By, Natalia Martínez Alcalde
As museologists, historians, people who dedicate their life to the representation, edification, instruction of human past and, therefore, the construction of contemporary individual and social identities, there is a fundamental question we need to keep in mind: Who is the author of history? “History does not have an author.” You might reply in bewilderment. “It is the study of the past, a series of events that have to do particularly with human affairs. How can the past have an author?” Well, it certainly does.
By analysing the social situation of a period, we need to ask ourselves who had the possibility, the skills, the opportunity, the spare time and groundwork to sit down in one of those big wooden desks in order to prepare and organize data that will, centuries later, serve as our source for historiographic research and study. Who had the amount of education – the “cultural capital”, as Bourdieu calls it- needed to translate into words the situations and occurrences of a time? Setting as the case of study American Slavery during the 17th and 18th century, who was the owner of the pen and paper needed to record the happenings of the period? Who was the author of this specific time in history? Unquestionably, it was not the slave, it was its master.
The text by Eric Gable Maintaining boundaries, or ‘mainstreaming’ black history into a white museum, deals with the way miscegenation –the mixing of different racial groups through sexual relations, or procreation- in sites deeply linked with slavery such as the Colonial Williamsburg, is marginalized by many white guides due to the lack of “facts” on the subject.
This made me consider how difficult it is for groups of researchers concerned in exposing class relations and conflicts to do it accurately. The all-mighty “facts” available are, after all, created by the most privileged groups, in this specific case by the white-master. No slave, in the 18th century was able to speak for him or herself, their voices were their owners. That is the main reason why there are no written testimonies to rely on when dealing with the sexual relations that obviously tended to happen between a master and a slave. Of course, the white male (historian/educated/‘cultured’) from the 18th century would never dare to write down his sexual encounters with a female black woman. He would never make a survey on how many white masters in his neighbourhood had used a slave as a sexual object. He, with his cup of tea and holding the hand of his redheaded refined wife, will never acknowledge publicly the existence of his mulatto son.
Just as it is much easier to interpret spirituality through a number of unquestioned religious dogmas, it is way easier to memorize and recite the past through a sequence of facts without any use of critical thinking. Conservatism or reactionary groups tend to apprehend social reality by focusing only on the facts, the established hierarchies of a certain period, and being completely unable to change or even question the artificial construction of society. To deconstruct, analyse and criticise what has been stablished through the years.
The conception of race in the United States would be completely different if topics such as miscegenation were treated as part of the national history and not only a curiosity that belongs to black history. A mulatto has both, black and white blood running through his veins. Miscegenation is a topic that involves both teams, since both were essential for it to take happen. Nevertheless, it is too late to have clear statistics on how and when miscegenation happened. DNA tests, in order to get to know someone’s ancestry, are becoming more popular and could be a great way to give some records to the historians that treat topics such as this one as a mere legend.
Due to power relations, social commandments and the racial differentiations that continue to permeate our time, there are many topics that have not been fully documented throughout history, and plenty of them, such as miscegenation, are related to interracial sexual relations: taboos. Relying only on the “facts” is one of the worst mistakes a historian can commit. Who stated those facts? As a coin, there are two faces to every reality, to every fact, one is being exposed the other one is not. To conclude, let us read a quote by Gayatri Spivak, just change the word “literature” for “history”.
“When we seem to have won or lost in terms of certainties, we must, as literature teachers in the classroom, remember such warnings — let literature teach us that there are no certainties, that the process is open, and that it may be altogether salutary that it is so.” – Gayatri Spivak, Can the subaltern speak?