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Lose Your Mother, by Saidiya Hartman

Posted August 4th, 2008 by

Lose Your Mother is a book I just finished that I highly recommend. I learned about it from Belvie Rooks, Vice President of Special Projects at Danny Glover‘s Carrie Productions. Allow me to explain…

On August 27 I’ll participate in my first-ever teleseminar discussing Inheriting The Trade. I was invited to participate in the hour-long discussion which is part of the ConverZations That Matter series hosted by Ms. Rooks. This series of teleseminars is part of the Shift in Action Partners Program (designed to create expanded access to ideas, teachers, and allies who are advancing new perspectives) which is a program of The Institute of Noetic Sciences (a nonprofit membership organization that conducts and sponsors leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness).

Following the teleseminar, Ms. Rooks told me she is interested in putting together a program in the near future that would feature both Saidia Hartman and me and to recommend our two books as companion pieces. Inheriting the Trade is a memoir of a white family’s (and more specifically, my) journey of discovery about the slave trade and the impact the legacy of slavery continues to have today.

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route is a memoir of an African American woman coming to terms with similar–and distinct–issues from her unique perspective. It is a mix of memoir and history. Unlike Inheriting the Trade, which follows a journey through the three legs of the Triangle Trade, Lose Your Mother takes place along the slave route entirely within present-day Ghana. It is beautifully written and filled with both sadness and hope.

I’ve heard from many African Americans that they often feel a sense of homelessness. For centuries black people have been treated as if America is not truly their home. Ironically, upon traveling to Africa, searching for connections or roots to their ancestry, they are not treated as Africans returning home either, but as American tourists. This is a core theme in Lose Your Mother. Hartman writes, “If I had hoped to skirt the sense of being a stranger in the world by coming to Ghana, then disappointment awaited me.” She writes of “the unrealized dreams of two continents.”

I recognized the places she writes about, similar conversations, and even some of the people (Professor Kofi Anyidoho is as significant in Hartman’s life as he is in mine).

In a few sentences Hartman encapsulates the web that ties together the significance of history, the need for repair, our present-day connection to it all and our responsibilities as people who believe in justice and equality: “To believe, as I do, that the enslaved are our contemporaries is to understand that we share their aspirations and defeats, which isn’t to say that we are owed what they are due but rather to acknowledge that they accompany our every effort to fight against domination, to abolish the color line, and to imagine a free territory, a new commons. It is to take to heart their knowledge of freedom. The enslaved knew that freedom had to be taken; it was not the kind of thing that could ever be given to you. The kind of freedom that could be given to you could just as easily be taken back.”

I do hope we’re able to coordinate schedules so that I can meet, and work with, Saidiya Hartman. I want to tell her in person how much her book has impacted me and trust that it will have a long and powerful impact on healing from the deep wounds inflicted by the Trans Atlantic slave trade.

In the meantime, do yourself a favor and read Lose Your Mother.

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