Plantation Memories. Episodes of everyday racism

In Grada Kilomba’s Plantation Memories: Episodes of Everyday Racism, the Black male subject has been further complicated by the persistent cultivation of the Black female subject, who, in the case of Kilomba is also directly engaged in the process of knowledge production, like so many of her female counterparts. Kilomba writes, “ this study seeks to understand, reconstruct, and recover Black women’s experiences”(45). Grada Kilomba, whose ancestors are from the West African Islands São Tomé e Príncipe, was born in Lisbon where she studied clinical psychology and psychoanalysis at ISPA. There she worked in psychiatry with war survivors from Angola and Mozambique and developed several projects in the fields of memory and performing arts. Kilomba’s polemical discourse on or interaction with these “facts” is situated within a German context and mediated through a complex work that fuses postcolonial theory, psychoanalysis, lyrical, and poetic narrative. Following within the vein of post-colonial writer Franz Fanon, Grada Kilomba relies on a psychoanalytic exploration of the themes within everyday racism, borrowing almost exclusively from Franz Fanon’s foundational work on Post Colonial theory, Black Skin White Masks, Kilomba seeks to pick up where Fanon Left of on Black women’s agenda.

What is refreshing about the work, is the intimacy from what she calls “Subject oriented research” that is captured through personal biographies and personal narratives of both the two interviewees, Alicia, an Afro-German woman and Kathleen, an African American woman living in Germany, as well as personal insight into specific racisms experienced by the author herself. Autobiographical trends particularly by Afro-German authors have gained momentum since the publication and successful circulation of works such 1986 Farbe bekennen: Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren Ihrer Geschichte, and many others that followed – a technique or “strategy” used by many Afro-Germans as Michelle M. Wright in Becoming Black describes as “the literal writing oneself into the nation,” and argues that its usage “can be more specifically rendered as Diasporic identity” (Wright 192). Plantation Memories emerges as an honest personal analysis from the subject’s perspective of everyday racism (41).

Though Kilomba’s work is based heavily on Fanon there appears to be what Stuart Hall recognized in his essay “The After-life of Franz Fanon” the “rhetorical energy” spent in detaching Fanon from his Marxist tendencies. Quoting Kobena Mercer from his introductory essay the Mirage catalogue, Hall remarks “whereas earlier generations privileged the Marxist themes of Fanon’s later work …at the height of optimism of the post-war social movements, the fading fortunes of the 1980s provided a backdrop to renewed interest in Black Skin White Masks…” but primarily as a psychoanalytic text.

Nevertheless, this book, is an inspirational text in the way that Kilomba is able to personalize through biographical narratives” and depersonalize or theorize at keen and precise moments within the text. Her style exudes an aura of self-confidence and poise as her personal histories link together with other histories across the Diaspora.

by Kenosha Washington

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