Of Particular Parts

Quadeja Washington's Liminal Beings series books 1-4

Erin Falker

Image caption.

Of Parts Unknown

Our personas are made-up of one-part original thought, two parts beauty advice column, three parts historical fiction and three parts television. Add a little bit of social pressure and a lot of pseudo-biological determinism and the end result is what we present to the world.

Our images are not our own. We like to think that we just woke up like this but; in fact, who we are is deeply influenced by, and to some extent made up of, the images that reflect our sex, race, ethnicity and heritage, and the perceptions around those images.

Chimeras one-and-all.  All of us are the product of a historically produced and socially perpetuated program.  It uses images as propaganda and is designed to control and mask the whole human we were born as in favor of a loose relationship of commodified parts held together by anatomy.

African Americans especially, struggle under oppression to hold their particular parts together.

Of Myth and Clay: A Golem is Born

The images of African Americans that you see in the media today have a complicated relationship to an even more complex history of image making and image control dating back to America's slaveholding past.  Slave owners crafted stereotypes and myths about black bodies that supported slave policies and an agenda that justified the mistreatment of generations of enslaved peoples.  The stubborn residues of the myths that they created of equal parts science fiction and fear are still with us today and continue to mark and color the images that African Americans are allowed to project about themselves and the images that are projected back onto them.

Many of the stereotypes that continue to influence image-making today are echoes of historically held beliefs about the enslaved African’s sexuality and gender. Black women and men were seen under multiple, often contradictory lenses at once, each designed to justify certain aspects of the practice of slavery.

One enslaved woman, multiple uses! Looking to take advantage? Try the sexually wanton jezebel.  She’s looking for good lovin’ anywhere any time.  Need someone to take care of the home? How about an asexual mammy?  Perfectly suited childcare and the invisibility of housework.

Sexuality for enslaved men and women was not intended for pleasure nor under personal control.

One sturdy buck!  Need something bigger and stronger? How about a partly domesticated Tarzan—a human-animal whose deviant sexual urges and violent nature are mostly under control.  Worried about your women folk?  Try the harmless Uncle Tom: passive, invisible, and impotent.

The slave owner’s constructed mythology, designed to annex, objectify, and commodify both labor and sexuality for the cultural and economic marketplace, still influences us today.   Black Americans continue to live with the stereotypes that helped to anchor the system of slavery in place.

Chimera’s End: Destiny Fulfilled

Our nurture as products of a cultural marketplace that values bits and pieces of us and names our parts based on historically constructed, racially motivated, socially convenient notions of who we are produces an almost insurmountable challenge when trying to define a self.

Our images, the ones that we see reflected back on us by society, are the products of a freakish alchemy, grown under glass in a lab.

artificial humanoids of unformed substance and magical powder: Combine fear and fascination in equal parts. Add a touch of racially biased pseudo-science and mix well.

These images reflect not only imaginings of blackness developed at a time when there was a deep seated fear of raced bodies and a desperate need to control such bodies, but also the present fascination with and glorification of the same racialized imagery.

Today, black men and women are at once celebrated and spurned as examples of sexual irresponsibility and promiscuity. Black sex and sexuality has saturated our culture.  It is in the music, on the television and in the movies.  These media outlets produce images, based in a hidden historical context of slavery, that proclaim the myths about black sexuality true and also cool.  But when these fantasy images of freaky, reckless and wild black sexuality meet the reality of the lives of African American men and women, their images suddenly transform from affirming to demeaning.

We are Jinn: The Reckoning

Despite a history and slavery-based mythology that fervently clings to black bodies, African Americans challenge the image making apparatus and work daily to overcome the dissociative identities prescribed to them. By intentionally projecting wholeness, we force the social public, eager for their essentialized notions of blackness to be validated, to reconcile what they thought and were taught with what is.    Wholeness does not, however; mean homogeneity.   Black people are freaky, reckless, wild, tame, timid, cautious, regal; and ratchet all at once. Neither flattened, one-dimensional images nor a collection of stereotypes created by white slave owners 200 plus years ago can capture the fullness of black expression.  Checkboxes be damned.

It's about black skin. It is also about being human.

There is an ideological and psychological struggle that is intimately tied to human experience.  No matter your skin color, social status, or political views, we all battle to reconcile who we believe ourselves to be with outside perceptions and beliefs about who we ought to be. I write and create about black experience because it is what I know, but I believe that we all, to some extent, live a chimeric existence.

Our images are not our own. Who we are is deeply influenced and to some extent made up of the images that reflect our sex, race, ethnicity and heritage, and the perceptions around those images.

Our images, the ones that we see reflected back on us by society, are the products of a freakish alchemy, grown under glass in a lab.

Liminal beings all of us

All of us of particular parts

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This text is by Erin Falker in her capacity and does not, necessarily, reflect the views of different infinite mile contributors, infinite mile co-founders, the authors' employers and/or other affiliations.  

link - issue 31: September 2016