The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Saidiya Hartman wasn’t always named Saidiya. She was born Valerie, to her mother and father who desperately wanted a better life for their daughter. They knew first-hand what it meant to be Black in America, and felt that by giving their children white-sounding names, they were helping them gain an edge. In her adolescence, Hartman changed her name in an act of rebellion, but also in an effort to gain a stronger sense of self. To her, it represented a reconnection with her roots. It was this same longing for connection that inspired her journey along the Atlantic Slave Route, and eventually, the memoir she would later write about it.
“Valarie was a name weighted with the yearning for cotillions and store-bought dresses and summers at the lake. It was a guilded name, all golden on the outside, all rawness and rage on the inside. It erased the poor black girl my mother was ashamed to be. “Hartman, Lose Your Mother
After receiving her PhD at Yale University, the accomplished author now teaches African-American studies at Columbia University. Her list of accolades speaks for itself, but the truest reflection of her humbling intellect is found in her writing, which I can confidently say is some of the most impressive reflective prose I have encountered as a reader. Hartman’s self-awareness and attention to nuance is what sets her writing apart. She deconstructs your understanding of racial history, and forces you to question what you have been taught. She is not bound by genre, in that her memoir is so much more than just that. It is not an individual meditation, but layers of stories baked into each other that work together to tell a more complete narrative, one that has long been willfully ignored, not just by Americans, but by the West as a whole. In fact, these stories have been actively erased.
In her book, Lose Your Mother, Hartman tackles this dilemma. She not only boldly tells her own story in her memoir, but recounts the stories of so many others through her empathetic and discerning critical fabulation. Her unique perspective is not only eye-opening, but necessary for anyone seeking to gain a better understanding of the lasting impacts of slavery and the ways it has scarred our society.
One thing I particularly appreciated about Hartman’s writing is the emphasis she places on this idea of the vast amount of perspectives that exist within the Black diaspora. Many White people today are very quick to use labels like the “Black Perspective” or the “Black Experience” when in reality this singularity is not only dangerously fictitious, it doesn’t make sense. There are a wealth of Black perspectives, and in the same way we would never refer to something as the “White Perspective” or the “White Experience,” we should not be using blackness as a tool to diminish the many perspectives and experiences that exist within the community.
Above all, Hartman unites through her research. She takes emotions nearly all people have felt and articulates them with biting eloquence. She honors the experiences of those who touched her life, whether they opened their doors to her on her trip, or reached out to her from dusty library records as only a first name and date of death. Hartman will open your mind in ways you couldn’t have imagined, she will break you with every chapter in the most important way; in the ways you needed to break to gain a better understanding of history as a whole. Lose Your Mother is the education we deserved but never received. It is a truthful, pain-staking reflection on the Slave Trade, and all the ways it effects us today.