This is the season for wishing, so I’d like to offer a few of mine. I wish that history meant more to young people, growing up saturated with instant facts and data, to see history as being more than social media timelines. Technological “advancement” has elevated the significance of media and diminished the value of history. So many titles I read suggest that we’re living during a time when being an avatar in the media outweighs the ambition to be a subject in history.
Locating one’s self in history beyond a social media timeline asks that we value an engagement with our culture, the various stories comprising the legacy of this culture, and it means recognizing the significance of records left behind that assist efforts to understand where we currently stand in culture. Those records, letters, photographs, songs, and scrapbooks, for example, provide us with more than information, they offer sites of process. Such sites challenge the expected immediacy that social media encourages and elevates the value of contemplation and reflection; requirements needed for making meaning and knowledge.
This blog and my email are the only virtual sites where I offer personal reflections out loud. I don’t trust Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram and other profiling sources. If you value history, then you recognize the dangers and hazards of profiling for people of color; It’s terribly lethal.
When I was growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I don’t ever remember being raised to put much effort into creating an image of who I wanted to be; instead, I was encouraged to figure out who I actually was: What did I like? How did I like to spend my time? What unnerved me and what made me comfortable? Authentic living asked that you listen to stories about World War II, get lost in old photographs, learn the names and faces of people whose music did not, to my mind, in any way compare to the masterful music Michael Jackson put out.
As someone who’s very aware of raising a child in an era when virtual living seems to have diminished the value of tangible experience, I will make sure that my son listens to stories, examines photographs, discusses music. These activities helped me to value myself as a subject in history and shun efforts to build and to value my personal avatar. These activities also helped me better understand that public scripts of black life are far too limited, and that working on the substance of my identity taught me to craft my own meaning of a rich life.
Ultimately, I wish that everyone could experience the significance of these sites of process. Not only might they enhance your life, they might just extend it.