Seeing in the Being

Esse Quam Videri, or, “To be, rather than to seem” is the state motto of North Carolina. In light of the simulacrum-saturated world in which we live, the expression carries considerable weight. From real blue grass to real barbecue, the difference between being and seeming is a contentious topic, especially among white people,[1] and has been for a long time.

What meaning do these words take on in their designated southern context? In North Carolina specifically? What follows are some definitions and reflections on their meanings.

“to be”

1

a :  to equal in meaning :  have the same connotation as :  symbolize

b :  to have identity with

c :  to constitute the same class as

d :  to have a specified qualification or characterization

e :  to belong to the class of—used regularly in senses 1a through 1b as the copula of simple predication

2

a :  to have an objective existence :  have reality or actuality :  live

b :  to have, maintain, or occupy a place, situation, or position

c :  to remain unmolested, undisturbed, or uninterrupted —used only in infinitive form

d :  to take place :  occur

e :  to come or go[2]

…Rather than…

“to seem”

1

:  to appear to the observation or understanding

2

:  to give the impression of being[3]

To Be 1:

To Symbolize

To Have Identity With

To Constitute the Same Class As

To Have Specified Qualification

To Belong

North Carolina got its motto pretty late in the state game; the other thirteen original colonies had had theirs for some time when the “Old North State” finally decided to go for it. In 1893, a jurist in North Carolina named Walter Clark drafted a bill that advocated for the state motto.[4] Senator Jacob Battle took the bill to the senate and it was passed immediately. Clark had fought in the Civil War as a Confederate soldier at the age of 15. In 1885, he was appointed judge of the superior court of North Carolina and in 1889 won the election to join the Supreme Court of North Carolina.[5] During his tenure, he bestowed North Carolina with its catchy and timely motto.

Clark’s ascendency to the Supreme Court and the motto deliberations coincided with the emergence of the “New South.” This “New South” embodied the industrial metropolis and mechanical production as a new way of promoting and doing business. The concept rapidly gained popularity amongst the southern white elite who, after Reconstruction, made harnessing black labor to work long hours at minimal pay in coal mining, agriculture and manufacturing industries their top priority. The process of building labor-ready populations relied on strict reinforcement of race as a principle way to organize society. Three years after North Carolina ponied up to having a state-motto, Plessy v. Ferguson, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Case decision that made segregation based on race enforceable by law, passed. “One drop” rules had been in place in North Carolina since the early 1700s, but in the 1890s, court cases began popping up about whether or not a lay person was capable of being able to determine someone’s race.[6] In other words, court cases began deciding who could serve as an expert on race. In North Carolina, that was pretty much all the white people. These court cases were accompanied by myriad racist paraphernalia and media campaigns designed to inculcate the definitions of racial categories and strengthen white supremacy across the South.

The business of being catered to certain ends. The idea of seeming or passing as something you are not “really” would throw it all off.[7]

To Be: 2

To Have Objective Existence

Live

To Occupy a Place

To Remain Undisturbed

To Take Place

To Come or Go

 In the early 1990s, North Carolina and South Carolina realized that they didn’t know where one began and the other ended.[8] This conundrum had occurred before. In 1815, state officials encountered the same problem so the Carolinas got down to business; they surveyed the land, and marked up some trees to proclaim their truthful state lines. These purported trees are, regrettably, long gone. South Carolina and North Carolina have always had beef with one another, so this border issue is a real concern. Sorority girls have carried on bitter debates about who claim the real “Carolina Girl” title for generations, for example. The lines are still being worked out in both cases; within the last few years, some families have found out that they actually live in the other state which meant different school districts, taxes, and they’re probably still recovering from their former state pride complex. Gas stations were especially pissed; those that normally garnered the most customers due to the lower gas taxes (probably South Carolina at any given point, let’s be honest), suddenly got the short end of the stick with their competitors. So far, “South of the Border,” a strange, Mexican-themed amusement park founded in 1949 to extend alcoholic service to dry counties in North Carolina, still appears to be straddling both South and North Carolina. Thank god.

