The Monkey Tells the Truth

They say history is written by the winner. But writing the history is also a way of winning. If you tell the story, you lay claim to it.

From Monkey and Man, by Paul Zelavansky, New York City, 1992

The whole thing of reparational genealogy is to retell family history without leaving out the yuckiest parts, like a background full of profiting from rigged racial power dynamics. The invisible enslaved people who did all the work for free were actual people with names and families. Choosing to not record that was part of the effort to hide them from history and establish them as not worthy of mention. In the mid 1800’s when white settlers wrote their self-congratulatory county books that included biographies of the citizens who paid to be included, it was an assertation of ownership, ownership of history,

Carolynn Ni Lochlainn, who coined the term “reparational genealogy,” says that the documents and records are all there, right where they’ve always been and it is our job now to use them to tell the truth. ( look her up!)

yrmama floundered somewhat aimlessly about in the kiddie pool of genealogy until she found out that there are other people interested in exposing the deets of their enslaving ancestors. Tea and crumpets genealogy, the goal of which is to link oneself to genuine English royalty, and mint juleps genealogy, the aim of which is to marvel at one’s proximity to hoop skirts and pretty, restored plantation houses is fine. (To which you, sensing my tone, might say, “But yrmama, don’t you like mint juleps?” To which I’d growl in reply, “I ain’t never had one.”) But scraping the white-out (ooo, good analogy) off the rest of the story gives my new obsession a purpose and helps make valuable information available to descendants of enslaved people who have a right to family history like everyone else.

yrmama may be beating a dead horse and looking it in the mouth all at the same time, by which I mean writing about this excessively and over and over, but she’s still trying to figure out which side of her bread is buttered so she can lie down on it by which I mean get back to work.