This blog tracks the Black/Land Project through our travels. It shares themes from our interviews, and the questions we wrestle with about race, land and landscape, place-making and self-determination. In partnership with our Offerings page, this is where we share what we are learning.
But we also get lots of information about events, popular books, scholarly papers, fascinating blog posts and breaking news about black relationships to land. We wanted a place to share these with our wider Black/Land community quickly & easily.
So now, you can follow us on Facebook. The Black/Land Project Facebook page will have fast links to a variety of news stories, links to others editorials, blogs , events and timely opportunities that you can participate in about black people’s relationship to land and place. (I’ve even heard rumors of a pop-up reading group emerging there!)
We hope this will help you find the just-right place – on this blog, on our Facebook page, on Twitter, or in our occasional newsletter – that helps you to connect to the power of black relationship to land and place.
Allison, Hannah, Tavia and Mistinguette – The Black/Land Project crew
If you were at the Race Food Justice conversation on April 5th in Cleveland, OH , you might have been part of the Black Land Desire Mapping Conversation. You heard about health disparities related to place from Fred Collier and the City Planning Commission . You saw our slide show about Black Relationships to Land in Cleveland’s history, and began a conversation about what you want your block, your neighborhood and your community to look like in the future.
We’re keeping that conversation going right here!
What things did you want to talk more with others about?
What do you want to know, and do, here in Cleveland?
Many black travel narratives focus on racism, ignorance or exotification. Other damage-centered stories focus on forced movement or displacement. When we only hear and tell these kinds of stories about black movement across land, we showcase narratives of black bondage. One impact of these narrow appraisals is it keeps black people us in the same place, preventing us from experiencing the freedom that moving can also bring.
We have been blogging about black people on pilgrimages as a liberating and authentic relationship to land. Another story about moving across land we hear is about moving from the city to the country.
Leah Penniman moved from Albany to rural upstate New York, where she and her husband began to build their own home and farm. Penniman vividly describes the complexity of this move:
“I hated this land a lot too. We bought it. It’s beautiful. It’s a spiritual vortex. It’s amazing. It’s the only place with fields and the whole mountainous area. But the work, the work and the money almost killed me. It almost made me kill [my husband] actually. I think that he almost killed me too! But we’re here so, it’s good…. The thing is that it’s hard to make a decision to live early on land because … it felt like it was leaving the Black community.”
Penniman’s account of moving across the land is balanced. It is not a story about force. She talks about the beauty, the building process and the freedom while still acknowledging the losses , complications and the getting used to a new place. Penniman’s relationship to moving across land is complex and all desired centered.
In what ways have you or your family moved across land because you were going toward something you wanted, instead of moving because you were being displaced or getting away from something ?
Check out Leah’s Soul Fire Farm Black and Latino Farmers Immersion courses this summer!
The last several blog posts here have followed Joan Southgate and Ingrid Askew through their movement across land. Pilgrimage is a very specific method that black people use to seek their own definitions of land and their terms of relationship to it. Those self-definitions are important. It says something significant that “hope” and “hospitality” are the relationships Southgate names for her freedom seeking ancestors, not “slavery.” Askew juxtaposes beauty and poverty, and contrasts owning land and working the land, to tell a different story about the ways black people hold complex relationships to land.
But whether it is in the background or the foreground, these black land narratives also contain stories of trauma and pain. And writing about black experiences of historical trauma is tricky business.
Any time we listen to black people describe their relationships to land, stories of damage are abundant. It is important for us to share and unpack these stories in order to understand how a history of violence and dispossession becomes a repeating legacy of land loss.
However, many people interested in Black/Land are frighteningly eager to hear stories about suffering, and eagerly await a narrative about degradation and pain. Their interest in historical trauma comes from an idea that black people’s bodies are essentially suited to hold, endure and symbolize suffering. This poisonous notion is internalized by black as well as non-black people. Other non-black readers, particularly those early in the journey of dismantling racism, still see black people as resources for extraction: if not for extraction of labor, then for extraction of authentic culture or as opportunities to extract emotional catharsis.
So I sit here at the keyboard trying to puzzle this out: how can I write about how black people understand historical trauma among ourselves when I know I may hear these words back from mouths that do not mean us well? How can we claim space to tell each other our stories without putting all our business out in the street?
Dear Reader, what counsel would you offer me?
Continuing our theme of historical pilgrimage a way to explore black relationships to land, we return to the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage (read more about the pilgrimage here). Ingrid Askew led this twelve-month walk through the eastern United States, the Caribbean, Brazil, West Africa, and South Africa, to reverse and revise the direction of the Middle Passage symbolically and geographically. The pilgrims were a multiracial, interfaith group that included Ingrid’s daughter, Raina.
Much of the pilgrimage was a reckoning with the historical trauma of enslavement and colonization as a transnational experience. Many African-Americans know about the history of slavery in the United States; yet embodying the Middle Passage and confronting the emotional scope of this historical trauma in very personal terms transformed them. Ingrid described helping her daughter through such a moment of confrontation and understanding while the pilgrims were encamped in Puerto Rico.
I got in the tent one night, and [Raina] was crying her eyes out. And I was like, “What’s the matter? What’s going on?” She said, “I get it now, Mommy. I get it, I’ve learned enough. I don’t want to know anymore, I don’t want to learn anymore. I just want to go home. I don’t want to do this pilgrimage anymore” she said. “It’s too painful. I’m not going to go to Africa, I’m going back to the states, Mom.”
And I said, “No you’re not. No you’re not, I can’t allow you to do that, because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life regretting not making you do it, and I don’t want [you] to spend the rest of your life regretting not having done it. No. You’re going. When you signed on for this pilgrimage, you didn’t sign on for yourself, you didn’t sign on for me, you signed on for your ancestors. That’s who you’re walking for. That’s why you’re learning all this painful stuff. For them. Think about them. Think about the pain they felt. You’re going. I’m sorry, honey.
Guided by the fierce determination of mama love and an intuitive understanding that the emotional trauma caused by slavery must be fully faced before it can be released, Ingrid asked what brought on her daughter’s feelings of being overwhelmed. Raina told her:
“Mommy, I’m just thinking about Haiti.” She loved Haiti. She said, “And I’m thinking about every place that we have walked on this pilgrimage so far. Mom, it’s been 6 months, and every place that we went, the people [who] were suffering, look like me. But I get it now. I get it. I get why there’s this, why there’s all this wealth for such few people, and why there’s such dire poverty in the world. It’s all about the greed. I get it, but I don’t want to know anymore. Cause it hurts, it just hurts.”
Ingrid pauses at the memory of helping her daughter cross the threshold from thinking about the historical trauma of the Maafa to knowing it. “And I just held her in my arms all night. And she just cried and slept, and woke up and cried some more.”