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Interview: Dark Mother - African Origins and Godmothers

Dark Mother - African Origins and Godmothers

My creative web mistress, Alexis Masters, suggested that I ask students in my classes to pose questions about dark mother. african origins and godmothers that I answer for visitors to the web site. What follows is the result of this group effort.

Q: What did you think you were doing in writing dark mother?

A: Writing, for me, is a process not entirely conscious. But one thing I did a lot of thinking about was how I could write a book on the oldest divinity we know that honored my training as an intellectual historian while simultaneously honoring other ways of knowing. Other ways of knowing, ranging from bodily knowledge to art to dreams to everyday and celebratory rituals, are honored in the Women's Spirituality program at CIIS. If we honored all ways of knowing we would have a history not just of the dominant classes, but of women and all the dark others whose cultures have been obliviated by the dominant culture. I know from my study of U.S. history that all the disciplines, including history and the social sciences, were professionalized in the late 19th century, that halcyon period of racism, as well as scientism. As I have analyzed in chapter 9 of Dark mother, this thrust to make all disciplines a science led to a constriction of what could be legitimately "known," restricting legitimate "knowers" to a small elite of class-based "scientific inquirers" who hoped to use the authority of science to manipulate the beliefs of dark others, those at the bottom of the class pyramid: African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latin Americans, and "new immigrants" from south and southwestern Europe (southern italians, spanish, jews, greeks, slavs, et al.). Fortunately, because of the persistence over the millennia of the oral tradition, and many non-cognitive ways of knowing, knowledge of our oldest mother of Africa continued to be transmitted (often in disguised ways) throughout the centuries. The California Institute of Integral Studies is one of the few educational institutions in the world that honors many ways of knowing, recognizing the conventional mode of scientific inquiry but checking and balancing scientific knowledge (as did ancient historians) with other kinds of knowledge, from dance to dress, jewelry, art, spontaneous exclamations, food, names, stories, local histories, ancient histories, nonwestern theories of history, and popular icons. Honoring "other" ways of knowing will lead us to fuller story of humanity that includes knowledges of subordinated dark others,women, heretics, all dark-skinned others.

Q: What did you hope would happen as a consequence of writing dark mother?

A: Although revulsion against racism and sexism have been concerns of my recent life, and the book has been described as "shattering the dominant paradigm of white male supremacy," these were not the conscious concerns that precipitated me into writing the book. What propelled me to write Black Madonnas and then Dark mother were the non-cognitive experiences described in the introduction to dark mother.

Q: What inspired you to expand on the cultural history in which you were trained?

A: When I began to study prehistory from a woman's perspective in the 1980s and then archeology and genetics in the 1990s, I was appalled by what conventional historians leave out of their textbooks that teach the young. This realization converged with my ongoing passion against racism, because historians who leave out prehistory leave out the origins of human beings in central and south Africa who venerated a dark mother, and leave out the african origins of world civilizations.

Q: What is the role of the black madonna in your journey?

A: As I noted in the introduction to Dark mother, when I watched the procession of the black madonna holy week 1988 I was overcome by a bodily sense that I knew her. This was followed by a dream of my mother as a black madonna, and the next day learning she was dying. I wrote Black Madonnas in the eighteen months she was dying. Unanswered questions then led me to research and write Dark mother.

Q: How did your activism in the 1960s against racism and the U.S. invasion of Vietnam lead to the awareness of your own ethnicity?

A: In the 1960s many kinds of people worked in alliances with African Americans and Chicano Americans to oppose racism and imperialism. Although we stopped the war in Vietnam, the elan of the struggle against racism descended into the despair of the early 70s along with the decision that all ethnic groups needed to work in their own gardens to know themselves. This was, precisely, what I did. . . researching and writing about my own sicilian grandmothers, a journey that led me to Africa as the place of my oldest mother, as well as the oldest mother of everyone on earth.

Q: How was the decade of the 1960s able to offer a container wherein everyone could work together for "peace and freedom?"

A: In retrospect I consider the decade of the 1960s, when I was a founding member of the Peace and Freedom Party, unique in U. S. history. It was a time when a majority of the population was becoming empowered enough to realize that they did not want to live in a racist and imperialist country. The ability to work together across ethnic and cultural lines came apart in the late 1960s when the FBI infiltrated all peace and black groups, leading to paranoia and relapse into quietism. Today may be another period of activism. Now it is not a matter of identification with subordinated groups, but realization that you, too, are a member of a subordinated group. This sense that you do not have power over your own destiny is deepened, with our government calling for the use of nuclear bombs,into a concern for our survival as human beings.

Q: What will happen when the knowledge sinks in that everyone in the world has the same mother?

A: That is the question that Corinne Innis asks. If we realize that everyone has the same dark mother, won't it be harder to drop bombs on "others?" If everyone has the same dark mother, who are the dark others?