"Building" by LEANDRO ERLICH (2017) taken at Mori Art Museum 2018
[Random] Thoughts,  Black[ness],  Queer[ness]


i have never been a fan of History.

from as early as elementary school, i learned that when people said “History” they really only meant theirs and not mine. by junior high school it was clear that my own history—that is, the history of people who are Black and American like me, in so far as U.S. History textbooks were concerned and thus in so far as younger Vesper knew—was limited to brief mentions of slavery, fighting for equality which culminated in assassination, and maybe some word dropping of ‘jazz’ or ‘blues music’. World History class wasn’t much better, with only a simple head nod to Africa for its [contested– Hello, pro-creation members of the PTA!] role as ‘The Motherland’ and simultaneous failure to even teach American children that Africa is, in fact, a continent of the likes of Europe comprised of 55 different countries and not a singular country. pyramids and hieroglyphics are cool, but that’s all that’s worth mentioning beyond the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Ebola virus, apparently. even at the high school level, the remaining hundred-odd pages of the textbook would invariably be focused mostly on Europe and (to a much lesser extent) Asia and The Americas, in that order. other history classes may have been a bit better than the above, but nevertheless continued to center people, topics, and issues that only contributed to the alienation that i already experienced being one of at most two black kids in any given class.

when the lives and histories of people like you are seemingly inconsequential enough to not be worth creating space in textbooks for except in conjunction with death, struggle, servitude, or other unambiguously negative context, it doesn’t exactly inspire interest in History at all, nor does it instill in you any sense of pride in yourself.

dully so, given current events at the time.

that is, 1990’s proliferation of America’s White Savior Complex in the form of “Save the children!” infomercials asserting that “for 99 cents a day, we’ll send you a picture of the ‘pitiful’ African child that your donation will provide clean water for…!” that would be aired incessantly across every. single. fucking. channel. at the same time, mainstream news outlets featured numerous high-profile, public adoptions of African children by white celebrities, seemingly because that had become The Thing To Do. i mean, why donate 99 cents a day when you could literally just fork out thousands to bring a kid or two to the good ol’ Land of The Free™ to live with you? total bonus points for making your family the poster child for diversity before #Diversity even became a buzzword. furthermore, it was the perfect way to certify yourself as being officially Not A Racist® in a Post-Racial Society, amirite?

so often history begets History under the guise of Progression while ultimately being no better or different than the history that was supposedly done and gone. furthermore, what is versions and facets of history are deemed to be History proper—i.e., valued enough to be seen as worth including in national curriculum, afforded recognition as an academic field, etc.—rather than being history improper—un/devalued, relegated to preservation by oral, familial, communal means—has been and continues to be largely in the hands of those with the social capital needed to deem something as even holding Value to begin with.

because, you know, once the names, origins, familial structures, demographic information, humanity of your ancestors are determined to hold no more than monetary value, it’s unsurprising that no Value was seen in properly documenting your people as to include them in History. it isn’t at all surprising that even 200 something years later, your history isn’t going to suddenly hold newfound Value to those who deemed it unvaluable in the first place. how likely is it that your history will ever be seen as being of equal value to existing narratives of History, as established by The Majority? even if your history is literally one and the same as the blood and sweat that made your country what it is today.

unlike History, history is much more vulnerable to the faults and shortcoming inherent in human memory and mortality. left unvalued and undocumented, such history inevitably meets the same fate as those who shoulder it, having bared witness to it themselves or having valued it enough to have retained some form of it from others.

furthermore, both history and History, much like human memory in general, are subjective to the perspective and interpretation of those who shoulder and / or write them. while it both saddens and angers me that my history and that of my ancestors as Black people in America has been and continues to be un/devalued, it also pains me that the history that does get recorded and included in canonical History more often than not is only done so from the perspective and interpretation of those with the social capital and wherewithal to be able to write that History.

and even at 10 years old, i was self-aware enough to realize that i had and have zero interest in such versions of h/History, but also that such versions of h/History were all that was available to me as the kid of a working class, single-parent Black family and student in America’s public education system.

until the advent of the Internet and access to it from my own personal computer, that is. but by then the damage had been done and i had zero inclination to bother with History.

i was not a fan of History.

