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“Most of those sold in the internal trade were women and children… The children born to a slave wife shared the mother’s disinheritance and belonged entirely to the genealogy of the father. Slave women extended the owner’s lineage without enjoying the privileges or protection entitled to wives supported by their families. Nor did families ever forget who was ‘of the house’ (the slaves absorbed and remade in the line of the master) and ‘of the blood’ (royals possessing legal rights of inheritance and succession).

There were no women in the chief’s inner circle whom I might ask about the rewards of being pretty or about the trials of being a wife. The men had appointed themselves the official custodians of history. Besides, the women never had an afternoon to waste ruminating about history. They didn’t have an hour to spare; they were selling goods in the market or laboring in the fields or carrying pails of water or hauling a load of firewood or washing laundry, the very chores that made the labor of slave women so highly prized. When later I asked the women in town about slavery, they joked, ‘The wife is the true slave.’ ”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

” ‘What about the slaves of Salaga? Are there people in town who are the descendants of slaves?’

The chief visibly stiffened upon hearing my question. ‘It is still difficult for us to speak of slavery. One cannot point a finger and say he or she is a slave. It is prohibited to do so.

The taboo on revealing someone’s origins extended back to the seventeenth century. Ndewura Jakpa forbade people to refer to their own or anyone else’s origins… Everyone who had ever mentioned the law to me had explained that it was intended to protect those of slave origin. In practice it prevented the enslaved from speaking of a life before servitude and it abolished their ancestry. The slave existed in the world, but without either a history or an inheritance.

‘Why shame someone and say he or she is a slave?’ the chief added. I wondered if the chief was shocked that I had been so tactless. ‘Those who were slaves have married and become incorporated into Salaga.’

The Salagawura says one thing, but I hear another: ‘We still know who they are.’ ”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“Racism, according to Michel Foucault, is the social distribution of death; like an actuarial chart, it predicts who would thrive and who would not.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“The Royal Africa Company and the Company of Merchants didn’t imagine their human cargo as a pile of corpses, nor did they consider these dank rooms a grave. As they saw it, the dungeon was a womb in which the slave was born. The harvest of raw material and the manufacture of goods defined the prison’s function. The British didn’t call it a womb; they called it a factory, which has its first usage in the trading forts of West Africa. (The very word ‘factory’ documents the indissoluble link between England’s industrial revolution and the birth of human commodities.)

“In the company’s view, the dungeon was a way station for human refuse and a cocoon for laborers. The miracle of the slave trade was that it resuscitated useless lives and transformed waste into capital. Africa benefited from the commerce, avowed the merchants, because ‘her wants were satisfied at a very trifling expense’ and paid for with ‘the refuse and offscourings of her population.’ What Aime Cesaire later described as ‘walking compost hideously promising tender cane and silky cotton.’ ”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“…return is what you hold on to after you have been taken from your country, or when you realize that there is no future in the New World, or that death is the only future. Return is the hunger for all the things you once enjoyed or the yearning for all the things you never enjoyed. It bears the impress of everything that has been taken from you. It is the last resort of the defeated. It is the diversion of suicides and dreamers. It is the elsewhere of insurrectionists. It is the yearning of those who can ‘summon filial love for persons and places they have never known.’

“Every generation confronts the task of choosing its past. Inheritances are chosen as much as they are passed on. The past depends less on ‘what happened then’ than on the desires and discontents of the present. Strivings and failures shape the stories we tell. What we recall has as much to do with the terrible things we hope to avoid as with the good life for which we yearn. But when does one decide to stop looking to the past and instead conceive of a new order? When is it time to dream of another country or to embrace other strangers as allies or to make an opening, an overture, where there is none? When is it clear that the old life is over, a new one has begun, and there is no looking back?”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“I must have appeared a foolish woman who acted as if slaves existed only in the past and who conducted herself as if dispossession were her inheritance alone. Looking at me, the boys imagined the wealth and riches they could possess if they lived in the States. After all, who else but a rich American could afford to travel so far to cry about her past? Looking at me, the boys wished their ancestors had been slaves. If so, they would be big men.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“…what we both accepted was that the experience of slavery had made us an us, that is, it had created the conditions under which we had fashioned an identity. Dispossession was our history.

