Ethics of the Archive; WOC Activism

This is the first year that I have started to think critically about queer archives. I watched Watermelon Woman last semester in my Intro to Queer Studies class, and it was great to watch it again for this class though a different lens. I am really interested in why queer people have such a attraction to the archive. From Watermelon Woman and Q.U.E.E.N., Celluloid Closet, to much of Susan Stryker’s work including Screaming Queens and a podcast I have recently stated listening to, One from the Vaults which talks about Western trans historical figures, queer people do a lot of thinking about, exploring of, and living in the archives. What is it about the queer archive, or our current queer moment, that draws queer people to the archive? What is the importance of remembering histories—often times ones that are filled with violence and pain? I think we have touched upon this a little bit in class already, but I would love to continue this conversation.

In another class I am taking this semester, Critical History of Asian America, we are also doing a lot of thinking about the archive, and what I am learning in that class has informed how I interacted with this week’s texts. Since so much of the archive available today is about dominant hegemonic narratives, marginalized people and narratives are often erased. This often leads marginalized people to go back to try to find evidence of people who hold their identities within the archive and to “fill” the archive with personal accounts and histories that have been left untold. The issue with this, potentially, is that it erases the violence that the archive enacts onto marginalized people. How do marginalized people write their own histories, create their own archives, and work within the dominant hegemonic archives without forgetting about the violence within it? If we “fill” the archive with material that wouldn’t be there otherwise, do we forget about the violence of erasure? Furthermore, is the past safer than our present? Do we need the past to validate our present? I think that this is an important ethical conversation that we should engaging with, so that we are doing justice to those that have been erased through the archives and to those who are fighting to create change today.

Another piece that I am thinking about from this week’s texts is the importance of activism from people of color, specifically black women. Last night I read a tweet by writer Bill Werde (didn’t know of him before, Liv Bruce from PWR BTTM retweeted this): “Beyonce shifted a whole culture, IMO. Katy Perry isn’t putting out political pop if Beyonce doesn’t make it okay. No shade. #grammys” White women who have taken things from black women—Katy Perry’s “activism”, Adele’s entire musical genre and style—were celebrated by the Grammy’s last night. I think we can see a similarity in this week’s viewings. In Q.U.E.E.N., Janelle Monae raps, “She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel./So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?/They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,/But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy.” Monae speaks to the slave labor industry that persists today to generate massive wealth for the 1%, and also to the intellectual and emotional work that black people, especially black women, have done without nearly enough credit or renumeration (the biggest understatement ever). The success of white artists such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Adele is predicated on the genius of black woman artists like Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, and Beyonce. In our conversation about archives, it is important to keep the women and femmes of color that have pioneered our ability to have these discussions— Cheryl Dunye, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera— in the forefront of our collective mind.

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