“When we see water, we see death” | Wash Day, 1955 Recap

In lieu of a traditional blog post, this week’s episode of Black Enough, “Wash Day, 1955,” necessitated a break down. The spoken word poem, performed by Micah Ariel Watson herself, includes deep currents of history that bridge to the present and beyond. So in the spirit of weaving, I have annotated a piece of the spoken word, complete with links and as always, further reading:

When we see water, we see death.

400 years of life flashing before your eyes.

400 reasons to stay on the shore:

We are currently commemorating the 400 year anniversary of enslaved Africans being brought to America. As a graduate student living in Williamsburg, Virginia, I know the anniversary is heavy on everyone’s mind: from student work commemorating the occasion to the Association for the Study of Worldwide African Diasporas conference which was recently held in the city, we are actively looking for ways to pay proper tribute. One of the most compelling lectures I’ve heard about the difficulty acknowledging Black people in the Historical Triangle is Mark Summer’s, of Jamestown Rediscovery, talk, “The American Heartbreak.”

Reason number one too many bones dissolved into dust on the ocean floor

Reason number no one ever asked us to climb aboard–

They took is in droves too tragic to count into waters

In the “Further Reading” section of this post, I have listed several monographs, particularly those by Black women, whose histories of enslavement have been critical to my understanding of the Middle Passage and beyond. These readings include: Scenes of Subjection (Hartman), Saltwater Slavery (Smallwood), and The Price for Their Pound of Flesh (Berry).

Reason number $5.59 for a box of Dark and Lovely

I worked too hard for my respectability to get it wet

As Tanisha C. Ford discusses at length in the chapter, “Jheri Curl,” from her book Dressed in Dreams, hair has been used as a vehicle to communicate one’s politics, as well as communicate one’s identity.

Reason number twelve million stolen dreams

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?”

 

Langston Hughes, “Harlem”

Reason number 1619, the beginning of being drowned by the land of the free

Reason number 1896 brings us to reason number 2 separate but equal fountains that said my water was inferior

 

Watson calls back to the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896, which established “separate but equal,” legalizing segregation. Despite the order to have equal facilities, Black facilities were poorer and lacked support from the government.

Plessy vs. 6 shots fired in Ferguson

Vs. “I don’t even let my son play with water guns.” for fear that it might kill him

This smart line references both the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014 and the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old Black boy, whose crime was to be holding a water gun, later that very same year.

Reason number this ain’t old news

Reason number 1955

We found Emmett Till’s body in the Tallahatchie

Emmett Till was a 14 year old Chicagoan visiting family in Mississippi the summer of 1955 when he made the mistake of “offending” a white woman. Shortly thereafter, he was found horribly mutilated in the Tallahatchie River. His mother, Mamie Till, insisted on an open casket funeral so that the world could see what white men had done to her child.

So you can miss me with that Mississippi Wade In The Water

It’s already been troubled

The Negro spiritual, “Wade in the Water,” includes the line: “God’s gonna trouble the water.” I’ve included a link to an Alvin Ailey dance performance to the song because something about the movement and the song together pierces my soul, and I think it might be impactful for you.

So why on earth would we surround ourselves in something that we can’t even taste?

I mean if Flint was the only water you H2knew, wouldn’t you be afraid to drink, too?

Let alone immerse your whole body into a lead poisoned pool.

 

Flint, Michigan has been without clean water since April 2014 and has birthed the rise of young activists such as Mari Copeny, whose childhood was disrupted by water crisis.

When we see water, we see death.

*

Further Reading:

*The 1619 Project in the New York Times, August 2019

*American Heartbreak, Langston Hughes

*Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora, Stephanie E. Smallwood

*The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in Building a Nation, Daina Ramey Berry

*Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, Saidiya Hartman

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