“Pulled by the Roots” by LEANDRO ERLICH (2015)
taken at Mori Art Museum 2018

i checked out “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America” by Lillian Faderman from the public library two weeks ago.

and i’m not sure why, to be honest.

perhaps it was the novelty and excitement of having even found such a book in English in a public library in Japan? probably it was glancing the words “asexuality” and “romantic friendship” within the first two pages of the book’s introduction. either way, you’d think i’d have reshelved it given that, you know. i’m not a fan of History. that and upon backtracking and reading the introduction properly, asexuality had been annoyingly juxtaposed with being a lesbian by page 2 and romantic friendships trivialized as probably being “too simple to survive in our complex times” by page 4.

nah. the author did the typical thing (even in 1991, apparently) of throwing out clickbait readbait in the form of a couple mentions of Diversity and brief whiffs of potential Inclusion—which was enough to make me overlook my distaste for historical text written by white people for white people about white people and maybe some other people. maybe. sometimes.

i even managed to overcome the immediate need to set the book on fire with my eyes at the author’s assertion that, certain societal limitations notwithstanding, “women’s intimate relationships [with other women] were universally encouraged” in America before the 20th century.

i may not be the accomplished academic or author that the Faderman is, nor am i the least bit knowledgable about History (as should be obvious by now). that said, in my experience, such a generalization could only be made by someone who has grossly failed to take into account the variance that has always existed in the countercultures of racial, cultural, religious and other communities within America.

….women’s intimate relationships [with other women] were universally encouraged…

Lillian Faderman, “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America”

[ insert audible scoffing noises ]

regardless, i continue to lazily meander my way through the book.

it’s not like i didn’t know what i was getting myself into, picking up a book about History. sometimes i do actually enjoy reading historical texts, regardless of whether i agree with everything the author has to say; regardless of whether i see myself represented in them.

i’m not entirely self-centered.
just judiciously self-centered. 😉

i am curious to learn and understand the history of things, people, places, events, etc. that interest me, regardless of my own personal [lack of] connection to them. it’s just incredibly frustrating that no matter what angle, topic, or settings i approach history from, it’s impossible for me to not be aware of the vantage point of the writer; of the presence or absence of familiar faces and experiences; of the vantage point (or identity) that i myself must dawn in order to interact with said h/History in a meaningful way.

because h/History of any kind will always inevitably be presented only as fragmented parts of a greater whole, subjective to the perception and interpretations of its beholders.

and in America, that often manifests as:

“U.S. History.”
i.e., U.S. History as viewed by white Americans—most notibly white, cis, straight men.

“World History.”
i.e., World History as viewed by Western Society without even mildly enough mindfulness of, or remorse for, the toll of European colonialism.

“Black History.”
i.e., History as viewed by cisgender, heterosexual black people—most notibly men—which coincidentally tends to deny the existence or importance of queer black people by omission.

“LGBT History.”
i.e., History as viewed by cis and / or binary, white Americans—more often than not men—which fails to afford any more than a begrudging nod to selective parts of my History while simultaneously erasing or delegitimizing the B, assigning binarism to and excluding the T, and conveniently forgetting the Q, the I, & the A. see: Ace History

“Ace History.”
i.e., History as viewed by Americans who are often white and / or forgetful of the fact that Ace History extends beyond [white] American, English language version[s] of it. even more so than other Histories, Ace History seems to be notably limited in terms of contextualization through societal lens of intersectionality, beyond its intersections with Aro History.

having said that, Ace History is also the newest of the above historical vantage points. as such, i’m willing to chalk up a lot to being ‘growing pains’, but…

