intriguing that she basically ended the review with “You need to read…” and basically listed every major black feminist historian and lit scholar who’s published since the 80s.

    It reminded me of Renina’s critique of Ta-nehisi’s blog about Malcolm X and Misogyny. She also said basically gave him the “you need to read…”. I wonder, if in black feminist circles, genealogy can also equal=post second wave historiography of black feminist thinkers. It seems like the black women who are on the cusp of producing a 4th wave of feminist thought (I know, I know, no more waves) have this sort of contentious relationship with the violence/silence of the way history and history departments have treated black women; the folks of the ebb/hortense spillers/nell painter generation fought real battles and have some pretty horrifying war stories with regards to challenging institutional norms and building new institutions. Now that there is something akin to an intellectual/institutional foothold, there is a way that the followers and acolytes (our generation) have a sense of inheritance of a tradition. The type of scholarship that our generation can do (in addition to how departments have changed to support that work) is beholden to that previous generation. A straight line on a family tree if you.

    But that’s different from historicizing the connection, no? We can look at the lines of the genealogy and see branches and roots, connections and cross-pollination. I think the historical lens forces us to ask the historiographical questions–not necessarily view the micro and macro aspects in an “objective” manner, but think about how each piece, from the soil to the stem has its own historical path with any number of steps, contingencies, and missed opportunities.

    apologies for rambling

    • No apologies needed. This is really interesting and a conversation that we all need to be having.

      Funny you should comment now because I’ve had this genealogies thing rolling around in my head ever since the Twitter conversation. I keep coming back to the idea of queering it and wondering whether it actually is elastic enough, naturally, as a concept, to accept that kind of remolding….

      Your point–and the dust up you are referring too–are definitely on point. I think it is really true for all of us who are academics, scholars, public intellectuals, artists, writers, critical thinkers in general to better understand the intellectual traditions we come out of. And to really dig to find the gaps in our knowledge and fill it in with the best of the best. I wonder about the ways that we as 21st century black feminists–Crunk Feminists, Diva Feminists, and more–engage that genealogy, that history, those gaps and our ancestresses differently from those in other fields.

      I think…that there is real pain that is under appreciated in the academy and is approached too casually by those who want to enter into our history. Because we really did Lose Our Mothers (Hartman). That isn’t a metaphor or a pretty phrase. The gaps are real. I’m reading Stephen King’s IT right now so I’ll use a phrase from that: The amnesia is so deep and wide that we don’t even know we have amnesia. And how can you try to find a place/person/event that you didn’t know you’d lost? And yet, when we discover how much that loss, that emptiness, that unmothering has DAMAGED us–the pain of the betrayal is epic. And so we have to fight through some “real ancestral emotions” (Baratunde Thurston) to get to a place where we can even have a conversation with a colleague–but in the meantime, they’ve researched, published and sent off entire tomes about OUR history. Which forces us into a kind of circular, mind warp, retelling, Beloved style, where we can’t escape that story because we are so busy relating it again and again–to people who have so long dismissed the idea that there IS a story to tell that they can’t be bothered to even notice us standing there screaming.

      It is raw. Because we are literally dealing with genealogies wiped off of the chalkboard. Which is what I was trying to say about queering genealogies (to come full circle) and how can we do that if we can’t even see the gaps. (although queering has it much worse because our gaps are just invisible. they aren’t the devil. they aren’t forgotten twice then exorcised. they are just forgotten.)

      I don’t know. Your neighbor is not an isolated case. I mean, we see overlapping isms all the time in black folk right around us–anti-Latino sentiment, anti-Muslim sentiment, and now, hell now, anti-abortion sentiment….

      And as a historian, I keep coming back to the idea that the gaps are the key, the gaps will save us, the gaps will tell us what to do. It is all very DuBoisian but if an artist–or a soldier–ever had to chose their weapon–of war–then I guess mine is this.


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