“The past still exists, ‘somewhere’ to be rediscovered by the remembering subject.”1 – Nicola King
As the sources on reclaiming and respecting silence detail, silence is multifaceted and does not solely have to live in adverse spaces. Silence is a form of resistance. It is a communication strategy focused on body language, brilliantly juxtaposed against repressive noise emblematic of material commemoration heralded in history and emblazoned across Brooklyn. It accounts for the fullness of communication (not just verbalized/ noise), which opens the senses to immaterial and often disregarded/ overlooked commemoration. Most importantly, it has collective psychological benefits of retaining group identity for traumatized populations by centering their sorrow and managing collective memory.
Writing, “To kill one’s ancestors is to kill oneself2,” Marisa Parham imparts the importance of passing on even painful memories. “Slaves differed from other human beings in that they were not allowed freely to integrate the experience of [their] ancestors into their lives, to inform their understanding of social reality with the inherited meanings of their natural forbears, or to anchor the living present in any conscious community of memory.’3 That without a collective memory of the past—the whole story—the present generation is severed from the molding elements of their identity and the origins of their existence. Parham employs the origins and use of the ‘n’ word to illustrate this phenomenon. Because of a collective (mis)understanding that this particular sound of racism has disappeared,
“it is assumed that the racist structures that engendered the term have already passed away, thereby removing the visible razor from the world’s edge. Such assumption is motivated by a belief in forgetting, a belief that the dismantlings that serve as the best recognized valences of social and political progress… were in fact complete demolitions, and that the relative absence of racism’s visible structures signifies demolition?… Without a full, personal experience of the kind of event that would fulfill the word’s material possibility, is my discomfort merely an echo of the past? And if such is indeed the case, how do I account for what my body experiences in the depths of this discomfort? How do I relive my suspicion, or my anger at being left to sift through the rubble, playing with things sharp and hard, yet ghostly? The moment passes. Nothing happened, but I remember.”4
Parham elucidates that the “visible razor,” the literal sound of the ’n’ word, has experienced a dismantling. However, the reverberations of that sound and therefore the reverberations of racism, have not completely disappeared. The disregard for the generational silence of Black Brooklyn has a profound connection with this phenomenon. Though the visible markers, be they for positive or negative remembrances, have disappeared and some sounds have passed away, the suspicion present in absence and silence remains legitimate. And though the reverberations of the past, or in the case of Black Brooklyn, the depth of silence reemerges, and nothing happens, we still remember.
How do we formulate a “conscious community of memory,”5 where people are guided through their suspicion and discomfort and anger? Where do we find the optional and oppressive silences important to the memory of generations of Black Brooklyn? Pierre Nora gives us an answer. They are a collective in the landscape, and a familiarity with their presence at sites of memory anchor us in community through our pasts. He introduces ‘lieux de mémoire’ or ‘sites of memory’ as “fundamentally vestiges, the ultimate embodiments of a commemorative consciousness that survives in a history which, having renounced memory, cries out for it.”6 We explore oppressive and optional silences as vestiges prominent in these sites of memory. Departing from a central focus on the grandiosity of “museums, archives, cemeteries, collections, festivals, anniversaries, treaties, depositions, monuments, sanctuaries, private associations” as “relics of another era, illusions of eternity,”7 Dare to Remember: A Digital Memorial Black Brooklyn introduces a range of sites. These include ordinary places like houses and churches important to the daily lives of black people. Likewise, this thesis departs entirely from the priority of physicality. Instead, the main focus is on silence as it is a immaterial vestige and central feature of Black Brooklyn’s existence, and it does the work of revealing past structures that can potentially narrate the stories of these black communities.
This departure from very grandiose, physical structures and prescribed celebrations is important because it decolonizes the ‘history is for winners’ recipe and the “definitions belonged to the definers—not the defined8” blueprint. It is the “necessary and political act”9 of centering the memory of minorities while simultaneously concentrating on present members of Black Brooklyn who’s connection to the past feel real and imaginary at the same time. Silence as an endangered reservoir of memory threatened by diminution, threatened by complete erasure, threatened by emphasis on material environments, threatened by uncertainty, threatened by storytellers and history production, threatened by history, produces this limbo. And this thesis places an urgency on recognizing and protecting it.
“When certain minorities create protected enclaves as preserves of memory to be jealously safeguarded, they reveal what is true of all lieux de mémoire: that without commemorative vigilance, history would soon sweep them away. These bastions buttress our identities, but if what they defended were not threatened, there would be no need for them. If the remembrances they protect were truly living presences in our lives, they would be useless. Conversely, if history did not seize upon memories in order to distort and transform them, to mold them or turn them to stone, they would not turn into lieux de memoir, which emerges in two stages: moments of history are plucked out of the flow of history then returned to it—no longer quite alive but not entirely dead, like shells left on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded.”10
And whether oppressive or optional, all of these silences are important and worthy of being remembered. It may not be heard by everyone, but thats the value of the spatial element of my thesis. It is always there.
1 Memory, Narrative, Identity 13, 15
2 Parham 78
3 Goodheart 1993: 9 referenced in Memory, Narrative, Identity 158
4 Parham 1-2
5 Parham 78
6 Realms of Memory, 6
7 Realms of Memory, 6
8 Beloved, 53
9 Memory, Narrative, Identity 151
10 Realms of Memory, 7