Homage to Those Who Hollered before Me/Meditations on Inheritances and Lineages, Anthropological and Otherwise

Homage to Those Who Hollered before Me

Silence chose me
I didn’t choose silence
silence immobilized me
I could not breathe in my own skin
without breaking the silence
I could not live in the castle of my skin
as I came of age colonized
knowing I wasn’t meant to survive I screamed
knowing the power of the erotics I screamed
using the erotics as power I screamed
out of my passion I screamed out
loud words that resonated the sound of a hammer going through flesh
screeches shrieks hollers screams
another woman hollering
hollers screams
another woman of color hollering
hollers shrieks
just another black woman hollering creeks
like caroline, catherine, ellen, ella
hollering shrieks
like zora, audre, gloria, sandra
hollering creeks that crack
hollering creeks to crack to shatter the screens that border the walls of the tower
that safeguards the gatekeepers mirrored crick-crack
krik!
krak!
cricks can crack the mirror
keep out the cricks that can turn into cracks
reaffirming their silences
the cricks in the crack
drowning our silences
hollering screaming silently suffocating
the cricks that make the crack
that be too wild and need to be tamed
the cricks that make the crack
that be too wild and need to be contained
the cricks in the crack that need to be erased
be that or disappear
fear or disappear
always disappear
crying hollering laughing they keep disappearing
because they love themselves they disappear
audre  barbara  flo
where are you?
they love themselves when they’re laughing
I am just trying to love myself when I am crying
I’m just trying to love myself when I am hollering
challenging these disciplinary acts
trying to love ourselves when I try to take a stand
just trying to love myself when I stand tall

as ma sistahgurl  jennifer says
Why do they think so many black women in anthropology keep turning to the arts?

using the erotic of power to redefine myself
I inserted myself in the diss
I inserted myself deep into the diss
I inserted myself into this form that stifles me
into this diss that reflects me
into this diss that can barely contain me
and from that point of knowing
I cried and screamed and hollered

about my blackness

I cried and screamed and hollered

about my baldness

the politics of being black

and the privilege of light skin

the politics of being bald

and obsessions with textured hair

the politics of coming of age colonized
and trying to define what it means to be free
the politics of recreating structured structures

and the denying of past spiritual agency

the politics of reaffirming silences

and the drowning out of loud voices

that   screamed   hollered   cried   laughed   before me
silently   loudly  hollering
objectivity has historically miseducated me
objectivity has historically suffocated me
through subjectivity I can be
only through reflexivity can I be who I am
not who you need me to be
through subjectivity I can take my oppression
I can name it and claim it
and try to resist remaining an occupied territory
because I wasn’t just miseducated sister lauryn
my generation  came of age colonized
comfort didn’t choose me
I didn’t choose comfort
I could not choose comfort
but I could not breathe in my own skin
so I tried to accommodate the angst
because i could not live in my own skin
I tried to get rid of the angst while suffocating
I and I hollered and screamed
I laughed to scream
screeches shrieks hollers screams
shrieking to crack
like those who came before me
because you and I know we have a date with history
I and I must know the time and place
so I can ask Papa Legba to open the gates for me
And in the name of all the saints all the dead all the twins
And the entire ginen nation from my mother’s side
And in the name of anacoana
And in the name of nanny of the marroons and neg mawon
And in the name of cecile fatiman and soujourner truth
And in the name of jean jacques dessalines and toussaint louverture
And in the name of charlemagne peralte
And in the name of w. e. b. dubois and marcus garvey
And in the name of jean price mars and zora neale hurston
And in the name of angela davis and nikki giovanni
And in the name of patricia j. williams and peter tosh
And in the name of gloria anzaldúa and maryse condé
And in the name of audre lorde and paulo friere
And in the name of winnie mandela and martin luther king jr
And in the name of irene diggs and roberta stoddart
And in the name of kathrine dunham and assata shakur
And in the name of malcolm X and mahatma ghandi
And in the name of shirley chisholm and michelle cliff
And in the name of ruth behar and michel-rolph trouillot
And in the name of faye harrisson and nesha haniff
And in the name of walter rodney and bell hooks
And in the name of miriam makeba and elias farajaje jones
And in the name of betty lou valentine and john gwaltney
And in the name of lauryn hill and nelson mandela
And in the name of the sisters of the cowries
And in the name of june jordan and brenda cárdenas
and the last poets
And in the name of my mother my grandmother my great-grandmother
my great-great-great grandmother
You and I have had a date with history
Eye and I need to know the time and place