sob-header

Other concerns about the NC state border: the OBX! (That’s short for the North Carolina Outer Banks, a chain of islands filled with wild horses and Ohioans, for those of you who don’t know.) Over the past few decades, the Outer Banks of North Carolina have been steadily disappearing. Some frame this as a “sands of time” issue. You know, the tide rises and falls, and so do the shores of the Outer Banks. Places like the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy, the UNC Coastal Studies Institute disagree. According to them, the overwhelming development on the islands in concert with global warming means that things on the coast are changing pretty fast. Ironically, this is causing even developers to “freak.”[9]

To Seem 1&2:

To Appear to the Observation or Understanding

To Give the Impression of Being

 Last summer, a friend who had also lived in North Carolina and I, started making the drive down from Rhode Island to NC. We were reminiscing the entire way. Ugh, the tomatoes! The peaches for christsakes! We were so psyched about having some Cheerwine that we picked some up for a swig in Pennsylvania instead of waiting until we actually arrived in the state proper. Heading toward Greensboro, we took Route 29 through the Shenandoah Valley with soft rolling green mountains framing our drive the whole way. For most of its way winding through Virginia, Route 29 is called the Seminole Trail. It is unclear why it has that name as the Seminole tribe did not have a presence in Virginia. In other portions of Route 29, it is called the Lee Highway after Robert E. Lee, the General-In-Chief of the Confederate Army just before the end of the Civil War. That area of Virginia is divine. Crossing into North Carolina, however, evokes a completely different feeling. The rolling hills peter out a little as you get closer to the state line. The greenness takes less a wide shape stretched out across landscapes and more a curly, intimate one as the trees hug the sides of the road more closely.

When we crossed the state line, we yelled a triumphant yell, and pulled over at the good old North Carolina rest stop to just feel the air and smell the NC smell….and pee. I had just cut off all of my hair, a good choice before you journey down South in late July, and it felt awesome. As if on cue when I emerged from the car, a little boy in a little country accent near me shouted in surprise, “Momma, it ain’t a man, it’s a wuman!” She looked at me, eyebrows furrowed, cheeks sucked in, like she was puzzling something else over. I waved.

Copula/Rather Than

“To be” is often used as a copula in simple predication. The definition of a copula is to link or to connect one thing to another. In other words, it links a name to a category like, “Sarah is a woman.”

Seeming seems a lot more fluid. It implies someone can appear to fit into a variety of different categories without being any given one of them.

To be rather than to seem

“Rather” highlights the favoring in this pairing and also posits that a choice exists between them. One can chose to be or one can chose to seem. Seeming is to associate with impostures. Being, however, is brave, honest, and patriotic.

We’ll never know what Clark had in mind when he rushed the bill that would become our motto to Battle in 1893.  What message did he hope the inscription would carry over time?  Would he be glad that the pressure to be rather than to seem, to be a category, rather than to seem like one, continues to bear relevance?  In this respect, it seems that North Carolina, late to coin its motto, was ahead of its time.

 


 

[1] A poignant example

[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/be

[3] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/seem

[4] http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/402/entry/

[5] http://search.credoreference.com.revproxy.brown.edu/content/entry/columency/clark_walter/0

[6] https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/margo/public/FedlStatisticalSystem/1290008.pdf

[7] I am referring to racial passing, though gender passing was pretty darn unpopular then too…

[8] http://www.npr.org/2014/08/26/343484222/how-a-colonial-era-error-put-the-carolinas-at-odds

[9] http://www.audubon.org/magazine/march-april-2015/slip-sliding-away

Broadly Speaking Summer Edition!

Hey Y’all! Welcome back! After an hiatus in May, Alison and I are excited to usher in summer with some new posts!  Keep ur eyes peeled for posts every Wednesday morn this summer covering topics from sex ed, pieces from Alison’s project “Body/s in Question,” colonial geographies, nostalgia and a long time coming piece on Pauli Murray…stay tuned!

Black Archives in Southern Spaces

Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia

Intro Panel Image

On View April 28 – July 31, 2015

Chapel Hill, North Carolina- April 28, 2015- The Southern Historical Collection (SHC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is honored to unveil the exhibit Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia. Using never-before-exhibited material, the exhibit tells the story of what “home” has meant to a generation of people that grew up in an African American coal mining community in the famed Harlan County, Kentucky. The exhibit is based on the SHC’s inaugural participatory archive, the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP). Being the first participatory archive at UNC, the SHC hopes to use EKAAMP as a model for future archival projects.  Building this archive has meant fostering open dialogue among all the people who created this archive. Gone Home celebrates a little-known slice of Americana and the communities of coal-mining sons and daughters, researchers, and scholars that came together to make the EKAAMP archive possible.

