Decades back, pregnant African slaves were thrown from slave ships into the ocean. Their children were born in the sea, a new species with fins and the ability to live underwater. These children slowly found others like them, and formed a society. In order to survive the trauma of how they came to be, the Wajinru mer-people have developed the ability to forget the past. All but one live idyllic, blissfully naive lives. That one, Yetu, acts as the historian, carrying all of the memories.
Once a year Yetu (or whoever the current historian is) shares all the memories with her people. For those short moments, the historian is free of them, and the Wajinru people remember. Then the memories are taken back, and the people continue on with their lives - with only a vague notion of where and what they come from to hold them steady. But Yetu is too sensitive for the role. Instead of taking the memories back after she has shared them, she flees to the surface, desperate to escape the painful memories that are slowly crushing her.
This is not "a mermaid story." The meaning goes deep - pun intended! - and speaks to generational trauma and Black identity. It contemplates the importance of memory and a shared history. How do you define yourself without ancestral memories - both joyous and traumatic? How can a people - specifically, a formerly enslaved people - move forward and grow without the knowledge of where they came from?
The Deep is a beautifully written, thoughtful, and haunting work of art.
This story is based on a song commissioned for an episode of NPR's This American Life about Afrofuturism, "a cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science, and philosophy of history that explores the developing intersection of African diaspora culture with technology." The song is by the musical group clipping - rapper Daveed Diggs, and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. "All of their records refer to a utopian underwater civilization founded by African mothers thrown overboard from slave ships. It’s like if Wakanda were Atlantis." (info & quotes from Wikipedia)
Here is the song, The Deep, by clipping. I'll be honest - it's not my fav. But I love love loved the book that it inspired.
UP NEXT: The Book of Hidden Wonders, by Polly Crosby