It is February and the Black/Land Project is offering no Black History Month programs. We are writing no Black History Month blog posts or Facebook updates.
That isn’t because we think black history is unimportant, or that learning about it is not valuable. Often, the people we interview tell us stories about the fabled landmarks in black American history – the Great Migration, the Black Power movement, urban renewal – in an intimate way. We are always invited to offer our workshops and presentations during February, but most often we decline.
Although the Black/Land Project uses narratives to understand the story of how black people self-define their relationships to land and place, we are not an oral history project. We are interested in oral narratives about the past and present because they help us to articulate the trajectory of black futurity.
The notion of blackness exists in order to exclude. It is used to exclude the people racialized as black from opportunities for self-determination. Blackness is used to exclude them from full recognition of their social contributions, and from fully benefiting from their labor. This exclusion is made possible by erasing and misunderstanding the black past; to end anti-black racism that past must be named and claimed. At the same time, the U.S. carries a notion of blackness as something that occurs only in this suppressed and misunderstood history, casting blackness as something that only exists in the past.
Blackness was created to exclude, but any act of trying to keep some things out, inevitably seals some things in. Those things sealed into blackness are creative, dynamic and alive. Life insists on casting forth root tendrils and gametes and seeds, experimenting with xenogenisis, and generating a future.
Even if we are moving toward a future that includes the end of race as a category for understanding people, the artifacts of blackness leave their trace in everything including the story of relationship to land. These black traces perpetually regenerate and re/create traditions and everyday cultural artifacts Black/Land interviews track these artifacts to help us describe a new social imaginary, one whose shape we see in acts of collective agricultural economy and social disruption on public land. Visual artists and writers tell stories that casually reference the creative leaps of Afrofuturism. They theorize understandings of the natural environment to include high-rise buildings and human interventions in rural landscapes all as a single ecosystem, with no part seen as unworthy or excluded.
So, during February, just as every month, The Black/Land Project is interested what renewed and continued existence of black relationships to land tell us about our future. Those stories point to how we can resist exclusion as the future premise for organizing life on this planet. They tell us what is valuable and unique about blackness as the creative space for imagining a future in which all of us can be free.
We invite you to spend the month of February thinking with us about the future of blackness. We are certain that Dr. Woodson[i] would approve.
[i] Carter G. Woodson was the historian who founded Negro History Week in 1926; fifty years later, this became Black History Month. Born to an impoverished family in Virginia, Woodson went to college in his late 20s at Berea College in Kentucky. He was the second African-American to receive the PhD from Harvard University, preceded only by W.E.B. DuBois.