Optional Silence

Black Brooklyn has produced a deliberate silence—silence found favorable for its collective resistance and psychological benefits⁠1. “On Working with Opaque Silence in Group Psychotherapy” addresses this intentional silence, citing its origins as trauma and loss while exploring the phenomenon of the termed “opaque silence.” This opaque silence is particularly deep and impenetrable and when not handled appropriately, could threaten the existence of the group. David Wood explicitly states that this silence occurs outside of clinical psychology, existing in various different groups, “particularly with those who have been traumatized or who are living in contexts in which trauma has been a feature.⁠2” “On Working with Opaque Silence in Group Psychotherapy” substantiates that the silences of Black Brooklyn are deep and indestructible. In fact, we have not been listening in the right register due to a conflicting assumption of silence—that it is shallow and must be destroyed. The silence is haunting, the air uncomfortable, our history unaccounted for, and its filling considerable. But it is our reckoning of oppressive silence that categorizes Black Brooklyn as a group of people that live in a context of trauma and leads/ ushers/ brings us to the undervalued, optional silence in Dare to Remember: A Digital Memorial of Black Brooklyn.

Existing in a space of negation (very little commemorative works in the material environment and generally traumatic experiences as a result of how race impacts social status), these silences have a specific unifying nature for members of the black community. It retains a group identity and any form of communication[ specific to the psychotherapy study] before its time, before an acceptance of security and safety of the group, implies separation and a breach of mutual pain. Only time and negotiation with that silence, that which “cannot be fully articulated,” could afford therapeutic transformation⁠3. That time can help effectively choose which silence to fill and which to air out, as some filling can count as violent, aggressive, and intrusive⁠4. Likewise, through a space of negation engenders this negotiation of black noise and sparks innovation in silence. This generational silence has not only existed for Black Brooklyn, but has been a diasporic silence as black people have found loopholes in what an oppressor tells you can and cannot do.⁠5

Albeit sensitive, this silence is not inaccessible. Toni Morrison’s Beloved best exemplifies the sensitivity in silence’s retrieval. “Silent, except for social courtesies, when they met one another they neither described nor asked about the sorrow that drove them from one place to another.”⁠6 In this moment of the book, Paul D refuses to ask Beloved about where she came from, or where she wanted to go, or how she got to the house. He respects her silence because he knows that whatever accompanied her travel was traumatic. In the context of the book, Paul D assigns this same silence to any movement of black people during slavery and four to five years post Civil War.[ or was it specifically emancipation?] In greater context, Beloved is the physical embodiment of silence—“‘unspeakable’ experience of the Middle Passage”⁠7 and beyond. By regarding so many people with this silence affords the survival of the group. Loss of Other is the loss of Self[ find and footnote!]. And for Dare to Remember: A Digital Memorial of Black Brooklyn, that silence works well into 2017. Black people, a traveling and traumatized people, have chosen to be silent as the redemption of their livelihoods; a survival mechanism. Optional silence warrants respect without tampering with trauma, such as expecting explanation or designating obnoxious commemorative work. Because if progued⁠8* before time or punctured at all, this silence can erupt in a deadly trauma.

And so noise[ might hyperlink out to [the voice recording of] noise, which is the next section… depending on the whether it remains written] is not the only form of resistance. Optional silence is resistance as well. The necessity to not leave a trace and to not break group identity⁠9 and to not lose self that Morrison imparts through Paul D is real. One of the most powerful examples of optional silences in Brooklyn is Brooklyn’s free black communities involvement in the Underground Railroad. Maritcha Remond Lyons, a descendent of one of Long Island’s oldest black families, recalls places like Brooklyn’s Bridge Street AWME and Concord Baptist churches, schools, and homes as staple “stations” on the Underground Railroad. She imparts, “children were taught then to neither see, hear not talk about the affairs in which grown ups were concerned.”⁠10 This forewarning for children to keep silent about the “affairs in which grown ups were concerned” runs deeper than but does not exclude an assumed casual conversation that happened at home. This silence is specific to safeguarding the lives of runaway slaves categorized as “harboring fugitives.” Had this silence been broken, entire lives would have been at risk, returning to plantations or homes where enslaved black people would have been brutalized for knowing/ realizing/ believing they had a choice, and even more radically, for choosing freedom. So this silence unified black people, covering the tracks that could have sent them back to an even more wicked reality. To lose the Other would be to lose Self. In fact, this silence has followed black people everywhere since slavery as evident by the well-used/ contemporary iterations of the aforementioned maxim/ mantra: “see and don’t see, hear and don’t hear,” “Children are to be seen and not heard,” “What happens in this house, stays in this house” (interchangeable with ‘family’), “Loose lips sinks ships,” and “Sometimes you have to see like you don’t see and hear like you don’t hear.” [ to honor these, they can be verbalized right before the moment of silence

fn: Christin Washington, Raheem Jackson, Whitney Beber, Katyana Dandridge, Donvaria Duncombe]As gentrification proves the current stimulus behind the forced, large scale migration of black people out of Brooklyn, this silence follows.

Very subtle yet deeply important are the breadth and depth of this silence. Because the safety and survival of their fellow black people prompted children, amongst other members of the black community, to keep silent about the networking/ existence? of the Underground Railroad, traces of the black community have inevitably been lost. Black Brooklyn’s choice turned inability to reel off names of people or places of the past   serves as a perfect embodiment of “bottomless silence[ described as an ‘ocean-deep place’ in Memory, Narrative, Identity]”—a silence we must learn to recognize and take very seriously. The silence has been so deep that no other trace of these people remain but silence itself. This particular silence pushes the margins of memorialization. Out of the company of slaveholders and their descendants who have perpetuated the oppression of Black Brooklyn through voting, property ownership, political ambitions, etc.  In honor of this stunning⁠11 display of courage, resiliency, and resistance, Dare to Remember: A Digital Memorial of Black Brooklyn pays homage to those who chose not to make noise and those who were saved by silence.

they didn’t make themselves notable as a way to remain undercover.

Yet another chance to negotiate their silence, and evade violence


1 On Working with Opaque Silence in Group Psychotherapy

2 On Working with Opaque Silence in Group Psychotherapy, 235

3 Memory, Narrative, Identity 153

4 On Working with Opaque Silence in Group Psychotherapy

5 infanticide, Gumboot dance/ stepping, jumping over ships traveling the Atlantic, etc

6 Morrison 53

7 Memory, Narrative, Identity 157

8 Guyanese – lol Prof Parham said don’t even describe it

9 On Working with Opaque Silence in Group Psychotherapy

10 A Covenant of Color, 69-70

Schomburg Center Archives – which folder

11 in both sense of the word, “to  knock unconscious or into a dazed or semiconscious state,” “to astonish or shock (someone) so that they are temporarily unable to react” but a particular emphasis on its definition in sonic studies

• (of a sound) deafen temporarily: a blast like that could stun anybody.

cite dictionary