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Unghosting Apparitional (Lesbian) History

Erasures of Black Lesbian Feminism

Michelle Moravec, Author

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Beyond the Footnotes

Unghosting Apparitional (Lesbian) Histories was born from frustration. Where are the stories of the thousands of grassroots activists who participated in women's liberation? 

In Unghosting Apparitional (Lesbian) Histories I explore the internet in search of one woman, the sort of person who doesn’t have papers in a named collection, but who appears scattered throughout  resources that also are seldom in one physical location. The internet offers the tantalizing promise of rendering these physical and geographical restrictions moot, but how much of that promise is fulfilled? 

Unghosting Apparitional (Lesbian) History presents the traces in a multimodal project using a range of digital tools

Originally published in Ada, issue #5, June 2014

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Discussion of "Beyond the Footnotes"

Looking at the Legacy

Learning with Lucille Clifton and Sonia Sanchez, I am very familiar with Dr. Hull and her scholarship. I often take her research into consideration when I consider Black Feminist Writers and the ways their writings contextualize the human experience.

With that said, I am ecstatic about this project and what it adds to the respective disciplinary and interdisciplinary scholarship.

When considering non-dominant and marginalized subject matter, such as black feminist/feminist histories and writings, erasure has been a longstanding issue.

I appreciate learning about Bonnie Johnson and her connections. I hope that this specific project will be available for the next 30, 40, 100 years. It seems each generation about black feminist scholarship dominated by recovery work and associated research. This particular work a.) addresses issues of erasure and b.) propels black feminist/feminist scholarship in new directions. #kudos.

Posted on 9 December 2013, 7:07 pm by DaMaris Hill (@digifeminist) (@damarishill)  |  Permalink

Why Stories Matter and a Riff

@ “In large part my thinking has been influenced by Clare Hemmings recent work Why Stories Matter, which analyzes the narratives of feminism over the past three decades. Hemmings argues that feminist scholarship itself has erased that which it claims to value most, the voices of the marginal. Although Hemmings focuses on gender and cultural studies, I found her methodology and conclusions quite provocative when applied to history. How, I wondered, could I avoid perpetuating these erasures, or ghostings as I came to think of them?”

I appreciate the ways this project embraces and embodies Hemming’s theories. This project will add enormously to the conversation about where the erasure and forgetting happens and why it happens within the academy, including institutions that interact with researchers.

Like most artists and scholars that explore and document marginalized experiences, I recognize how consciously and/or subconsciously industries and individuals reinforce dominant narratives that may privilege patriarchal and white supremacist philosophies. --In this instance, I would like to explore the ways anthology technology has begun to contribute to erasure and recovery work.

Anthology technology has created ‘minute meal’ readings for courses that formally required more interesting and wide ranging dialogues - regardless of themes. (embracing open access academic policies can begin address these concerns.) In short, anthologies are easy. This convenience is often at the expense of broad, inclusive and yet diverse perspectives that include marginalized perspectives and scholarship.

Unfortunately, the pressures of the academy (budget, production, technology restrictions and ect) make anthologies extremely attractive and convenient. Most scholars and researchers that are aware of marginalized scholarship and welcome it, may sacrifice a few desired readings for the convenience of one text.

I believe that some of the concern with erasure has to do the embracing of anthologies and associated conveniences. By sacrificing certain desired (maybe not-desired) marginalized readings, scholars compromise the preparedness and intellectual integrity of students.

Hence, generations of scholars are not aware of the perspectives that have been erased or dismissed in the collected anthology. By the time the third and fourth generation of scholars passes through the academy (20-25yrs), the forgotten research has become another recovery research project.

Posted on 9 December 2013, 7:42 pm by DaMaris Hill (@digifeminist)  |  Permalink

Tracing the Processes of Erasure

I hope you will be okay with me having more questions than I have answers. I say this because I am aware of black feminist thought and its importance but I am by NO means an expert in the field. Black feminist thought courses weren't taught in my undergrad institution and if they were taught at my grad institution I missed it in my focus on my research. Because of that, my questions might be addressed in the scholarship or even in your larger work but you got me interested so here goes.

