A recent performance at the African American Museum of Philadelphia sponsored by a local group of artists who I believe had good intentions in terms of exposure and sharing artistic expressions of Africans who were enslaved by George Washington, annoyed me greatly. While the performing artists Germaine Ingram and Alexandria Bradley were excellent in there tap dance portrayals of what some of our ancestors went through in making decisions about freedom versus ‘staying with a good life’ and equally so in their renditions of ‘ring shout’ dances, one artist and the project archaeologist were annoying to me in their descriptions of their motivations for a couple of the jazz selections.
When one artist was describing the Africans enslaved by G. Washington he gave two descriptors before saying that they were human. This annoyed me greatly because to me if he was really seeing them for who they were, humans enslaved by an unjustly deserved celebrated hero of American society [G. Washington], then he should have referenced their humanity first. While I can comprehend the approach taken I definitely do not accept or respect it as adequate descriptors of my African ancestors. Surely, there are some who may see this as nit-picking however, when someone is attempting to share expression of my enslaved ancestors, I want to hear about their humanity first and foremost. In this sense that person who is sharing about my ancestors is giving agency (Asante, 2005) to the Africans about whom they are speaking.
The archaeologist for the project kept thinking about the enslaved Africans having a dinner party and this was one of the motivations for a selection played by a majority European jazz group. So one of the artists shared that he wanted to accommodate the archaeologist’s thoughts about this picture in his mind and that this was the motivation for the selection titled ‘Dinner Party.’ Needless to say, I was at the height of my annoyance at this point because although the Africans enslaved by G. Washington probably had more access to resources than their fellow enslaved African family, I’m sure they did not consider themselves, ever at a ‘goddamn dinner party… especially not when they were thinking about freedom.’ This I’m sure of as Hercules, Oney and their fellow enslaved African family eventually rightfully garnered their freedom and at great cost to their very lives and the lives of their family left still in the confines of enslavement.
This is why we need to assist our fellow family from different groups when they are attempting to express the thoughts, feelings of African people. We should notify them of the possibilities of audience offense and heightened annoyance. A word to the wise in terms of future presentations is that the artists reference the humanity of the enslaved Africans first this way their progeny in the audience will determine them as sincere in their presentation/interpretations of the feelings of their African ancestors.
You see, I always think of and myself, my elders and ancestors as humans first, everything else is secondary.