In Plain Sight is the first body of work I created after discovering my families hidden African American ancestry and passing as white. The Journey is a collection of works about my thoughts on hybridity, racism, colorism and caste.
The first work I created about my ancestry, Lost and Found, was cobbled together aided by Google and the scant details I knew of my family’s ancestry back in 2018. Since then, through research into the archives of James Madison’s Montpelier (where I found evidence of my family members enslavement) the Montpelier Descendant Community, DNA and the help of a genealogist member of my family, we have reconstructed my family’s history from 1830 to present day. And in broader strokes, backwards from then until the birth of our nation.
My great, great, great grandmother was a quadroon, which means 2 generations of enslaved women in my family were raped by white men. My family surname, Braxton, comes from Carter Braxton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, linking our family’s history to America’s birth. We may be descended from him, but I have no concrete proof of that. In many instances the enslaved were given the surname of their owner. However, my family’s proximity to the white privilege of America’s founders has made research into our ancestry more available, enabling connections that could not be made otherwise.
My family’s story of passing is that of a mixed-race marriage, which is unremarkable today, but we have seen recently in America that this can change. My grandfather was very light skinned Black man, and my grandmother was Canadian with Anglo and indigenous ancestry. They could not marry in America. My grandfather was sent by his employer, Frank J. Gould, to work in Europe. They married in London in 1910 and raised their family in France until they fled back to America during World War II. His marriage certificate was the first place that I saw he declared his race as white.
The aggressive racism and violence in the form of white supremacy that we have experienced recently, is very much like the state of our politics back in the late 1850’s with the Dred Scott decision, which developed into the Civil War, followed by Reconstruction and then Jim Crow. Through the research into my ancestry and reading, Images of Kin, written by my cousin, poet Michael Harper, my family’s trials and tribulations have come into focus, and this shapes my point of view. Freedom and equality continue to be hard fought.
While I will never know what it is like to be Black and experience the daily aggressions because of the color of my skin, I do know now how my Black ancestors were treated and how racism affected my family. We lost a great deal. Secrets are destructive. I am an ally and proud of my African American ancestry. I share my origin story with my children, so they are allies too. This is how we contribute to building a fair, free, equal, and just society. It is important for me as an artist to share my truth, to tell a story of my ancestry through my work to illustrate how interconnected we are.
My hope is that this work upends the idea of colorism. encourages the viewer to look deeper and learn the truth about the history of racial relations in this country. I believe honesty and education about America's past is the key to a strong, peaceful, integrated and resilient future. The Journey is the space where my sculptures examining issues of race, caste and equality, live.
“Humanism is our common faith: the belief that we are all interconnected is the higher ground that we call the world to” Reverend John Morehouse, UU, Westport, CT