Is it really true?

Or, maybe the better question is, “is it true for you?”

I’m questioning alot about the Black History narrative these days, especially when it comes to loss and memory. The more I dig into my family history, the more I see folks remembering; and the more I keep sharing, the more my friends start sharing too.

Part of my paternal family tree. I created this in my 5th Grade class circa 1991, and have gathered more information since.

Why did Black folks start buying into a narrative of forgetfulness?

Black culture at large is one of storytelling and remembrance – not just in the Americas, but also on the African continent with the Griot traditions. Knowing your family lineage is a celebrated part of Black culture.

I think somehow we got the idea that other people were keeping tabs on their ancestors more than we were, but as I get into conversations with more friends from Europe and Asia, I’m constantly finding that I actually know more about my ancestors than they do. According to the dominant narrative, this isn’t supposed to be true. But, it is definitely true for me.

When I think about it, the main reason I know so much about my family lineage – which includes knowing the ethnic group my grandfather’s great grandmother belonged to, is because I spoke to the elders in my family and they shared this information with me. My twin sister later did further research and found the documents to correlate with the oral history that was already passed down to me.

There is alot that we wont know if we don’t ask.

When I created As the Veil Turns in 2007, I asked women in my mosque community loads of questions. Through that project, I learned that Sister Alberta, one of the elders in the community had been a sharecropper in the deep south. I shared some of her interview a few months ago, and a friend who had worked with her for years in the community bakery said that as much time that she had spent with her, she had never known this important detail of her story. This reminded me of the importance of having these more pointed conversations. People are sometimes eager to tell their story, but no one had ever asked they never shared.

After Sister Alberta passed away – which was just a few days before the first As the Veil Turns exhibition, I learned from from her daughter that it was her life-long dream to have her own story recorded. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to make that dream come true. Listen to an excerpt from my interview with Alberta here, and follow these links to view all of the photographs from the project. Please share these stories. All of the prints are available to purchase on Artfare.

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