In an age of racial reckoning, the country’s oppression of Black people is getting renewed attention, and the experience of being Black in America might appear to be almost universally grim.
Badia Ahad-Legardy of Flossmoor wants to complicate that view. In her new book “Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture,” Ahad-Legardy proposes a different outlook on Black life, focusing especially on the great pleasures and joys that often are not seen in in the media.
Ahad-Legardy recognized that books describing Black hardship and tragedy are easily accessible, so she chose to view African American history through a fresh lens, “What might a history of Black joy look like?”
Legardy aims to reclaim nostalgia as an essential element of the Black experience by turning attention to positive sensations that African Americans used to survive and prosper in an unfair and unjust social structure.
She explores “the concept of Black historical pleasure through a variety of art forms–literature, music, visual art, performance, and food to show how nostalgia is used in contemporary Black culture as a way to reimagine the past and explore possibilities of a better future.”
The non-fiction book can be considered an opportunity to view the different perspectives of Black history, acknowledging the “transformative pain” of past tragedy can lead to present healing and happiness, expressed by artists of all backgrounds.
One of her biggest lessons learned during research was that doctors and scientists thought that anyone of African heritage could not experience nostalgia.
She found it fascinating to hear about the progression of nostalgia from being considered an illness in the 17th century to a pleasant “feel good” emotion in the 21st century.
“Nostalgia is more than a kind of escapism; it allows for a way of coping with the present and imagining new possibilities for the future,” Legardy said.
She argues that the most crucial takeaway in her book is that Black memory is innovative and limitless.
“We have an amazing capacity to cultivate happiness and joy, and that is often accomplished by drawing on wistful memories of the past,” she said.
She uses as examples some of her nostalgic memories of childhood in the “wonderfully diverse and progressive community” of Hyde Park, located on the southeast side of Chicago, an oasis in the often ruthless city.
Growing up, she remembers the freedom to explore all her neighborhood had to offer, playing hide-and-seek at the Robie House, an historic landmark in Hyde Park, and creating some of her favorite moments over milkshakes and fries at Medici on 57th Street.
A common theme that runs through all of the work of the three-time published author and college professor is a strong interest in the emotional lives of others, whether it be enslaved persons in the 19th century or the students in her classes.
Ahad-Legardy credited her mother, Anna, with providing her inspiration to become a writer.
“She was a voracious reader, and I’m sure that my love of literature began from wanting to emulate her. She gave me my first typewriter as a Christmas present when I was six years old, and I’ve been writing ever since,” she said.
Ahad-Legardy is a Chicago native and associate professor at the Loyola University of Chicago.