“The solidarity I felt with other black people depended largely on this history, whereas in Ghana their identity as Ghanaians and as Africans depended on silencing a past in which elites sold commoners and southerners viewed northerners as disposable people and alienable goods. The lines of division between kin and stranger, neighbor and alien, became hard and fast during the era of the Atlantic slave trade. It decided who lived an died, who was sold and who was protected. In Ghana, slavery wasn’t a rallying cry against the crimes of the West or the evils of white men; to the contrary, it shattered any illusions of a unanimity of sentiment in the black world and exposed the fragility and precariousness of the grand collective we that had yet to be actualized.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“In an apocalyptic account of history, the end is inevitable and destruction can be traced to the most innocuous and routine beginnings, like the exchange of salutations and vows of love on the Atlantic coast. The certitude of hindsight gives the demise an inevitable cast. But there were no black clouds casting a shadow on the Portuguese when they arrived, nor were storms brewing on the horizon. The heavens did not weep. All the omens that might have betrayed something terrible about to happen failed to appear or went unnoticed. Who knew the cost of naming the world anew? Who could have imagined the worlds destroyed by the horse and the musket, or the death reaped by luxury goods, or that sugar, coffee, and tobacco would transform three continents? It was not possible to foresee the Portuguese royal insignia scored along the west African coast as far south as Angola or to anticipate the crucifix branded onto the breasts and arms of captives…

“Deciding the matter of cause and effect is, by necessity, belated; causality is a the benefit of retrospection. One apprehends the signs of an inevitable demise only in hindsight. It is like trying to figure out when things began to change in a failed relationship: are the signs visible only after things have ended badly, or were the signs always there and you just failed to heed them? Only in looking back can the course from now to then be traced; or can we say, ‘Ah, this is how it began'; or weigh contingency and necessity, chance and causality; or wonder if the seemingly inexorable character of events was little more than the collective force of circumstance, accident, and caprice.

“The randomness and contingency of history nonetheless produces two classes, winners and losers. Like men at a gaming table, over the course of time the gap between these groups will become bigger and bigger…

“The record of the encounter between Europe and Africa is a litany of stories about events that never happened. Myth is the threshold of history. On the slave route, it is no different.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“For every slave who has arrived in the Americas, at least one and perhaps as many as five persons died in wars of capture, on the trek to the coast, imprisoned in barracoons, lingering in the belly of a ship, or crossing the Atlantic. Death also awaited them in pesthouses, cane fields, and the quarters. Historians still debate whether twelve million or sixty million had been sentenced to death to meet the demands of the transatlantic commerce in black bodies.

“Impossible to fathom was that all this death had been incidental to the acquisition of profit and to the rise of capitalism. Today we might describe it as collateral damage. The unavoidable losses created in pursuit of the greater objective. Death wasn’t a goal of its own but just a by-product of commerce, which has the lasting effect of making negligible all the millions of lives lost… Unlike the concentration camp, the gulag, and the killing field, which had as their intended end the extermination of a population, the Atlantic trade created millions of corpses, but as a corollary to the making of commodities. To my eyes this lack of intention didn’t diminish the crime of slavery but from the vantage of judges, juries, and insurers exonerated the culpable agents. In effect, it made it easier for a trader to countenance yet another dead black body or for a captain to dump a shipload of captives into the sea in order to the collect the insurance, since it wasn’t possible to kill cargo or to murder a thing already denied life. Death was simply a part of the workings of the trade.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“If the past is another country, then I am its citizen. I am the relic of an experience most preferred not to remember, as if the sheer will to forget could settle or decide the matter of history. I am a reminder that twelve million crossed the Atlantic Ocean and the past is not yet over. I am the progeny of the captives. I am the vestige of the dead. And history is how the secular world attends to the dead.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“My grandparents had left Curacao, a thirty-five-mile stretch of arid land adrift in the Caribbean Sea, vowing to make good in New York and to return home. But as the decades passed, they convinced themselves that it was still too soon, or that the money wasn’t right yet, or that it would be easier to leave the following year.

