Introduction by Phoebe Son Oh ’21
Christina Sharpe’s definition of “the weather” in her work, In the Wake, locates white supremacy and “antiblackness” as an impenetrable “climate” that normalizes the death and violence against Black folks globally (Sharpe, 2016, 104). Davidson College is no stranger and, in reality, thrives of this weather. Without antiblackness and white supremacy, Davidson College would not exist, and Davidson College exists because of antiblackness and white supremacy. It is not breaking news that the College’s foundations are rooted in antiblack violence and death, but the majority of folks at Davidson actively choose to ignore this fact because they would then have to acknowledge the ways they perpetuate this antiblackness as well. But I am not concerned about the majority at Davidson, nor am I concerned about the neoliberal politics that dominate over and dilute radical discourse on campus. Rather, I am more concerned with investigating how both institutional and everyday antiblackness forces Black women and femmes to navigate their lives in the margins at Davidson. Where do Black women and femmes find community and support that the university doesn’t provide for them? How does this continual institutional violence against Black femmes affect the violence that other marginalized people at Davidson experience? It is imperative to understand the details and depth of Davidson’s violence against Black women and femmes in this project, because the academy intentionally erases this history in its archives and documentations. The current archives for Davidson College have few documentations on the intimacies and intricacies of Black communities at Davidson, especially amongst Black women and femmes. Learning this was no surprise to me, and only further motivated me to invest in and contribute to a “counterhistory,” as Jennifer Nash would call it, and be a part of creating a counter-archive that is rooted in radical Black feminism and centers Black women and femmes (Nash, 2019, 116). It is also important to highlight that centering Black women and femmes in this work requires us to not turn Black women into a monolith, because every Black woman and femme at Davidson comes with different backgrounds, identities, and lived experiences that uniquely tailor their time at the College. In this essay, I hope to trouble these very monolithic and controlled representations of Black women and femmes in the white Davidson archives by contributing my analyses to the counter-archive, which reassigns agency to the Black femmes who forged communities and spaces for themselves on our campus. The counter-archive urges us to re-evaluate the faith we put into institutions that decimate the livelihood of not only Black women and femmes, but all marginalized folks, and challenges us to create new definitions that support our needs for love, intimacy, and community.
Methodology by Phoebe Son Oh ’21
In Black Feminism Reimagined, Jennifer Nash writes,“black feminist scholars can all speak on and for black feminist theory, and as black feminist theorists, even as they make their claims from different identity locations.” (Nash, 2019, 5) As a non-Black Africana scholar reading this, I had to take a step back and reassure myself that the work I produce in this field is not any less legitimate or valid because I am not of African descent. Nonetheless, it is crucial that I acknowledge the limits of my own positionality and identities as a non-Black person in a space like Africana Studies at Davidson. No matter how much I learn and read from Black intellectuals, I will never understand what it feels like and how it feels to be Black. But I do know that this does not prevent me from investing in and caring for the lives of Black folks around the world. Proximity to Blackness and being Black adjacent are not what I am working towards. Instead, my politic is informed by decolonial, radical, queer, and Black feminist scholarship, and I want to utilize both theory and political praxis to help bring about global Black liberation.
I am also informed by Christina Sharpe’s concept of “wake work,” which is a site of creative, intellectual, and emotional resistance against the daily violence Black women and femmes experience (Sharpe, 2016, 18). Although there are limitations that come with being a non-Black Africana Studies scholar, I also have the chance within this space to take on some of the labour that Black women and femmes at Davidson are burdened with. It should not be the job of Black femme students and professors to create their own counter-archives or counterhistory, but rather a collective project in which folks with less marginalized identities should also invest in.
For three out of eight of the images analyzed in this project, I was able to interview three separate Black femme friends – Jaelyn, DaShanae, and Bry – who spoke on their respective experiences at Davidson. I was unable to interview any of the women in the black and white pictures I found in the existing archives, but was able to interview Michelle Serrano-Mills, a Davidson alumni from the class of 1990, and she helped me identify the names of the women in the images as she knew them all in passing or personally. I think it is important to notice here that I was only able to find out the names of these women, besides Denise Fanueil, because I reached out to an alumni. For the existing archives to not have had the names of these Black femmes documented or cited is the direct erasure of these femmes’ stories and experiences. This was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to make this project center around contributing to a counterhistory of Davidson that privileges Black women and femmes.
The investment in a radical Black feminist counterhistory of Davidson allows us to more deeply understand how Davidson’s history with enslavement informs the current violence Davidson inflicts upon Black women and femmes. An investment in this counterhistory also equips us with the tools to imagine and create a world that does not necessitate Black death in order to function, but rather a world that values, validates, loves, and is enriched by Black lives.