Gone Home starts with the fact of the land, coal, and changing landscapes of America from the end of slavery to the beginnings of the industrial revolution.  In the early 1900s, coal mining recruiters came through parts of Alabama to recruit African Americans to work in the coal mines of Appalachia.  Between 1910 and 1930, while many African Americans moved to northern urban regions in the Great Migration, tens of thousands of African moved to the coalfield areas of West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky for one generation.  After the coal industry tanked, African Americans were the first to be laid-off and forced to find jobs and homes elsewhere.  Because of this peculiar layover in the Great Migration, however, many African Americans around the United States still call Appalachia “home”.

What gives “home” its meaning? This question drives many of the displays in Gone Home. Using photography, oral history material, and many artifacts ranging from coal mining and garden tools to sports jackets and diplomas, Gone Home explores the textures of what home meant from the inside out, the memories of the Lynch Colored School, and what leaving this community felt like for the new generation.  The exhibit focuses on remembering a community forgotten in American History, but Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia also brings to light the ties people continue to hold to their hometowns and to each other today.

About the Eastern Kentucky African American Mining Project

Karida Brown is a descendent of a family that grew up in the coal town of Lynch, Kentucky.  When she began her research as a PhD student in sociology at Brown University, she turned toward her roots and began interviewing people across the country who used to live in Harlan County, Kentucky.  In addition to their stories, individuals often gave Brown manuscripts and artifacts concerning their time in Harlan County.  Having no place to store these valuable materials, Brown approached UNC’s Southern Historical Collection and, together, they founded the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP) archive.

EKAAMP takes a different approach than most traditional archives. The participatory nature of the EKAAMP archive brings researchers, archivists and donors themselves into conversation with one another. EKAAMP works to bring relationships and conversations about informational exchange into open dialogue.  The archive now has over 200 oral histories and material culture artifacts.  The exhibit opening will happen in concert with a gathering of individuals whose interviews and their belongings are in the archive for continued conversations about their experiences in Harlan County and the future of the archive.

About the Southern Historical Collection

The Southern Historical Collection is home to a vast array of archival collections all relating to the history and culture of the American South.  Founded in 1930, the Southern Historical Collection holds over 5 million items which are organized in over 4,600 discrete collections.

The exhibit is free and open to the public from April 28th-July 31st, 2015, and is located in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room at the Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC Chapel Hill. For more information, visit http://ekaamp.web.unc.edu/.

Talking Back From Lo Profundo: Unraveling The Shamanistic Writer

Designed by Rosalba Lopez Ramirez

Designed by Rosalba Lopez Ramirez

This excerpt uses the work of feminist theorists (Anzaldúa 2011 & 2007, hooks 1991, Lorde 2007, Watson-Gegeo 2005), to examine how writing has become a “shamanistic” (Anzaldúa, 2009: 121); a transformative healing act for young mujeres Oaxaqueñas, it illustrates this by their personal quotes and poetry. This piece has been edited, from its original chapter format titled Young Mujer Oaxaqueña-A Self Reclamation from Rosalba’s masters thesis Deep Culture: With Wings On the Roots (2014).

______________________________________________

“Being from Oaxaca is Beautiful”

—Juanita

To transform, and turn upside down the realities that shape our world is possible. We must grab and shape our own imagination. We must find our own voice. We must learn how to speak differently, and speak with endearment.

To speak with genuineness, is “seeing through the membrane of the past superimposed on the present, in looking at our shadows and dealing with them” (Anzaldúa, 2009:138).

In Audre Lorde’s (2007) essay The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action she declares that transformation emerges from the place we’re most vulnerable,

And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me strength. (40)

And so we must begin from lo profoundo. Lo profundo lies deep in the heart and it is a form of knowing. I became conciente (conscious) of the importance of lo profundo during a decolonizing workshop, attended by predominately Oaxaqueñas/os[1] in Fresno, where one activity led us to discuss our understanding of words, such as Indio/a. In a large group, the facilitator asked why we chose to not identify with being Indio/a. In a heartfelt voice a Oaxaqueña woman, stated “Tiene implicaciones profundas que llegan hasta el corazón”[2] (“It [India/os] has profound implications that reach deep in the heart) (Anonymous, Personal Communication, Feb 7, 2012). Her words touched me, as they came from the place that bleeds, and that we hide. The place that we have not allowed to be transformed into a scar. In lo profoundo, we have been “trapped”. In lo profundo our strength lies. Lo profundo is an education of our heart. And so we must speak, write and act from lo profundo.


