Well, I think there might be another word to add to my list of stuff that can't be named: lynching.
In Trayvon Martin and the Deadly Legacy of Vigilantism, Jamilah King interviews Koritha Mitchell about her book, Living with Lynching. Mitchell talks a little bit about Without Sanctuary, James Allen's collection of lynching photographs:
The history of lynching in the U.S is really horrific and painful for a lot of black Americans. Why was it important for you to tell this story, in particular?
As painful as it is, we have not necessarily shied away from it — which I think is a good thing. One of the ways we haven’t shied away from it is through our support of and our facing it through the “Without Sanctuary” exhibition — those gruesome lynching photographs which had a stint at the Martin Luther King, Jr. center in Atlanta. That was one of the bigger moments where people really remarked upon how much black families were coming to it and using it as a way to grieve losses through generations.
What I found is that by using those photographs only as our way of trying to grapple with what lynching meant in our nation’s history, we really did ourselves a disservice. We weren’t able to engage with what black people who survived this violence had left us in terms of understanding what the violence meant.
The “Without Sanctuary” photographs are a big reason of why it was important for me to tell the story through the lynching plays because the lynching plays tells us exactly what the photographs cannot tell us because the photographs are from a white perspective. You needed to be somewhat safe at the lynching to take those photographs. You’ve got this isolated black victim surrounded by a mob of righteous-looking whites and that is all that we knew about lynching. But the construction of those photographs is very specific: it’s to make sure that you think this was an isolated man who didn’t have any connection to community. The plays give us a sense of just how connected to community and family those victims were.
I happened to see this exhibit when it was at the King center in Atlanta. A few years later I tried to write about it in the post that launched this blog...but I couldn't do it...I couldn't find the words. So I was very interested in Koritha Mitchell's comments on it, and generally how the interview connects some dots between Trayvon Martin's death, and a broader issue of the collective, historical trauma that vigilante actions imposed on African Americans as a group.
What Mitchell says about the photographs representing a white perspective, and the intention of the photos to make us think that "this was an isolated man who didn’t have any connection to community" added some critical pieces to my reflections on Trayvon Martin's murder. This is exactly the point I was making about the power of worldview in relation to maintaining broken systems. The photographs reflect a belief system sees the world as fragmented, isolated parts without connection to the whole. And such a world is deadly.
The other process that speaks to me through Mitchell's words is that of healing and transformation. In the social healing of oppressor-oppressed relationships, there is work that has to be done by each group within itself, and work that will not be complete without collaborative effort. Both pieces are essential. To collaborate effectively, I as a member of the oppressor group have to come to terms with my ancestral linneage and the ways in which I still am consciously or unconsciously identified with the oppressor's worldview. Through collaboration, all of us share dreams, stories, art, action and community that brings valuable new insight to the worlds of self and other, oppressor and oppressed.
I'm still not sure what to say about my experience viewing the "Without Sanctuary" exhibit, but I'll start with this: There is a certain trauma that comes with the realization of horrors perpetrated on another human being by one's own group. Opening up to that is difficult, and I think one thing "Without Sanctuary" represented for me is a point of no return. I can't go back to ignorance of what happened. I can only keep moving forward as fast as I can stand it.
In my practice of healing (working on my own stuff and helping others do the same), I've learned that perhaps the best thing any of us can do for healing the whole of humanity is to find and embrace our shadow selves, rather than to continue to project them onto someone else. As we have the courage to own who we are and where we came from -- no matter if we are the oppressed or oppressor -- we break the chains that have keep all of us bound together in hate and fear rather than love.