As an African American I often wonder about what defines me, particularly to others. Is it my education, middle class background, my work, my scholarship or the color of my skin? What is it that makes me “Black.” I have learned that there is no constant: “Blackness” alters with time, situation, people, place to place. It was startling to me that the white South Africans didn’t seem to recognize that I was Black, and I was troubled by the comments they made about the people with whom I had come to identify given that the color of my skin is what defines me to so many white Americans as well as other Blacks. If race is a construct, then it can be deconstructed and reconstructed– and that is what I experienced traveling to South Africa in the summer of 2011. Returning to the States and in the years since, the one “fact of Blackness” is that of fear, anger, sadness, and the fact of looming danger. “Black” too often overrides “American” for Black citizens of this country.
As a Black woman in the Academy, I find myself conflicted. I began my work in religion in seminary, no actually it goes further back to ministry teaching and preaching in my “home” congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio. I had never planned to pursue a PhD in religion. Still not altogether sure how I arrived here, though I can see that the journey has value. My heart is not in this place at all; but, will it be to my advantage, to the advantage of my people for me to obtain this PhD? I believe so. Will it change the way many my country perceive? I doubt it.
Digital Storytelling and Mr. Brown
When my siblings and I were in elementary school and high school, Mr. Brown would come for Sunday dinner. Mr. Brown was an educator, like my mother, and he educated us–no, he fascinated us with his slide shows from around the world. Mr. Brown had been EVERYWHERE, or so it seemed to us. He probably had ventured to every continent, to so many countries.
After dinner, he would set up the slide project and screen and for the next hour or two we were captivated by his stories of China and Hong Kong and Egypt and Greece and Israel and . . .well, EVERYWHERE. But the great thing about Mr. Brown’s storytelling is that he allowed us to interject with questions, he smiled and laughed with delight at all our oohs and aahs. He allowed us to enter his story, his travels; his fascinating life. Through his storytelling, he didn’t only inform or educate us–though he did that. He invited us into the world.
This digital storytelling section of the VRM class, particularly the Joe Lambert method made me think of how much more we gained from the “interactive” storytelling with Mr. Brown. I feel pretty confident that had Mr. Brown lived into the digital age, he would have plastered each of his travel stories on Facebook. He loved educating and traveling and educating through his travels. I think he might have used digital storytelling to engage and delight a broader audience.
When trying to select a program for telling my digital story, I thought of Mr. Brown’s slideshows; I considered Photostory 3 (takes awhile to download), and Slidestory–something in keeping with Mr. Brown’s way of telling stories. When I went to the Digital Learning Lab for assistance, my “tutor” suggested PowerPoint. It has that slideshow feel, so not very fluid, but I felt Mr. Brown very present in the making.
I’ve come full circle in this class–the first blog, I believe was based on Fanon’s “the Fact of Blackness.” Franz Fanon in “The Fact of Blackness,” posits that he would not have known he was a “Negro or “N____” as long as he was only around others like himself. “Blackness” then, was an inescapable imposed identity rather than a self-identification.
African American medical anthropologist Duana Fullwiley says that her race changes whenever she crosses the Atlantic. In a matter of one day flying from American through France to Senegal for fieldwork she can go from being African to “white/European.” Harvard http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/05/race-in-a-genetic-world-html
Even in the 21st Century geneticists are debating whether “Blackness” is genetic and if so, if Blacks are genetically inclined to violence and thus whether it is reasonable to restrain Blacks violently. Time magazine http://time.com/91081/what-science-says-about-race-and-genetics/ . Other geneticists say that this a racially motivated theory, that there is no genetic difference among races. http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/08/geneticists-decry-book-race-and-evolution
In light of increased racial tension in the U.S., Carnegie has established a program for engaging in discussions around race. Students, teachers, activists are invited to participate in the conversation. Perhaps my future work will include something like this. http://www.sproutfund.org/2014/09/09/race-carnegie-magazine/
Statistics about South Africa People and Society
Background on police killings of Blacks, in “Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?” http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men.pdf
Of course, most of the photos on the slideshow are my own from my 2011 summer internship in Z.A. But there are a few that I “Googled” to augment my visual story:
Slide 1: Duana Fullwiley by Stu Rosner, “The Coloured Range,” Jozi Love
Slide 2: Pie Chart South African Demographics, South African People
Slide 7: South African Megachurch (Wikipedia)
Slide 8: Getty Images/Gallo Images ROOTS—Getty Images/Gallo Images ROOTS Mother holding her baby up to her face. Cape Town, South Africa: http://time.com/1311/the-impossibility-of-the-good-black-mother
Slide 9: search: Mandela Wins, Obama Wins
Slide 22: Clockwise, Eric Garner, Ranisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Rumain Brisbon
Slide 23: David Hooker, JustPeace https://sites.google.com/a/justpeaceumc.org/webinars/ ; Skip Gates
“Everything Must Change,” Quincy Jones, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5DUaqi6vSE