“Tiene implicaciones profundas
que llegan hasta el corazón”


Teaching from lo profundo is not easy. It is a process that pushes the borders, in which we reveal ourselves and unveil our “Nakedness,” as Anzaldúa (2009) put it (33). We show our scars, our imperfections, hablamos de lo que no se habla (we speak of the unspoken), and by doing so we are engaging in an act of transformation. We are practicing what Anzaldúa (2009) refers to as the shaman aesthetics, which is using writing and images to replace metaphors that are self-defeating with metaphors que nos sanan (heal us) and liberate us (121). Enacting, in the act of writing has this possibility to not only transform us, but also its audience. In the words of Anzaldúa (2007)

The ability of story (prose and poetry) to transform the storyteller and the listener into something or someone is shamanistic. The writer, as shape-changer, is a nahual, a shaman. (88)

A shaman uses his hands para curarar (to heal). At first it eases in slowly. It touches the untouched. It caresses donde duele (the source of pain). It allows the pain to reveal itself. It offers the profundo to speak. As it listens carefully, it searches for the words to name what has remained silent. In painful and bold acts the shaman begins to put the words on paper.

***


… drawing the “skeleton” of the past
and at the same time
laying the foundation for our futures.


The paper offers power. For us young mujeres Oaxaqueñas it offers an alternate order. Pen in hand. It means, drawing the “skeleton” of the past and at the same time laying the foundation for our futures. So I ask Grisanti why she writes.

[R] Why do you write poetry?

[G] Just talking to people, yeah, you can make that connection, but when you have it in writing, when you have it in a poem. Because it [referring to the poem] has so much emotion in there. And since […] each poet reads their poetry in a certain way where it causes this emotion for other people to connect to. You know? I think that is why I choose to do it, in marches, rallies […]

[R] What can emotion do to people?

[G] It can move people.

(Grisanti, Personal Communication, August 2013)

In a stroke of a pen, the writer transforms the silence into words. Pen in hand. We write our truths. Make a self-reclamation. An inner-outer transformation unravels. We transform. We transform you.

***

NO LONGER UNDERGROUND. We cringe at the idea of remaining underground, complacent and SILENT.

We replace the silence. We push the borders. CRUZAMOS La FRONTERA

Us being together […] is a big protest to what basically society has being teaching us all of our lives: We’re not worth the time of day. “You are not really a person: you are “Indio”. […] ‘You are below’. So us protesting that […]. Protesting what is beauty. Protesting […] our identities. […]

—Juanita


[1] Oaxaqueños (Spanish), people with origins in the state of Oaxaca in the Mexican Republic

[2] Workshop was titled Decolonization hosted by Autonomos a group of Oaxaqueño youth in Fresno, California and facilitated by Dr. Gaspar Rivera a researcher/professor from UCLA


This Other Southerner:

Rosalba Ramirez

Rosalba Lopez Ramirez

Rosalba is a South Bronx based artist raised in the agricultural fields of Madera, California. She is a trained ethnographer, self taught artist, educator and community organizer who integrates indigenous epistemology and her own experience as “borderland woman” as part of her methodology to write.

http://www.slitherborders.com

© Copyright Rosalba Lopez Ramirez 2015

Southern/Soul/African Foodways & Bootstraps

The smells of down-home fried chicken clash loudly with the fancy glow of the retro bar as you walk into the doors. Bold colors, geometric patterns, black portraiture, stemmed and old-fashioned glasses, quilts, rustic “artifacts”, golden oldies, lively chatter, waiters and waitresses whisking by all meet you in the cramped waiting area. As you adjust your eyes and hone your hearing to take in what the person you came with is saying, album covers for records like Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” and posters for shows like the 1979 concert of Bob Marley and the Wailers at the Apollo Theater that occupy surreptitious places among the constellation of things to look at come into view. Lightly touching their ear, the lovely hostesses speak into a small microphone to check on your table for you. A sea of mostly tourists chomping away lies before you and beyond that, a wall of large animals with numbered appendages confirms that they serve meat. You’ve feasted on so much, but you’ve had nary a bite to eat at the Red Rooster Restaurant in Harlem.

