"Mourning is one of the most profound human experiences that it is possible to have…[it] is one of our noblest human traits."
- Edwin Schniedman
What is Mourning?
In the broadest sense, mourning is the process by which grief is expressed. Grief is a physiological reaction to the loss of a person, a role/identity or relationship. Mourning involves coming to terms with loss and with accompanying feelings of despair, anger and disorientation. Healthy mourning requires people to acknowledge the loss and to work through grief. All societies have rituals in place that guide people through mourning. All societies recognize that darkness and pain of grief can be healed in the time-honored process of mourning.
Why Does the Creation of Racial Categories Need to be Mourned?
There are some kinds of losses that societies do not allow to be openly acknowledged or publicly mourned. There are no rituals in places that apply to those kinds of loss—no cemeteries to visit, no support group to guide and comfort and no commemorative events. This kind of loss lives in unmarked graves and unkempt cemeteries and in families and communities that avoid talking about it. The loss must be kept secret and suffered privately. The MCRC Project believes that the losses upon which racial categories were forged have yet to be acknowledged and mourned. The MCRC Project has created documentaries explaining how family and ancestral bonds were severed to create those categories. For hints about what needs mourned, study the photographs commissioned by WEB DuBois in 1900 titled “Types of American Negros” or of those legally classified as Black (image1).
To create the categories Black and White the United States institutionalized a color line depicted in image 2. All pictured on the right side of that color line were legally classified as Black. The progression of complexion shades broadcast parental, family and ancestral ties other than African descent. No matter, all on the right side were officially classified as Black. These haunting images tell us that dividing people into the racial categories Black and White involved more than checking a box. It involves severing ties with family and ancestors. It involved abandoning and being abandoned. How did such a system that paid no regard for family ties come to be? The documentaries offer some answers.
Americans continue to cling to the fabricated belief that racial categories are innate or natural divisions of humanity. But racial categories were created without regard for family, ancestral and other intimate ties. To heal we must face what our country did to our identities, families and communities to create racial categories and to enforce and reinforce divisions (image 3). Mourning is acknowledging what has been lost, coming to terms with the implications, and then transforming identity and ideas of family to fit reality. A healthy mourning process requires realizing the loss, working through grief and repairing relationships with those who are the faces of loss. Failure to make these repairs leaves the bereaved reacting inappropriately to those faces and futilely struggling to hold together a categorical vision of humanity that has no basis in reality.