Hey Speakerz! It’s Monday again! Wooooooofff!!! I for one am SO glad. This topic has taken me a few weeks of milling around in my head and finally, I’ve chosen to “speak” on it. So let’s get started shall we? This week’s topic is on Ancestral Remembrance regarding the African Diaspora in NYC, the POC millenial presence, apologetic nature and how we can use our voices, bodies and spirits to elevate our village. Put on your seatbelt, cuz we’re going on a ride.
Many people are not aware of the early enslaved African presence in NYC. It isn’t taught in schools. During the colonial period in New York City (circa 1700s), then under Dutch presence, nearly 41% of households owned slaves. That’s a little less than half. Exact numbers would be helpful but alas. That would mean that nearly 20% of the population was made up of enslaved Africans. Some of the main ports for the slave trade existed along the east coast spanning from Charleston, Richmond, Washington D.C., New York, Providence and Boston. Enslaved human beings built New York City. They built and made up the American Stock Exchange. They built the battery and it’s strongholds. They built the Wall for which Wall Street gets its name. Their presence is everywhere and yet the only memorial to them is a Burial Ground, only made up of 400 or so bones exhumed from a dig gone wrong in the early 2000s. Where are the rest of the THOUSANDS of bodies? Now you may say, well that was so long ago. To that I say that during the years before the Civil War, Central Park was a stronghold of freed black peoples named Seneca Village, proclaimed imminent domain and then turned into central park, then later, the Great Migration, during which freed Black Americans flocked to cities to find jobs and to escape the poverty and racism in the South, New York City once again flourished with black bodies creating and building. They built the trains and their stations. My grandfather ran a train for many years. We built up the education system. My mother was a teacher in the NYC public school system. The list goes on.
How do we gather a village if we are not aware of who we are? What was one very important thing that the enslaved were forbidden from doing? Reading. The one thing that each generation of black collective has done less and less is apologize for who we are. Much of this unapologetic stance comes with education. By this, I mean that apology has been bred into our DNA with ignorance of self. Those enslaved survived at first because of compromise and apology. Those who fought through it were dubbed rebellious and indeed they were. It takes a spark of rebelliousness to poison one who proclaims to be a “master”, or to run in the dead of night or the light of day. It takes a spark of self love to leave everything that you have ever known to carry yourself and your family to a city that seems foreign. If it takes a spark of those things to do what our foremothers and fathers did, just imagine what a river of those things can do. I notice lately that myself and other “woke” millenials have less and less apology. We are in fact the dream and hope of our foremothers and fathers. We are carefree, spirit-filled and yes, a lil bit magic. This apology oftentimes comes in the present form of making sure that those who are in positions of oppression do not feel threatened. Let’s be real, “feeling threatened” is why so many young and black bodies are dying today. We are continually under attack because we dare to be what we were denied…human. So it’s natural that in situations of possible escalation, we might feel a need to appease. But, we’ve learned from history that appeasing doesn’t work and very often hastens a different kind of death. A death of the spirit. We must remain whole if we are to move forward. How and when do we learn about who it was that we came from and how do we move forward? Must we leave those who wish to remain behind? What then is freedom and choice?
Freedom. An ideal. A reality. A hope. I wish to be free to make my own choices. That seems like such a small wish and yet as the great grandchild of those enslaved, I can’t help but know that I carry the weight of those not allowed to breathe, to dream. What does remembrance take? It starts with Choice. We must actively choose every day to remember, to elevate, to push for freedom of voice, of self, of collective, of learning and unlearning. The unlearning that we must do will take most of the time. The fight against what the mind “thinks to be true” is one that can be exhausting, while the learning is like a sponge.
Most recently, I had an experience where I had to explain the system of racism and why it was that poc do not have the structural wherewithal to be racist but can indeed be prejudice. As I explained, I felt myself become rageful. Why was I being forced to educate? Why didn’t the school system teach a grown white woman? Why was I dealing with ageism, racism and sexism at the same time?
But then, what about how black and brown bodies hold, comfort, and revere other black and brown bodies? Black and brown men and women are taught from various angles to be weapons to each other. What has stuck since slavery is the tearing apart of the black familial structure and we seem to cling to what we’ve been taught. To simply exist is an act of defiance. But existing isn’t enough. How do we heal? How and when do we comfort? Most recently, I’ve been experiencing a well of blood memory. Blood memory is the remembrance that comes in our blood, the tapping into of ancient memory. As an empathic person, it’s something to be aware of, moving through places that can hold a lot of history. In experiencing this, sometimes it is like a tsunami, a huge wave of sorrow and confusion that I feel like I’ll be lost in forever and all I can do is cry and hold on to something, anything that feels familiar. In this, I’ve found a strong wish to be held and surrounded by other black and brown bodies that feel like home. But what if we as black and brown millenials woke or not, don’t know how to comfort, or have become desensitized to the brutality or the normalcy of racism? Where does this leave us? It all goes back to self love. The ability to look deep and uncover my own soul, gives me permission to be unapologetic, to be open and available, to be expansive. The programming is so ingrained and must be broken so that we can reclaim, restore and ultimately rebel. But is it for everyone? Who is the next wave and what will we do with the knowledge that we are acquiring?
It is the human experience to be conflicted, to falter, but also to rise and move forward. The people make up the systems of oppression as well as the systems of love and wholeness. We must hold all accountable. No one is exempt. We must work hard at cultivating a whole self, spirit, mind and body. We do the work of uncovering with art, with the written word, with self care, with science, with archaeology, with conversation and while we do the work, we must be prepared for the healing work that comes with the reveal. So I ask, how do we each choose to use our freedom and choice, wisdom and voice?
Damali Speaks Xx