“Not ready to admit the defeat of their permanent estrangement, they held steadfast to the belief in American opportunity. It was a word they uttered to stave off fear; it consoled them on bad days; it reminded them why they were in the States rather than at home. Opportunity – it was intoned as if it was the consolation they required, as if it repelled prejudice, warded off failure, remedied isolation, and quieted the ache of yearning. It shrouded the past and set their gaze solely on the future.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“Finding ways to appreciate advances without embracing complacency is a delicate task. It involves being hopeful and motivated and keeping eyes on the prize ahead. Saying that everything is fine or that it will never get any better are ways of going nowhere or of making it impossible to go anywhere. Either approach implies that there is no road out or that, if there is, you don’t need to or can’t go down it. You can. We have.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force,” Men Explain Things to Me

“The grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, and that the unlikely and the unimaginable transpire quite regularly. And that the unofficial history of the world shows that dedicated individuals and popular movements can shape history and have, though how and when we might win and how long it takes is not predictable.

“Despair is a form of certainty, certainty that the future will be a lot like the present or will decline from it; despair is a confident memory of the future. Optimism is similarly confident about what will happen. Both are grounds for not acting. Hope can be the knowledge that we don’t have that memory and that reality doesn’t necessarily match our plans.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Woolf’s Darkness,” Men Explain Things to Me

“Then grant that I may follow
Your gleam, O glorious Light,
Till earthly shadows scatter,
And faith is changed to sight…”

– Ernest E Ryden, “O Lord Now Let Your Servant”

“It is said that our age is materialistic. But it’s not true! We only accumulate objects in order to communicate with other minds. We do it to make them love us, to seduce them. Nothing could be less materialistic, or more sentimental… Consumerism is not materialism.”

– Yann Dall’Aglio

“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own; therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

– Reinhold Niebuhr

That year they said I was miserable, and it became an epithet, a destiny, an excuse.

They thought me miserable because they couldn’t imagine themselves behaving so badly out of weakness or choice, but only if they were overcome by a superior force, like gravity or misery. They were wrong. I behaved badly on my own, and they can do it, too.

It was a sort of kindness, their myth of my misery: presently I’d be the real and better me. And it was a sort of malice: The Big Cheese is all parings.

But I was not miserable. the more the theory grew among them the more I grew secret – almost without effort, for they had given me an identity through which I couldn’t be seen. And I grew happy.

And so it came to seem to me that they must be, because of their common error, miserable. Though I don’t suppose they know it, and I won’t say a word about it. I hate gossip.

– William Matthews

We’re here because
We’re here because
We’re here because we’re here;
We’re here because
We’re here because
We’re here because we’re here

We’re here because
We’re here because
We’re here because we’re here;
We’re here because
We’re here because
We’re here because we’re here

– Unknown, soldiers’ song

“I shall try to make plain the bloodiness of killing. Too often this has been slurred over by those who defend hawks. Flesh-eating man is in no way superior. It is so easy to love the dead. The word ‘predator’ is baggy with misuse.”

– J.A. Baker, The Peregrine

“[Mutual knowledge is] the difference between two people knowing something and each one knowing that the other knows that they know that the other knows ad infinitum. Which makes both a logical and a psychological difference. So if Harry says to Sally, ‘You ought to come up and see my etching,’ and Sally, says, ‘no,’ then he knows that she’s turned down a sexual overture, but does she knows that he knows that she knows? And does he know that she knows that he knows? In the absence of this higher-order knowledge, you can maintain the fiction of a platonic friendship.

“Whereas overt language leaves nothing to the imagination. The difference between individual and mutual knowledge is the basis of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ When the little boy says, ‘The emperor is naked,’ he isn’t telling anyone anything that they can’t see with their own eyeballs, but he is conveying information – because everyone now knows that everyone else knows that they know. This changes the relationship. They can now challenge the authority of the emperor in a way that individual knowledge didn’t allow them to.

“So blurting things out, as the little boy does creates mutual knowledge, and thus forces the relationship to change in a way that is not forced when you use innuendo.”

– Steven Pinker


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