Dr. Derrais Carter: Refusal and Possibility in Black Narrative History

Dr. Derrais Carter is an assistant professor of Black Studies at Portland State University in Oregon, USA. I watched his lecture and felt it would be prudent to summarize it for anyone interested and on a path to researching African-American history. His lecture explores the ideas behind a research project he has been working on, which puts into question “the way in which Black history is and should be told, to give historians the options of refusing to include certain details to protect people involved” (Carter: 2016) and be critical about the documents representing the history in question. Carter uses a 1919 scandal as an example for his argument, which is basically that there is a problem with the way in which Black voices are treated and represented throughout history.

The scandal in question involves self-proclaimed scientist and researcher Herman M. B. Moens, who focussed his studies in the late 19th and early 20th century on racial mixture and proposed the idea that there was a close link between Black people and apes, before changing his theories later on and asserting that Black people were actually the next step in human evolution. However, while being funded and supported by African-American organizations which challenged racial injustice, he systematically used his supposed research, which included photographing naked African American children, as a way to get close to young African American girls, which he had become sexually interested in. Later, Moens was investigated and surveilled by the FBI, which used one of the African American girls which Moens had been sexually assaulting, to get proof of his actions and the FBIs theories of him being a spy. Carter explains that the fact that the 17-year-old African American girl was wrongfully utilized as a tool in an FBI investigation against Moens, and the FBI documents showing that they were aware of Moen’s actions for years, as well as the lack of the school system’s care for the situation of the children shows not only extreme institutional racism but also leads to the question of the credibility of the FBI reports as historical evidence. Moreover, the documents in question follow of narrative which represents the young African American girls as sexually deviant and guilty of their own shortcomings, which is symbolized by referring to them as grown women rather than young girls.

The scandal and its documentation supports Carter’s argument that there is a difficulty in portraying history for African Americans. The young girl’s accounts of the events were only briefly included in the FBI’s documentations, all the while depicting her as a sexually available woman, when, in reality, she was inappropriately used and sexually assaulted by Moens. Carter introduces the idea of excluding everything from the historical account other than the voice of the young African American girl, without using her name, thereby embracing the limits of the research to tell her story only. The common exclusion of the victim’s accounts in African American history is a problem which has been analysed also by Professor Christina Sharpe, whose theories Carter bases his findings on.

In brief, Carter’s lecture presents the audience with the problem behind the telling of Black history and exemplifies this by presenting the case of the young African American girl who was sexually abused by Moens and used by the FBI as merely a tool, all the while being disregarded as valuable enough to actually be heard in the documentation used to describe the scandal.

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About AnekaB

Literature, Philosophy, Culture
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