From Woe to Wonder- Aracelis Girmay

Entry Question

“My partner and I talk to other Black parents, including our own. We get advice, ask questions, work, and think about how to nourish and fortify our children. It does not occur to us to talk to our kids about Whiteness just yet, but increasingly I think we must.” 

What are your takes on this parenting/societal debate? How we should “nourish” and “fortify” Black, Afro-Latinx children?

From Woe to Wonder

Poet Aracelis Girmay is of Eritrean, African American, and Puerto Rican heritage. Her poems trace the connections of transformation and loss across cities and bodies. Her poetry collections include Teeth (2007), Kingdom Animalia (2011), and The Black Maria (2016).

In the essay “From Woe to Wonder,” Girmay reflects on how to equip her Black children to fight for racial justice and “dreaming in the long, constant work of our trying to get free.” She equates the work of poets with that of maroons. In these ancestors who flew the institution of slavery, she finds inspiration. She wants her and other Black children to learn that “there were people who, even while under the most unimaginable duress, had the mind to find and keep refuge.”

Girmay is also interested in educating her children on the “race” (Mbembe) so that when they are told a Black man was killed because of his skin color. He is able to say something like, “Well, actually, there is an idea called Whiteness. Some people think they are better and deserve more of everything because they are White and their ancestors are from Europe. Their ancestors hurt people and the land to get the power they gave to their children and that their children keep keeping, and keep using to hurt, even today.” Just like we have seen so far, Girmay understands race not as biology but as a societal construction that allows hierarchies of power and privileges.

Presentation(s) by:

Dyal,Michelle E

Fermin,Yuddy Mercedes

Johnson,Jerikka Ethelyn

Discussion Activity

In groups or individually pick ONE of the following quotes and “translate” it into your own words. Trace a connection with one of the previous readings.

1. When a White person with a White child points to my child, even lovingly, as an example of a Black life who matters, I would also like that person to teach their White child about White life and history, and about how they are going to have to work really hard to make sure that they are not taking up more air, more space, more sidewalk because they have been taught wrongly that the world is more theirs.

2. This year we go to the marsh. It is cold and so windy that almost no one else is out there, so we take off our masks and turn our backs to the wind. What was here before us? Who was here? What is here still though we maybe cannot see it? We are teaching the children to ask. This is Lenni Lenape land. There was a wilderness once. When the Dutch arrived in the seventeenth century, they began their colonial project by waging war with the land and its people. The tide is high, and we do not see the crabs or clams or snails, but we know that they are there.

3. Whenever it is that my partner and I begin to teach our children about the brutality, by design, of this moment and this country, the continuum of catastrophe we are alive and loving and breathing in, I know now that a vital part of what we teach them must have to do with the beauty and power of the imaginative strategies of Black people everywhere. Maroons planting cassava and sweet potato, easily hidden, growing secret in the ground…The mind that attempts, and attempts again, to find a way out of no way.