IF NOT HERE, WHERE
IF NOT NOW, WHEN

Meditations on Inheritances and Lineages, Anthropological and Otherwise

I wrote the poem above after I defended my dissertation. I needed to take stock, if you will. I had a visceral need to assert and recount how I came to embrace a reflexive feminist approach that essentially was not planned. Circumstances during fieldwork demanded I grapple with who I was, how I was perceived, and some of the exact ways that I amassed my knowledge through interactions with interlocutors in Jamaica. As I discussed in the ensuing book, Downtown Ladies, until Ruth Behar intervened I occupied a most dangerous space, writing “objectively” in ways that reinforced my own erasure. The decision to be self-referential was also about admitting my research process occurred in a field that did not adhere to simple disciplinary boundaries. Moreover, this work of naming was a refusal to partake in denying the academic politics that were everywhere, though we often pretend they are not. Enough has certainly been written and continues to be revealed about the discipline’s history to recant any imaginings of sanctity. The poem became the place where I could do a rasanblaj (a gathering) of the intellectual inheritances and lineages, anthropological and otherwise, from which I stemmed, which sustained my spirit and thinking as I carried out the making and writing of this project. I was heavily influenced by radical feminist artists, poets, and writers who took on patriarchy and its attachments to hierarchies, demanding to be seen and recognized for who they were. They were committed to consciousness raising and praxis. They fiercely challenged the various ways silence functioned as capital both inside and outside of academe. Being Haitian is simultaneously hypervisible and invisible; an identity that restricted me to both a locality and frameworks that cannot contain the work I do. Since I understood enough to know Haiti’s rhetorical incarceration would have specific significations, I opted to heed Gloria Anzaldúa’s warning. In her essay “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” she urged us to write in ways that would “keep the spirit of revolt and self, alive” and “to become intimate with myself and you.” I also held onto Toni Cade Bambara’s edict “Revolution begins with the self, in the self.” Indeed, as she clearly noted in her essay “On the Issue of Roles,” “If your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order.” If one is to do the work of social justice, critical radical reflection is necessary to confront one’s complicity.

The decolonization project is still in effect. The question is how the discipline will advance or evolve in accordance with these treacherous times.
Reflecting on this two decades later, Anzaldúa and Bambara‘s directives could not be more crucial in this “urgency of now.” In these times, clear lines have been drawn on a battlefield that has fatal consequences from the border to the classroom, and everywhere in between. The exchange value ascribed to silence could not be dearer as ignoring politics becomes a luxury that only the privileged few can afford. Teaching in these times is a reawakening. I continue to wonder what exactly is the role of anthropology now? Students who flock to the major at the undergraduate institution where I teach, tend to do so seeking deeper understanding of the times that we live in. That wish to expand their worldview is tied to something rarely articulated without prompting. They are desperate to make both theoretical and practical sense out of this world they are set to inherit.

Having grown up under a dictatorship, I watch current political developments with trepidation knowing that under authoritarian rule, there is little opportunity for a do-over. Each occasion to resist is a generative one that ought not to be missed as we are losing ground. Institutions will not save us, many have said. The humanities are disappearing. The planet is in serious danger. Uprisings are a global phenomenon of popular responses to an ever-increasing wealth gap that makes a mockery of the Gilded Age. Economic investments and ideological distance are overstretching our sense of sociality. The right keeps insisting universities are liberal havens. Those of us (especially the historically underrepresented ones) from within know nothing could be further from the truth. University brands are not university realities; they are only safe for those for whom they were initially created.

Knowing how power configures into knowledge production, how do we teach students about the world with integrity without being crushed by the politics of our times? As a black feminist, I will stress that for some of us silence is not and has never been an option. In my Decolonizing Anthropology seminar this term, students grapple with the discipline’s history of complicity in processes of racialization. Indeed, this is a main reason that minoritized students tend not to major, refusing patterns of negation in a canon that continues to reduce them to subject status. The call for decolonization made by the Association of Black Anthropologists decades ago was part of a long history of continuous effort to both think through and enact possible ways of getting the anthropological house in order. I recall William S. Willis noting that “the end of anthropology is an old fear” (1972). The decolonization project is still in effect. The question is how the discipline will advance or evolve in accordance with these treacherous times. In Outsider Within, Faye V. Harrison asked us to re-historicize a more inclusive or expansive anthropology. She urged us to consider how will we unbury theory and reposition praxis to critically reconstruct an anthropology suited for these times and the future. There is a recurring aspect to feeling that our theories and praxis matter now more than ever. Which lineages and inheritances will you pass on?

Gina Athena Ulysse is a self-described postZoraInterventionist. A feminist artist-anthropologist, whose latest work Because When God Is Too Busy (2017) consists of poetry, performance texts, and photographs. She is currently writing a “Rasanblaj Manifesto” exploring intersections of art, anthropology, and activism. She is a professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University.

Featured image by Emily Thiessen, an illustrator and community organizer with a fire for creative troublemaking. She recently graduated with a degree in anthropology from the University of Victoria. You can see more of her work at emilytheissen.ca or @archipelagic on Instagram.

Cite as: Ulysse, Gina Athena. 2019. “Homage to Those Who Hollered before Me/Meditations on Inheritances and Lineages, Anthropological and Otherwise.” Anthropology News website, April 8, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1133

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