Christina Sharpe on Sutures

The suture:

It’s a type of forgetting the origin of [Amazing Grace] that then passes as a remembering: Newton’s salvation, which is not the salvation of the enslaved, but Newton’s own salvation—he’s caught in a storm and he survives it. Maybe he participated in the throwing overboard of enslaved people, but he survived the storm. So it’s both that memory and forgetting as they’re sutured. (my emphasis added)

What Exceeds the Hold?

For me, Sharpe is one of the main authors today with whom to think about the performativity of memory; about who and what memory is for; about memory’s mediations and representations; and, about visual culture and performance spaces, more broadly. In this passage Sharpe is critiquing Obama’s singing of Amazing Grace at the Rev. Pinkney funeral; Obama’s willful or perhaps apathetic neglect for the complexity of the song, both about memory and forgetting as “sutured” in the Black experience. Trauma and redemption are here together as resistant to any easy digestion by those who may want to expedite the post-slavery or post-racial moment in spaces of memory. But, importantly, this resistant form to facile incorporation does not make it any less difficult to bear the attempts to have it appropriated.

Another part of this interview I’ll paste here at length is about Sharpe reading Frank Wilderson on Baldwin and the making of Black suffering “visible, hearable and understandable to white people:”

Wilderson writes it’s “a painful essay in which Baldwin explains how he experienced, through beginning and ending his ‘friendship’ with Mailer, those moments when Blackness inspires White emancipatory dreams and how it feels to suddenly realize the impossibility of the inverse.” He goes on to write that “Baldwin’s condemnation of discourses that utilize exploitation and alienation’s grammar of suffering is unflinching: ‘I am afraid that most of the white people I have ever known impressed me as being in the grip of a weird nostalgia, dreaming of a vanished state of security and order, against which dream, unfailingly and unconsciously, they tested and very often lost their lives,'” etc. and he goes on to quote Baldwin saying, “There is a difference,’ he writes, ‘between Norman and myself in that I think he still imagines that he has something to save, whereas I have never had anything to lose.'” [9] I was thinking about this in terms of the language of what it means to suffer and tying that language of what it means to suffer to a refusal to continually try to make Black suffering visible, hearable, and understandable to white people(my emphasis added)

So, to pick up with the previous quote above, Sharpe is talking about a compounded suffering. That is, if I follow correctly, a suffering of an alienation complicated by forced visibility, which is in many ways a central theme of her previous and highly necessary book, Monstrous Intimacies. The suture is non-representable. The coercion necessary to make something ontological into something visible is related to the truncated memory we read about in the previous. Sharpe is concerned with the toll exacted by the trauma of bearing these representations, as if this is all that white people would need to come to their senses.

Her next book, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, will be out soon.

(via Katherine McKittrick; and the entire issue in which the interview appears looks highly rewarding.)

Jaime Galván’s memory in Chicago

Chicago is another city that figures prominently in some of my current work as the site of perhaps the first cop memorial in the United States – the Haymarket police monument, now located inside the police station after several attacks on its structure.

Jaime Galván died ten years ago in police custody inside the infamous Homan Square illicit detention facility run by the Chicago police for interrogations and torture, as uncovered in the Guardian. In a follow-up story about Homan that focuses on Galván’s suspicious death in custody, the spatiality of grief and grieving play a prominent role in the writing:

They come every year to Mt Olive Cemetery on the 10th of February, the anniversary of Galvan’s death and the birthday of his youngest daughter, Victoria, wiping the snow off the granite slab engraved with Jaime’s face. Celebration of Victoria’s birthday has been muted since police told the family Galvan died by drug overdose at the west side warehouse, which the Guardian has exposed as a site for incommunicado detentions and interrogations without access to legal counsel.

Sites of burial and grief are intensified by the unknowns in the case; the incapacity to find elusive justice or explanations from the official sites of politics—city hall, the courts, the district attorney’s offices, etc—re-situate vocalization of demands and the sounds of accountability on the location of memory.

Regarding police killings and grief in San Francisco

On the human remains of Luis Gongora:

But Grant is determined to tracked Gongora’s family members so that his body can be released from the morgue.

