Visual Art by Carly Strohmaier
The Mourning the Creation of Racial Categories Project
Mourning is one of the most profound human experiences that it is possible to have…The deep capacity to weep…is one of our noblest human traits.
- Edwin Schniedman
About The Mourning the Creation of Racial Categories Project
The Mourning the Creation of Racial Categories Project is dedicated to using the transformative powers of the arts and creative writing to mourn the creation of racial categories in the United States and to help us understand the dynamics of separation, loss and abandonment on which those categories were founded. The race concept and its categorical vision of humanity has a 400-year history. Everyone who lives, or has ever lived in the United States, has wrestled (some more than others) with that categorical vision and their place within it. Countless numbers have been tormented and tortured by that vision. The project’s goal is to add something NEW to the much-needed national conversation on race. While artistic expression cannot, by itself, erase the pain, suffering, misunderstandings and inequalities that the creation, and 400-year existence of racialized categories supports, it can encourage us to mourn. Clinical psychologist Edwin Shneidman maintains “mourning is one of the most profound human experiences that it is possible to have…The deep capacity to weep…is one of our noblest human traits.” When we can see the need to mourn the creation of racial categories, we have made the mental leap to begin the healing and reconciliation process.
The expected outcome of the project is modest – to create art and language that will move audiences to mourn with the ultimate outcome being to change people’s assumptions about who we are. We believe changing assumptions is the first step toward transforming the way we perceive race and go about interacting with different race-labeled peoples. This transformation prepares us to work through the real problems that are the legacy of racial categories.
About the Documentary
Mourning the Creation of Racial Categories is a feature documentary that explores how racial categories were created in the United States and their lasting consequences. The film follows sociologist Joan Ferrante's efforts to find unique ways of mourning the biological, family, romantic, and other bonds severed by this legally imposed system. Ferrante issued a call to students majoring in the creative and performing arts at Northern Kentucky University to become part of a creative team dedicated to realizing her vision. The film, narrated by the students, gives special attention to the laws enacted between 17th century Virginia and the Jim Crow era that made these categories matter. It features student choreography, music, sculpture, visual art, dramatic reenactments, poetry and spoken word pieces- all created with the aim of moving audiences to take notice and mourn how we were divided into categories we call races.
There are plans in the works to produce a Part 2 and 3. Part 1 focuses primarily on the categories Black and White, with references to the other racial categories officially recognized in the U.S. Part 2 of the film takes the story beyond the categories Black and White and gives special attention the other categories the U.S. legally recognizes: Asian, Hispanic, American Indian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and a category slated to be officially recognized in 2020 –Middle Eastern North African (MENA). Like the categories White and Black, these categories were created out of traumas that involved loss, separation and abandonment. Part 3 will showcase the results of a forthcoming nation-wide call (in planning stages) to creative, performing and visual artists for submissions that will move audiences to mourn and transform their thinking about race. The documentary will include interviews with winning submissions and showcase the artistic contribution.
- Joan Ferrante, Project Director