“Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/ Black bodies swingin’ in the
Southern [Western] breeze.”
-Billie Holiday (performer) and Abel Meeropol (writer), “Strange Fruit” (1939)
“It’s my brother, my sister./ At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean there’s a railroad made of human bones./ Black ivory/ Black ivory”
-Amiri Baraka, from “Wise, Why’s, Y’z” (1995)
“7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.”
-Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, “Black Panther Party for Self-Defense Ten-Point Platform and Program” (1966)
Chinaka Hodge‘s recent work, Chasing Mehserle, first at the Intersection for the Arts (and then for another few performances at Z Space), ends at the beginning. Or at the ending. It ends in the ocean. With ancestors lost, found, never lost, never found. The ocean is for O–the ocean is for O-s-c-a-r: Oscar Grant.
Our guide, in charge of this chase, this hunt, is Watts Trustscott (played by Michael Wayne Turner III); he announces himself to be a cartographer: he introduces the Town–the town that you know is THE Town if you are in, from, of the Bay (the name of this blog and my hometown is/needs the “B”). He runs down neighborhood names while projected images of Oakland street maps swirl and float in the background. But Hodge is the real mapmaker here, a surveyor not only of space but time, drawing lines that connect, that show us the topography of Oakland after Oscar Grant–more accurately, the topography of Oakland after Johannes Mehserle. In this Town, Watts, unable to set foot off his front steps, watches as blond white girls whizz through West Oakland on bikes, heading… home?–heading to the buildings they now inhabit on blocks that Watts knows well, the cartographer he is, and yet is afraid to venture onto.