Stage V
“[T]he veil [removed]…I saw…things...that…can never be told”

Or, Signifying on Mimetic Scripturalization of Black Flesh

After our arrival we went up to the town of Savannah; and the same evening I went to a friend's house to lodge, whose name was Mosa, a black man. We were very happy at meeting each other; and after supper we had a light till it was between nine and ten o'clock at night. About that time the watch or patrol came by; and, discerning a light in the house, they knocked at the door: we opened it; and they came in and sat down, and drank some punch with us: they also begged some limes of me, as they understood I had some, which I readily gave them. A little after this they told me I must go to the watch-house with them: this surprised me a good deal, after our kindness to them; and I asked them, Why so? They said that all negroes who had light in their houses after nine o'clock were to be taken into custody, and either pay some dollars or be flogged. Some of those people knew that I was a free man; but, as the man of the house was not free, and had his master to protect him, they did not take the same liberty with him they did with me. I told them that I was a free man, and just arrived from Providence; that we were not making any noise, and that I was not a stranger in that place, but was very well known there: 'Besides,' said I, 'what will you do with me?'—'That you shall see,' replied they, 'but you must go to the watch-house with us.' Now whether they meant to get money from me or not I was at a loss to know; but I thought immediately of the oranges and limes at Santa Cruz: and seeing that nothing would pacify them I went with them to the watch-house, where I remained during the night. Early the the next morning these imposing ruffians flogged a negro-man and woman that they had in the watch-house, and then they told me that I must be flogged too. I asked why? and if there was no law for free men? And told them if there was I would have it put in force against them. But this only exasperated them the more; and instantly they swore they would serve me as Doctor Perkins had done; and they were going to lay violent hands on me; when one of them, more humane than the rest, said that as I was a free man they could not justify stripping me by law. I then immediately sent for Doctor Brady, who was known to be an honest and worthy man; and on his coming to my assistance they let me go.

Olaudah Equiano/Gustavus Vassa

Stage V helps us to recognize sedimented and ongoing complexity—specifically, the challenges pertaining to the need both to (continue to) mask and unmask, indeed, to identify and negotiate layers of masks that define the trauma of black-fleshed existence. Equiano’s/Vassa’s story complexly registers both the sentiments and the gestures and with them suggests ways of continuing to be enslaved and to escape from enslavement going forward. His story may be viewed not only as registration of the impossibilities in his situation for unmasking and relating the complete story of experiences had, but also the imperative of doing so. The latter, paradoxically (as the double-naming of authorship and other narratological indicia suggest), is also done through masking or masquerade. But this masking is of a different sort and for a different purpose. On this side of the trauma of the Middle Passage and all that has followed throughout the West but especially in what has become the United States, the masquerade/masking may go on, but now must entail more—including more self-reflexivity and theorizing work.

Painting of a mask. Image courtesy of the artist, Aaron Henderson, and ZuCot Gallery

Still image

Southern Ritual

Painting of a mask. Image courtesy of the artist, Aaron Henderson, and ZuCot Gallery

More about this item

You’ve got a reason to LIVE, there’s no need to question your existence oh

You’re stronger than resistance and you’ve got a reason to LIVE


Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember Remember
Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember Remember
Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember Remember
Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember, Remember Remember

You’ve got a reason to LIVE, there’s no need to question your existence

Chantae Cann, “Reason to Live”

I will call them my people,
Which were not my people;
And her beloved,
Which was not beloved.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

As indeed he says in Hosea, "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'"

Romans 9:25 (NRSV)

Nothing could be counted on in a world where even when you were a solution you were a problem…As long as the ghost showed out from its ghostly place—shaking stuff, crying, smashing and such—[the circle of women] respected it. But if it took flesh and came in[to their] world, well, the shoe was on the other foot….this was an invasion….
Some brought what they could and what they believed would work. Stuffed in apron pockets, strung around their necks, lying in the space between their breasts. Others brought Christian faith—as shield and sword. They had no idea what they would do once they got there…. They…came together at the agreed-upon time…. They stopped praying and took a step back to the beginning. In the beginning there were no words. In the beginning was the sound, and they all know what the sound sounded like…. For Sethe it was as though the Clearing had come to her with all its heat and simmering leaves, where the voices of women searched for the right combination, the key, the code, the sound that broke the back of words. Building voice upon voice until they found it, and when they did it was a wave of sound wide enough to sound deep water…It broke over Sethe and she trembled like the baptized in its wash.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Everybody know what she was called, but nobody knew her name. Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were, how can they call her if they don’t know her name? Although she has claim, she is not claimed…. [The girl who waited to be loved and cry shame erupts inter her separate parts, to make it easy for the chewing laughter to swallow her all away.

It was not a story to pass on….

It was not a story to pass on….

This is not a story to pass on.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

I do not have the duty to be this or that...[or what anyone] persists in imagining…. 
There is no white world, there is no white ethic, any more than there is a white intelligence…. 
I am not a prisoner of history…. 
I should constantly remind myself that the real leap consists in introducing invention into existence….

[A] Final Prayer:

O my body, make of me always a [hu]man who questions!

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks