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Inheriting Home

We inherit our first identities from our families, long before we’re old enough to create other identities for ourselves. But can we shed what we’ve inherited, or do we have to embrace it? Identity*Memory*Testimony was the theme of a conference in Portland, March 30-31, co-sponsored by the Maine Women Writers Collection, the Maine Women’s Studies Consortium, and the New England Women’s Studies Association.

In her keynote address, writer, activist, and Colby College professor Jennifer Finney Boylan had plenty to say about identities we’re born with and ones we later claim. She read from her memoirs, She’s Not There and I’m Looking Through You, and from her forthcoming Stuck in the Middle with You.

In my illustrated presentation, Inheriting Home: Race, History, and Family Memory, I spoke about my own history research and my Southern family — and how one led to the other, and back around again. How I inherited a legacy of people on the edges or in the midst of issues of race relations, violence, and civil rights. How they weren’t on the sides I wish they’d chosen. I looked in my family for heroes in the 1957 Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis, and in the 1927 lynching of John Carter, but found them neither time. And so I wondered why, wondered what had influenced them to turn away and even to be on the side of violence and hate.

The question, for me, is how to reconcile these loving family members with their actions — or lack thereof — in the face of what is obvious to us today. The question for everyone is how to stop perpetuating these legacies. We can’t all be heroes, nor have ancestors who were, but we all can speak out, and we have a moral responsibility to do so.

© 2012 Stephanie Harp. All rights reserved.


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