By: Connor Vizon and Samwel Omwega
“The Weather” is an excerpt from In the Wake: On Blackness and Being written by Tufts University professor and scholar Christina Sharpe. The article stimulates deep thought of how the afterlives of slavery affect us now. It stimulates the questions no one wants to answer or the questions no one knows how to answer. “What must we know in order to move through these environments in which the push is always toward Black death?”(Sharpe) Why is racism still pervasive? Why are African Americans still targeted, judged, and unregarded? Why is slavery still difficult and uncomfortable to talk about despite the many years past? Sharpe takes us from past to present reminding us that we are still living in the wake of such pseudoscience, unable to escape. The article follows Sharpe’s thought process of how “the weather” came to be and how we are still in such a weather. A weather in total climate, in a climate of anti-blackness. Stuck in an singularity of time, where Slavery suffuses our present-day environment in an afterlife previously stated as the weather. We are all encompassed in the weather, however we will continue to remain in such a climate until change is fulfilled and escape is plausible.
Historical and Cultural Context:
There are two-folds of the historical and cultural context presented in “The Weather” by Christina Sharpe. On a historical context spectrum, The Weather focuses on the legacies of slavery. The other context surrounding the article is rooted in modern culture. Sharpe introduces her article through historical context. Sharpe first dives into the specifics of the various ships that came and went carrying hundreds upon hundreds of slaves and uses this snippet of history to introduce one of her main metaphors, the weather, and how the weather is the totality of our environments; “the weather is the total climate; and that climate is anti-black” (Sharpe). Although the air in the climate seems free and liberated to flow around “the ship”, it can never truly enter. Sharpe continues mentioning more about the weather, alluding to the novel “Beloved”. Beloved is a 1987 novel by the American writer Toni Morrison. Set after the American Civil War (1861–65), it is inspired by the story of an African American slave, Margaret Garner, who escaped slavery in Kentucky late January 1856 by fleeing to Ohio, a free state. Morrison had come across the story “A Visit to the Slave Mother who Killed Her Child” in an 1856 newspaper article published in the American Advocate and reproduced in The Black Book, a miscellaneous compilation of black history and culture that Morrison edited in 1974. In the novel Margaret Garner recaptured with her infant daughter for slavery is on the Henry Lewis, a slave boat set out to Gaines Landing in Arkansas. Unfortunately, on their way they experienced hazardous weather and the ship collided with another ship. Tragically, twenty-five people died in the incident including Garner’s infant. Margaret Garner once had a taste of the air of freedom, however she found herself getting sucked up into “the weather”, where the atmospheric density increased where slavery become the total environment.
The weather comes, breaks, changes quickly it is remarked upon and forgotten. Even if our country or any country tries to forget or brush off the reality of slavery in the past, we cannot ignore the truth that slavery is very much present today. It is present, not in the sense that we see African Americans being traded or auctioned, but just as the slave law transformed into lynch law, today we see the misconduct toward African Americans is still present, in just a alternative form. Sharpe is simply manifesting the wake and the weather. “Day after day the stories arrive. Fifty people suffocated in the hold of a ship; three people suffocated in prison over the course of a weekend in the United States”(Sharpe). It is not the specifics of any one event or set of events that are endlessly repeatable and repeated, but the totality of the environments in which we struggle, the machines in which we live, what Sharpe calls the weather.
Themes and Style:
The style Christina Sharpe uses in her article, “The Weather”, is unique because she uses dictionary definitions throughout the passage. These definitions are centered, italicized, and set apart from the rest of the passage so that the reader can easily view it. This has the effect of highlighting the definitions she wants to use to manifest her metaphors. The dictionary is also an equalizer: everyone uses the dictionary to find meanings of words, so Sharpe most likely used dictionary definitions because they are accessible to everyone, and therefore everyone would be able to understand what message she was trying to convey.
The first of these definitions is the singularity. This is one of Sharpe’s themes about the state of racism in our society today. In the eighth paragraph of “The Weather”, Sharpe describes slavery as not a singular point in time, but as a “singularity of antiblackness”. This is an amusing metaphor, because most Americans today perceive slavery as a time period of racism, violence, and hatred, but only seem to confine it to that time.