The rituals we use to mark the end of a life seemed far out of reach for Gongora’s friends. The people who knew him best have no legal right to claim his body. Even if they could, they have no money to pay for his burial.

A priest from the neighborhood has offered to set up a fundraiser, and Grant said she hopes that will make the difference.

“People won’t give money to us because they’ll think we’ll just steal it,” she said. “We’re not like that. It would mean a lot to me if he had a proper memorial. – The Guardian (emphasis added)

Worth repeating again that the San Francisco police have their own —publicly financed— place to memorialize their own who are “killed in the line of duty” (while Gongora’s friends struggle to find some way to record his life).

a community memorial for Gongora; photo by Dan Tuffs, The Guardian
a community memorial for Gongora; photo by Dan Tuffs, The Guardian

The circumstance of  being unhoused—and dead—brings about another series of consequences that remain rather unimaginable for anyone who hasn’t experienced homelessness— namely the spatial question about how death itself can be recorded and remembered when someone is homeless; how social exclusion extends into the afterspaces of death and grief, and what such effects produce in terms of social reproduction. The absence of a space of mourning is not merely an incidental, tragic outcome of poverty. It instead seems to be related with how police violence is forgettable.

That is to say, when San Francisco’s mayor, Ed Lee, alleges to be handling two simultaneous crises – (1) the use of police force that systematically just so happens to lead to these kinds of tragic outcomes, and (2) the proliferation of homeless camps in the booming city – it is precisely in the elusive spaces of grief where these two issues clearly come to be tied together. But the mayor and others would prefer them to have them remain apart by evicting grief itself: “I will be ordering the Shotwell camp to be taken down and for it not to come back,” said Lee.

Spaces of the 1942 Black Sailors’ Uprising in Vallejo, California

I wanted to give a quick heads-up that, at long last, one of my articles that took forever to publish has been released. This article reflects some of the work in my dissertation and book project, albeit much strengthened through the publishing process. I hope some of you can find it useful in your classes or research. I’d also like to think it’s an interesting story in its own right, even if not directly related to what you do! Not many people know that this uprising took place, or what it meant for anti-segregation struggles in the Bay Area during WWII (the subject of my book ms). The article was published in Landscape Journal, which I am very happy about. Although it took a long time, they did invaluable editing work and I received very helpful anonymous peer review comments. If you don’t have an institutional access, email me and I can send a PDF.

The intersection of Virginia and Sacramento Streets, or the vicinity identified in Pearson’s account of the shooting of black sailors—an anonymous and unrecognized “anti-memorial” to the 1942 uprising. The city of Vallejo truncated Virginia as part of 1960s urban redevelopment, creating this “paseo,” or pedestrian plaza. The Marina Tower looms large over the site (Photo by author, 2015).
The intersection of Virginia and Sacramento Streets, or the vicinity identified in Pearson’s account of the shooting of black sailors—an anonymous and unrecognized “anti-memorial” to the 1942 uprising. The city of Vallejo truncated Virginia as part of 1960s urban redevelopment, creating this “paseo,” or pedestrian plaza. The Marina Tower looms large over the site (Photo by author, 2015).

“Anti-memorials and World War II Heritage in the San Francisco Bay Area: Spaces of the 1942 Black Sailors’ Uprising,” published in Landscape Journal


This essay excavates a little-known uprising of black sailors in Vallejo, California, a World War II boomtown where, in late December 1942, African American Navy personnel rose up to resist racism and to contest segregation at the Mare Island Navy Depot. White personnel sent to put down the revolt shot at least two unarmed black sailors. I focus on one site of reported violence: a downtown intersection, a location and incident interpreted in a woodcut print by artist Frank Rowe. The image contrasts with the uprising’s invisibility within the downtown spaces of the city. Accordingly, this text introduces a different understanding of the design concept of the “anti-memorial” to describe this elusive site of oppression as a geographic space that destabilizes and de-territorializes readings of the World War II home front, concluding that the Vallejo anti-memorial is a limen between the existing spatial memory that conceals military oppression and its potential reclamation for justice.