The social historian in me wants to know more about who Bonnie Johnson was, what she wrote, how she came to be a part of the project, what happened to her in life, and how/why more people don't know about her. The same questions could be applied to the other women in her cohort of feminists. Tracing her work both in and out of the spotlight of publication might help to reveal what happened to these women and why. In essence, I want to know more about the processes of erasure--was she pushed out, dismissed out, ignored out or did she simply leave of her own accord because she wanted to do something else like fulfill other responsibilities of life, caregiving, health, etc? I ask these questions thinking about the Politico piece criticizing Michelle Obama and the really smart intersectional feminists' responses to it. Indeed, any work on unghosting must also investigate the ghosting. This seems important because many people talk about the erasure of the feminist work of black women, lesbians, and even black lesbians but has anyone investigated the process(es) of erasure? Were there crashing symbol moments or was it death by a thousand cuts? Did the culture of dissemblance raise its head? Did activists move on to do other work that was important to them?

See, more questions than suggestions. I hope it helps. :)

Posted on 10 December 2013, 1:25 pm by KEW  |  Permalink

Rambling Reply

Forgive my intellectually self-absorbed response here but your work reminds me of my own project of how white women in the nineteenth-century used the slave question and the abolitionist movement to forward their own push for equality. It makes me think that the erasure of Bonnie Johnson, as you already note, is another example of a project that seems like solidarity actually being another example of co-opting.

So when Sally Strickland takes on the role of recounting Mary Prince’s’ narrative, she is also telling her own story of oppression. Or, rather, benefitting materially from serving as Prince’s voice. And when Hannah More does this in her Sorrow of Yamba, a poem she changes to reflect Christian ideology.

By the time we get to Johnson’s era, the gap between white women and women of color has closed substantially, but the practice of co-opting and erasure still echoes under the guise of solidarity. I read the “master’s tools” is a nod to this complicated history.

One way I read the ghosting of her lesbian subject position has everything to do with how the sexuality of women of color is either caricatured or ignored all together. This is more a gut feeling than anything but to recognize a woman of color as a lesbian is to see her as fully dimensional with more agency and nuance than society (all shades and hues of it) allows. We are Mammies, Sapphires, etc…we don’t get a lot of nuance or agency at the same time that we’re powerful and terrifying at once.

Posted on 16 December 2013, 8:56 am by Tricia Matthew  |  Permalink

A larger issue in women's history

I've been considering this in the context of the stories of truly obscure women, and I've written one example up at my blog as "Historians' ethics, women's history, and the infinite archive." That particular case is drawn from the 1930s, which is different than the 1970s both culturally and in its remoteness from our own time, but I think this is a larger issue we should be writing about.

If you or anyone else compiles a bibliography about the ethics of digitizing sources about ordinary women-- especially women who may or may not still be living-- I'd be very interested to read it and/or do some form of virtual reading group with it.

Posted on 6 February 2014, 10:20 am by Shane Landrum  |  Permalink

What do we want from the ghosted people and stories?

I appreciate all of the comments here, especially DaMaris Hill and KEW. Shane, as you will see later, I am interested in the ethics of digitizing sources.
Michelle, I wonder, what is the hope of knowing more of the stories from women in the WLM? What is gained through this? Obviously, it is a project that I am invested in and I know some of my answers, but the questions still are sincere. I think about Anne Enke's work in Finding the Movement and how it focuses on different types of activism and unearths stories of women who were not necessarily "stars."
I wonder, does writing and print production lend itself to the creation of stars and stories more by the mere nature of the means of production? Are there more star writers than star softball players? Is that because of the nature of the work?
What are your stakes in unghosting Bonnie? What are her stakes in being known or unknown?

Posted on 9 February 2014, 12:01 pm by Julie R Enszer  |  Permalink

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