Category Archives: sociology

Rootwork: Using the Folk Magick of Black America for Love, Money, and Success by Tayannah Lee McQuillar, Fireside Books, NY; 2003, Kindle Edition

From the title alone, I’m betting this to be an ejoyable and somewhat enlightening read.  I’m starting it tonight and hope it leads to at least one quilt on the subject if not the beginning of a series.

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Filed under African American, culture, Kindle, Rootwork, sociology

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, Crown Publishers, New York, 2010, 369 pages

This blog was not intended to be just a basic review of books but more of a documentation of my relationship with the content of what I read.  This book reminded me of my mission.

I started this book on the first day of Kwanzaa.  But less than 60 pages into it and I must have cried on nearly every page.  Not solely due to the story as it laid on the pages but because of where the story landed and continued to expand in my head.  This true accounting for how one simple, poverty-strickened, African American Woman’s ill health impacts science and the lives of millions around the globe is a forceful spinning of just about every major and minor areas of life as we know it became too much for me and I didn’t want the ending of one year and the beginning of another find me covered in grief.

The book continued to lay on my bedside table until a few days ago when I took it with me to the hospital while sitting with my 10 month old grand-daughter who was born with chronic lung disease.   When I took a break from reading I intentionally laid it so that any staff who entered the room could see it and although I intentionally chose not to bring it up, I waited to see who would be curious enough to want to know what I was reading or either for someone to recognize the book from their own reading.  In this case it was a good thing my expectations were not high because no one asked or recognized.

In trying to find a way to discuss or even summarize it with my daughter, the story is still overwhelming.  Do I start with the injustice and inequality of health care, or ignorance, the impact of slavery, or misogyny and abuse, racism, capitalism???  Why isn’t there a word that conveys all of this and yet explains it clearly????  The story is omni-present and burdening as it should be.   What keeps crossing my mind is how it makes me “smell” history.  “Smell” history? What is that?  If I figure it out before I end the book, I’ll write more about it.

To give a brief summary since this is my first post about the book, it is the story of HeLa Cells.  The first human cells that scientist found that could grow outside the body and how it impacted disease research and cures.  It is not a dry story at all but Skloot does a superb job of keeping humanity central to the accounting.   Also, if you can, purchase the book!  Some % of the proceeds go into a foundation Skloot started for the descendants of Henrietta Lacks.  You can read more about it on the author’s link.

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Filed under african american women, Author Links, economics, history, Medical, Multi-racial, Science, sociology

Lose Your Mother, cont….

This was a difficult book to read.  Every page held grief and sorrow mixed with the historical content.  If it was the sorrow of the author’s, it was mine, or a combined and collected sorrow, I cannot say for sure; more than likely it was all of the above. 

Throughout most of the book I wondered where the author was leading me…surely she would not open up this wound and just leave it to fester after I ended the last chapter, would she? could she?  Upon starting the 2nd to the last chapter I was silently pleading with her not to leave me there.  I just could not be abandoned in the hull of a slave ship emotionally when I expect so much of myself in the physical world.

The sole academic intent of the book was the examination and exploration of slave routes in Ghana.  It is mixed with the author’s exposure of her own vulnerabilties which I found endearing as it did not place “academia” outside of what transpires in our personal lives.  I found it very brave and courageous for her to lay herself out as much as she did.  At times in tears, anger, indifference…I believe much research from academic scholars would benefit from such open raw honesty. 

Hartman is searching for some solid structure and solid recognition of the descendants of  slaves on the African shores/rituals/psyche…something as identifiable as the slave forts that remain along the coast of Ghana.  During some encounters she comes across as out right accusatory of her host country as continuing to benefit from the proliferation of slavery as a tourist attraction.  Even though I would jump at the opportunity to visit the slave castles and the “door of no return”, she has expanded the discourse in my own head as to how and why I want to do so.   Even though she does not discover some solid historical piece to fill the emptiness and ambivalence that each African American has to reconcile…being descendants of enslaved people in a country founded on such promise…that warring of two souls that DuBois is so famous for speaking on in his book The Souls of Black Folk, Hartman does discover something even more valuable…something that speaks to the future of all common folk yearning to be free and grounded.  Hartman did  come in like a skilled surgeon in the last pages of the last chapter and did not leave my wound open oozing puss and for that I’m most grateful.

Something I’m considering doing as a result of this book is burying all my cowrie shell jewelry…a symbollic act that states I will not be buying anymore cowrie shell jewelry for adoration until I can process this all in my own time and mind.  I’ve known about the cowrie shells as currency for a few decades now, but she is the first scholar I’ve known to share how it translated to the slave trade itself.  176,000 cowries could purchase a healthy male sold in the 19th century.  176,000 cowries. 176,000 dead sea creatures.

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Filed under history, sociology, The Middle Passage

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), by Saidiya Hartman

Here are links related to the author:  interview with Tavis Smiley; another review; and another review; an essay from the book.

Decades ago when I graduated with my undergraduate, I was only 12 hours from having a double major in Pan-African Studies.  It was my goal at the time to obtain a doctorate degree in Pan-African Studies or African America Studies.  I wanted to become (among many things) a scholar on the Middle Passage.  Being short-sighted on the pushes and pulls of life, my life didn’t unfold as I had planned.  However, books that address this industry of attempting to commodify human beings, particularly African people, for purposes of profit are always on my radar.  Lose Your Mother has been on my Amazon wish list for a nearly 2 years.  I picked it up from my library last week.

Hartman fuses her scholarly research on documenting one of the slave routes with her personal reconciliation and discovery for what it means to be an African America woman.  I’m a third of the way through the book and its like working through fresh grief…her’s and mine.  There are times I’ve found myself wanting to minimize her grief and comfort her broken heart at the realizations of the current impact (dispossession, alienation and anger) of an old wound that scabs over and sometimes festers (ain’t that right Langston Hughes?!) like a sore and then runs. 

The other train of thought is wondering what her views are on the current movement of “hope” we working on now.  I’m certain that 40-50 years from now a young scholar will write as perceptively as she on how this generation’s romanticism or naievete or short-sightedness or whatever-ness fail short of healing the pains of alienation, dispossession, and malaise among common folks. 

Lose Your Mother is a strong companion to Middle Passages by James T. Campbell.  Will write more later.

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Filed under Author Links, history, Library book, sociology, The Middle Passage

Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power by Psyche A. Williams-Forson, The University of North Carolina Press, 2006

I just picked this up from the library today but haven’t cracked it…the image on the cover is well suited for the title of the book!

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Filed under african american women, culture, economics, history, sociology