The use of the imagery of a singularity is brilliant, due to its allusion to black holes in the dictionary definition that Sharpe provides. Black holes trap and distort everything around it and keep objects trapped in its gravity, which gives the effect about the idea of slavery being a singularity. Society today is trapped in the singularity of anti-blackness.
The most prominent definition that Sharpe implements in “The Weather” is the wake. Along with the definitions listed above, additional definitions of the wake include “the aftermath or consequences of something” and “the disturbance caused by a body swimming”. Sharpe provides these definitions to give the reader images about the past. The first definition gives the effect of blacks being targeted, or in the line of sight of a rifle. Blacks during the time of slavery were targeted: slave-owners wanted the best slaves and sought them out on the trading block, and these same slave-owners targeted their slaves, beat them, shot them, and/or used them for their own economic or sexual need. The second definition goes hand in hand with “the disturbance caused by a body swimming” when thinking about slaves on slave ships who were thrown overboard, similar to the events that happened on the Zong where hundreds of slaves were thrown overboard in the Atlantic, as well as the life of Margaret Garner, who threw her daughter Cilla overboard the Henry Lewis in order to “spare her the hell of slavery” (Sharpe).
What these definitions are saying about racism today is that antiblackness has just taken a different form, and the racist culture is still present. Black people are still in the line of recoil and are still targeted. Sharpe gives examples of blacks being targeted in the present when bringing up the beating of Rodney King and the murder of Eric Garner by policemen, the death of Trayvon Martin, as well as a list of other black murders. The number of wakes that relatives of the dead must attend after these Black deaths accumulates without end.
Sharpe concludes the article by tying the metaphors of the wake and the singularity together, with the words “Day after day the stories arrive. Fifty people suffocated in the hold of a ship; three people suffocated in prison over the course of a weekend in the United States.” (Sharpe). This quote shows the targeting of black people and how it has happened over time. The targeting did not stop, it merely changed form. The targeting did not stop because the United States has a culture that is stuck in a singularity of antiblackness. Racism is so deeply rooted in society and culture such that there is no escape from it.
Knowing the importance of these metaphors will help the world see how Sharpe feels about the social status of black people in the present, as well as understand how black people live and think in today’s society. This will allow people to be cognizant of the situation that blacks live in every day, and will help people to show compassion towards everyone affected by society’s ingrained racism. Knowing Sharpe’s metaphors will lead to change in today’s society for the better.
Overall, Christina Sharpe’s article “The Weather” has received strong praise, and critics and other thinkers seem to be enamored about her concept of “the wake”. For example, JJ Amaworo Wilson, in an article from PM Press, calls the work “beautiful, ingenious, and tragic”, and then goes into praise of how Sharpe uses origins and meanings of the word “wake” and then makes analogies of those meanings to describe black life then and now (Amaworo). John Murillo from Make Literary Magazine, talking about his own article on Sharpe’s work, says how he is “unable to capture in this limited space the beauty of the maneuvers (Christina Sharpe) makes,” when she describes her theory about the “wake”. Students in different institutions also praise Sharpe’s work as a contribution to Black Studies, saying that they were so “profoundly moved by your (Sharpe) discussion on wake work.” (Rhizomes)
Other authors have started to use their own take on tidalectics (how humans interact with the oceans throughout time) to describe Black living and death in response to Sharpe, such as Mars McDougall, who uses the continued back and forth motion of ocean waves to depict “the continued un-mattering of black life” (Liquid Blackness).
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Wilson, JJ Amaworo. “Review of ‘In the Wake: On Blackness and Being’ by Christina Sharpe.” PM Press – Review of “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being” by Christina Sharpe, www.pmpress.org/content/article.php/20171215173725296.
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Conover, Emily. Inside a black hole, the extreme curvature of space (shown) means that the standard rules of physics don’t apply. Such regions, called singularities, are thought to be shrouded by event horizons, but scientists showed that a singularity could be observable under certain conditions in a hypothetical curved spacetime. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.
“Now’s The Time.” Https://Www.wikiart.org/En/Jean-Michel-Basquiat/Now-s-the-Time, WikiArt, . Accessed 10 Apr. 2018
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Keywords: Singularity, Christina Sharpe, Afterlives, Slavery, The weather, The wake , Climate, Anti-blackness