pleasure & joy

While Middlebury can be an isolating, uninviting, and intolerable place for many Black women–due to formal and informal structures and mores that support and reaffirm white, cis, hetero-patriarchal power–this collection highlights the ways in which Black women have managed to find pleasure and joy.

This collection is also a deliberate attempt to preserve and amplify the voices of Black women at Middlebury, and it is a direct response to the institutional silencing and erasure of Black women in the archive, at the college and beyond. 

 

However, the mere existence of this collection is in no way an excuse for the college to continue to abuse its archival authority. That is, it is not an excuse for the institution to continue to prioritize the experiences of wealthy, white, cis, heterosexual men (and other dominant groups) in the making of archives, simply because one Black woman took it upon herself to intervene and create her own archive to lay claim to her voice. It is also important to note, "the making of archives" not only pertains to the recovery and preservation of archival materials, but also refers to the various ways in which institutions cultivate, legitimize, and maintain control over institutional memories, histories, and identities. 

"...always be wary of political, social, and cultural institutions and practices that maintain the status quo and that portend our marginalization and silence."

- E. Patrick Johnson & Mae G. Henderson

in Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology

In bringing attention to the experiences of Black women on campus, this collection negates the popular notion of Middlebury College as a distinctively white space. 

This image of racial purity is one that the college has meticulously crafted and diligently maintained over the course of centuries–except on rare occasions when it has attempted to construct an entirely new image, one around racial diversity, but only because it was politically or economically expedient to do so, as it did in the late 1960's, after the death of Dr. King, and again in 2020, after the death of George Floyd.

Nevertheless, if the college has any intention of fulfilling its present commitments, if it has any intention of thoroughly examining its own record of abuse, it must consider the archives–how it has and continues to invizibilize Black women and other marginalized people, in both the collection and preservation of materials and the shaping and re-shaping of institutional memory.

That is to say, we here. We been here, and we ain't goin' nowhere, whether or not you wanna see us, hear us, or preserve traces of us in your archive.

"As with any archive or historiographical project, its organization is political."

- C. Riley Snorten

in Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity

While this collection–and Archiving Black Lives–was never intended to be an explicit display of activism, it is by no means apolitical. Blackness does not have the luxury of disentangling itself from the politics of power and privilege. 

With that being said, it is important to allow Black women to choose whether or not they identify as activists, or whether or not they need time or space to care for themselves, to find pleasure and joy, to discard the burden of continual resistance or the burden of speaking on behalf of their race.

Why is it that, when we do encounter Black women in the archive, they are so often activists, they are so often organizing and calling for some sort of social or political change? That is not to say that their activism is in any way insignificant, that it should be expunged from the archival record. 

However, it begs the question: why must we be extraordinary to gain entry to your archive? 

What is even more bewildering, perhaps, is how the college has gone to considerable lengths to collect and preserve materials and memories related to whiteness and white culture, materials and memories that are, quite simply, rather unremarkable. In other words, they do little more than speak to the institution's insularity and its puzzling regard for white mediocrity.

"In a world increasingly marked by deeply racist narratives that prescribe Black bodies and bodies of color as visible and legible only through the lenses of oppression, violence, and death – the insistence, pursuit and desire for joy becomes an act of vital resistance."

- Maneo Mohale

a queer, Black feminist writer, poet, and performer from Johannesburg, South Africa

Not all Black women consider themselves activists, or even have any desire to be activists, but it is essential to acknowledge that, as Black women, our pursuit for pleasure and joy is, in itself, an act of resistance–particularly in the context of an institution, a society, and a world that continually tells Black women, as Ntebaleng Morake says:"...you need to be living on the floor. You need to be surviving." But, we are certainly doing more than surviving.

Black women prioritizing pleasure, joy, care, and love–for themselves and others–is an inherently revolutionary act, and while it is a revolution that will not be televised, this collection is an attempt to see that it will be archived, because we here. We been here, and we demand to be seen, heard, loved, and remembered.

"So be it! See to it!"

- Octavia Butler

an African American science fiction writer

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