“The Classroom” by LEANDRO ERLICH (2017)
taken at Mori Art Museum 2018

in the past, i’ve written about the limitations of intersectionality. mostly i’ve talked about the practical limitations of intersectionality; about how both in practice (and, to an admittedly lesser extent, in theory), intersectionality seems to be limited to engaging only two (occasionally three) axes at a time. that is, it’s not at all uncommon to talk about being ace in the context of being a woman, for example, but adding a third contextual point such as race—e.g. being ace in the context of being a black woman—seemingly causes people’s minds to take at least one step closer to implosion.

i find this to be especially true when it comes to the subject of h/History.

nowadays, both in the worlds of social justice activism as well as in academic disciplines like sociology, demography, linguistics, and (of course) history, there has been more and more attention given to what has become the cornerstones (or, as i like to think of it, the Holy Trinity Quadrinity) of Intersectional Theory. that is, sexuality, gender, race, & class– with negligible attention also given to [dis]ability and neurodivergence. whenever intersectionality is discussed, it invariably involves two, maybe three, of these social categories, but to go beyond that seems to be too much to ask.

which is in large part why (more often than not) i find myself slipping, struggling to remain fully engaged with even the things that otherwise mean a lot to me, let alone h/History, which i’ve long since had a strained relationship with. History means little to me personally if it cannot be written without neglecting to encompass the histories of people like me.

i should not have to selectively cherry pick one or two facets of myself to use as keywords in a Ctrl + F / Google search through History just to find faint glimpses of our documented existence throughout history.

and yet i do.
and yet we do.

because for some of us, our history in the country that we now call ‘home’ did not begin with immigration. even if it did, there may have never been a paper trail to serve as a connection to our History. for some of us, our history—that of our ancestors’—was so devalued as to have not even been included in census data, for we were seen as nothing more than property without personhood or historical value.

without names worth documenting.
without familial ties worth preserving.
without origins worth reconciling.
without histories all our own.

i’m reminded of various times in the past when someone proposed the question:

if you could go back in time, where / when would you go and why?

– people who actually like History

the answers of those around me would always be something that interested others: a historical event or era that they’ve always been curious about; a time and place where / when someone from the past that they admire lived; and so on. i would chew on my nails or squirm in my seat, anxiously listening to others’ imaginative answers while personally feeling uncomfortable with the question itself for reasons that i would never fully understand until years later.

it didn’t take much to know that part of the distaste that i had for such a question (and others like it) was from having been taught (and internalizing) versions of History in which seemingly nothing but hardship, injustice, cruelty existed for melinated people like myself. why the hell would i want to go even a half-century or more into the past? to see MLK Jr. get shot? to be a Freedman in a time where freedom didn’t necessarily mean anything when it came to acknowledging someone’s humanity? or should i imagine further into the past, conveniently skipping over slavery to some grandiose era of European History—which is where /when many of my peers wanted to go when answering such a question?

except i can’t do that. i can’t go there.

what would it even be like, to be a random black person in Europe in god knows when? besides, the entertainment industry has worked hard to assure me that black people have no place in history beyond slavery, be it in the States or not—but especially not in Europe.

more to the point, the real source of my distaste for such a question goes hand-in-hand with others’ confusion regarding my inability to give them an answer. that is, i don’t have a sense of humor. or rather, i’m too depressedly weighed down by reality to be able to suspend critical thinking and unplug from reality enough to want to be a queer black person in any hypothetical version of History.

i could never understand how the person—always white, even if only coincidentally—asking me that question could possibly fail to see what was so glaringly obvious to me as to why i, a black person (all else aside) would have zero desire for time travel into the past.

perhaps if History textbooks
had valued the history of people like me more

perhaps if Black communities
had valued the history of people like me more

perhaps if LGBTQIA communities
had valued the history of people like me more

perhaps if History
hadn’t been such a Bag of Shit for my people

i would be more of a fan of h/History than i am.

YouTuber and Blogger, Vesper is an American expat currently living in Japan.

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