The Proposal (Minus Ryan Reynolds)

I am going to be honest with you. I am not really sure what exactly this post is supposed to incorporate or look like. I do, however, know the guiding questions that I want to pursue in this multimedia essay and so I guess I’ll start from there.

Stolenness? That’s not a word.

My multimedia essay will likely be a chapter, or part of a chapter in my thesis. (Just for some background, I am a senior in African American studies and my academic interests are rooted in popular culture, media studies and blackness.)  The question guiding my thesis is this: How do contemporary non-immigrant black Americans grieve and understand their stolenness from Africa? Stolenness is a word I made up use to express feelings loss and disconnect that are the result of being descended from people who were stolen from their homeland and then subsequently had their cultures stolen from them.

My entrance point to understanding how non-immigrant black Americans deal with the traumatic violence that is their descent from the savage and vile system that was the Atlantic slave trade will be black performance – both traditional conceptions of performance and another way of defining performance that I made up. This alternative way of thinking about performance, which I have dubbed “anti-performance” seeks to describe the kind of performance that happens as one blogs. Blogging is performative in that even if a post is meant to be deeply introspective and diary-like it is also on a public and fairly accessible platform and therefore is completed with a possible audience in mind.

What does this have to do with AAAS 108x, though?

I plan to investigate my questions about stolenness by analyzing the content and form of posts made by non-immigrant black American Tumblr users that relate to the Middle Passage, American chattel slavery, alienation and loss.

For example, let’s look at one subset of posts that I am going to use for this project: the posts under the #Middle Passage hashtag.

"Viccisitudes." Underwater Sculpture by Jason DeCaires Taylor. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.

“Viccisitudes.” Underwater Sculpture by Jason DeCaires Taylor. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.

This image of an underwater sculpture entitled “Viccisitudes” created by John deCaires Taylor off the coast of Grenada appears quite frequently within the hashtag. Within the posts it is clear that users see this sculpture as a kind of memorial, although that was not the original purpose intended by the artist. A need for a place of remembrance and grieving for the millions of lives lost during journeys through the Middle Passage seems to be a common want among black bloggers.



Why Tumblr? (And really Imani, why are you always talking about Tumblr?)

–          It’s a digital space that does not promote the creation of strong identities – identities that are connected across social platforms and easy to target by advertisers.

  • I was introduced to the concept of strong and weak identities by Lisa Nakamura during a discussion of her book Race After the Internet in her September 26, 2013 AAAS 108x guest lecture.

–          Users are free to remain as anonymous as they want to be and often connect through common interests and not non digital familiarity

–          Although it has post limits (250 per day) Tumblr has no character limit like Twitter and has a lot more flexible tagging system that make it suitable for creative tagging.


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