This is a critical moment in America. We face multiple crises including the Covid-19 pandemic and the political, economic, and ethical crises wrought by systemic racism, staggering inequities, and heterosexism. Now more than ever, people turn to universities and museums for accurate information, inspiration, guidance, and opportunities for respectful dialogue. The role of the arts and humanities is vital to the work of individually and collectively grappling with our national and global conditions and essential for imagining otherwise. I strongly believe that classrooms and museums are the democratic epicenters for encouraging critical reflection and thus are instrumental to social change.
The broad theme of the fellowship is “Abolition Today,” which sets the stage for me to explore the multiple meanings of abolition in today’s world. For instance, those who call themselves neo-abolitionists in the fight against human trafficking (i.e. “modern day slavery”) leverage the ethical and emotional archive of the historical struggle to abolish chattel slavery in the United States. Many advocates approach anti-trafficking as the newest example of anti-slavery activism.
At the same time, other advocates are working towards prison abolition, seeking to dismantle a system that is the living legacy of Black enslavement. For them, prisons are a modern form of slavery.
As public consciousness only grows about critical issues such as mass incarceration and human trafficking, the tensions and intersections between these two abolitionist claims demands greater public reflection. Not simply an issue of semantics, the meanings of abolition today speaks to present-day ethical demands made by U.S. slavery and the political imagination needed to move beyond carceral human rights.
On a personal note, I also reflect on my position as a white cis-gendered queer middle-class woman in the context of abolition today. I want to dig deeply into the radical history of anti-slavery to better understand what it means to be abolitionist today.
Currently I am working with Christopher Miller, Senior Director of Education and Community Engagement, Novella Nimmo, Education Coordinator, and Asia Harris, Youth Programs Manager. In particular, Asia and I are working on revising and adding to the museum’s k-12 curriculum. I already have learned a lot about public education and the significant role that the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center plays in public education. There is a lot of demand for rigorous and thoughtful curriculum that illuminates the past and that can connect to people’s lives today. I hope to bring my scholarly expertise, which thematically is on critical human rights, as well as my experience in collaborative arts and humanities practices to the museum in this residency.
Sharing the Journey
Over the course of the academic year, keep an eye out for periodic updates here on the Freedom Center Voices blog. We invite you to follow along as I share more about my research and other topics related to the project. I’m honored to have the opportunity to connect with the Freedom Center family and excited to see where our collaboration goes.