Dreams and Genealogy

"I have made it my task to reconstruct the text of a family with contextual clues, and my intent is this: to trust in the mysterious; to juxtapose the known with the unknown; to collect the overlooked, the debris – stones, broken mirrors, and abandoned things. With these I will sew a new quilt of memory and imagination, each stitch a small transformation, each stitch my work of mourning."

from The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka

I went to this talk today on campus by Alondra Nelson who is already someone whose work that I admire (see Technicolor: Race Technology and Everyday Life). But today, she did a talk that examined the rising usage of African American's and Black British families utilizing DNA testing in an attempt to 'trace their roots' to find out where in Africa they may have come from.

I find this study fascinating, not because I think that knowing where you are 'from' in Africa is important, but because of the cultural and political value we place on obtaining and claiming 'Africa'. When I put Africa in quotes here I really mean just that – the IDEA of the fantasy, homeland Africa that still is used as a symbol in so many different circumstance, not the reality of Africa. One colleague mentioned that this idea of Africa continues to be reproduced just by the simply buying into the fact that there is a root somewhere that we think we can find. Its a powerful imaginary – yes?

And it is this desire that fascinates me. Particularly because of the process/ moment I have been going through/ immersed within. Some argue that this desire to find a home is rooted in the actual dispersal of black bodies across the Atlantic, and others argue that it is the attempt to cut off and remove cultural, spiritual and community identities that cause this trauma to the black body across the globe.

There is something about this rupture of removal from home, something about Treong's 'language of blood' and something dangerous and simultaneously 'so right' about the biological thread – yet why does this connection to Africa become so important – especially if we are trying to express the difference and hybridity of 'blackness' that refuses a monolithic idea of racialization. We (black folks) are NOT all the same, we are diverse in powerful ways – ways that include the ways we imagine ourselves, the way we create our stories and how we come to know our own personal identities. (and we know the dangers of a language of biology that gets used to make us inhuman..)

Is my racial specificity important? does it change who I am? how I already imagined myself political and culturally? I don’t know. Does it legitimize me in a weird way? yes. But I'm not sure I care about that – I already moved with the knowing, the creating – the dreaming.

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2 thoughts on “Dreams and Genealogy

  1. That IS fascinating, but then again I’m never surprised about people wanting to trace their roots in any way. And I think it’s even more compelling when one is adopted; that “homeland” pull is so strong, the questions are so large.

  2. In tracing our roots, I feel that race is less the issue; rather it is an issue of identity. ‘Africa’ is a large continent full of diverse cultures as is ‘Europe’ or ‘Asia’. Even for those of us who can trace our roots to Scotland, many want to know WHERE in Scotland…seeking that so-called “origin”. I believe we all need to know where we “come from” in order to integrate that into who we are today and who we will become tomorrow. Heritage is a powerful concept and it is important to share that with future generations whether it is an old family recipe, an old handmade quilt or a series of stories because it gives us the knowledge that there are others who have come before us and those who will go on after us who are “like us”, “similar to us” and who because of that similarity, will appreciate and celebrate and validate us. Everyone has the desire to know where “home” is, some are content with a more “recent” location while others want to know much greater detail.

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