C Magazine

Somehow I Found You: On Black Archival Practices

“There are benefits to being without nostalgia”
Claudia Rankine

While researching black collections at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, I came across a curious object. Among the vertical files was a box containing a speech by Rinaldo Walcott, crumpled into a paper ball. Walcott, I was told, had crumpled the speech he had once prepared for a talk. After the archives approached him with interest in adding the speech to their collections, Walcott agreed on the condition that the speech remain in its original, crumpled condition. A single crumpled piece of paper preserved in a box is a refusal of legibility. When you take into account that black life has been so violently understood by centuries of essentialism, I would like to take our archival silences, gaps and ethnographic refusals (a crumpled speech of sorts) as a possible point of departure for thinking through blackness in the archive.

But there is also a melancholy in not knowing your own history. And the archive, or the possibility of recovering some knowable historical subject, seems seductive when so much of black diasporic history is predicated on a collective “not knowing.” I am thinking of the career of a romanticized Africa in the imagination of the diaspora (negritude, pan-Africanism, and its various relatives), or the popularity of various online services that “trace” your DNA to a specific part of Africa,

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