Sunday, September 16, 2007

Middle Passage Legacies & Residue

Last night I saw August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean, which is the first (in chronology) of his cycle of African American plays that are set in the Hill district (a predominantly African American community) in Pittsburgh, PA. Gem of the Ocean is set in 1904 and features Aunt Esther, a spiritual leader of the black community, a woman who is 284 years old who holds the memory of the Middle Passage--the trauma of slavery--one who helps to heal and to "cleanse" the souls of black folks.

It was a remarkable play, and as one of my friends said, it really brought home the point that slavery--the legacy and residue of slavery and the middle passage, is a theme that continues to inform the lives of African Americans and all Americans. It is not simply a thing of the past to forget about and move on from. It is an entity that continues to inform how people live their lives.

We can see this in the Jena 6 case (see below to the post "Being Paranoid vs. Being a Target"). The latest update is that the charges of second degree murder have been overturned from the lead African American teen (thank goodness!). For more, go to this NY Times article (click here):

And the thing about the Jena 6 case and Gem of the Ocean is that both make a point that while white Americans have oppressed and abused and victimized African Americans, there is still space for inter-racial relationships, friendships, and intimate connections. Certainly the legal team and alternative media outlets and social justice organizations that worked on this case were staffed by people of various races. And even within the play there is a character, Selig, a white American peddler, who is clearly a friend and ally to the African American household central to the plot. And this is also what is important to remember, that the U.S. has never been monoracial, in either its composition or its intimate relations--there has always been inter-racial intimacies.

Anyway, after watching Gem of the Ocean I wish I could sit down and watch the 9 other plays in the cycle. An overwhelming task, perhaps, but an important one--because I think it's paramount for ALL Americans to really understand what the legacy and residue of slavery and the middle passage has left us, and how we can come to terms with this legacy--not to wish it away or believe it is gone but to move forward without forgetting.

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