“We passed the Haile Selassie palace. There was a brand-new tower. Always, always, there was the contrast between the luxe Mercedes-Benz sedans and the impoverished kids on the street. It is like Harlem times twenty” –Marcus Samuelsson in his memoir Yes, Chef

Kassahun Tsegie was born in Abrugandana, Ethiopia. Adopted at age two by Swedish parents, he became Marcus Samuelsson. He learned how to cook and how to love cooking from his grandmother, Helga, from an early age. He notes in his personal timeline on his website that he “sported a jheri curl” when he joined the soccer team in 1985. Taking the skills and values he learned in rustic Sweden, he worked his way up in fine dining restaurants in Europe and, then, in New York City. While working for Aquavit, a fine dining Swedish restaurant in New York, the NYT awarded it three stars making Samuelsson the youngest executive chef ever to receive this award. He won the Rising Star James Beard Award soon after.

Walking into the restaurant after passing the elaborate bar, a line of portraits draws your eye into the back portion of the restaurant. An elderly black man dressed in a very stylish suit with a large bejeweled cross and cane is framed next to a young boy with sunglasses, cool with his hands in his pockets. Two other images of men dressed in suits and hats paved the way to an image of a woman who is wearing white gloves, pearls, and elegant plaid dress that is hard not to compare to portraiture of the first lady. These are only some of the portraits to come. On view in the bathroom, pictures of black families, individuals, and performances nearly line the walls from top to bottom. The quantity of images makes it hard to see each individually. The war veteran next to the woman dressed in a gown, the female vocalist next to the man with a suitcase, the family portrait next to the family portrait—were it all a photo essay the themes would be innumerable.  You’re at your table now. The images of animals whose bodies are charted with numbers as if ready for butchering are now in the foreground. The portraits and the animals are now in direct dialogue with one another.   If black politics and livestock are the conversation, a numbered cow leg extending downward into a photo of a young black woman makes for an interesting debate.

IMG_2139

IMG_2141

IMG_2204

IMG_2209

“We wanted and needed three types of diner to give the Rooster the flavor that we considered the yummiest: Harlemites, the men and women (regardless of color) who are our neighbors, whose very existence provides the culture and color that is Harlem; downtown diners who love restaurants and great food; and out of towners who have traveled from as far away as San Fransisco, Sweden, and South Africa.” –Marcus Samuelsson in his memoir Yes, Chef

After attempting to do more independent work, he bought his name, “Marcus Samuelsson”, from his former boss. (Side note: the word “boss” originated from the Dutch word meaning “master.”) He spent his entire savings on buying his name back from his boss.  

Ahhh, the menú. Macaroni and cheese with greens, roasted salmon, “blackened” catfish, shrimp and grist, a “triple-double” burger, “fried yard bird”, lamb neck “rigatoncini”, “helga’s meatball”s, “mexiopian” chicken, and a “three pepper” steak. These entrées run between eighteen and thirty-seven dollars. “Snacks” and sides include things like cornbread, deviled eggs, chile lime peanuts, black eyed pea and tripe stew, and parmesan frites go for between eight and fifteen dollars. Five out of thirteen cocktail specialties use bourbon whiskey as their base alcohol. While some may recognize a number of these dishes, such as “blackened catfish”, as African American southern staples, the Red Rooster just goes with the label “comfort food”.

“The restaurant had to be a place that honored and mirrored the mystique of the renaissance but showed the new Harlem—inclusive of both old and new…I wanted the menu at Red Rooster to reflect all that Harlem has to offer, which means it was designed with our neighbors in mind” –Marcus Samuelsson in his memoir Yes, Chef

 

After finding out that his father, whom he had long presumed dead, was still alive, he returned to the village he grew up in 30 years after he had left to meet his father. He pays for his four half-sisters to attend school instead of working on their father’s farm. Chef Marcus Samuelsson calls his food comfort food.

_____________________________________________________________________________

AFRICAN/SOUTHERN FOOD WAYS

Debates persist about the exact number of foods to travel over to the United States during the Atlantic Slave Trade. It’s been settled, though, that yams, black-eyed peas, chiles, peanuts, oranges, and other roots and tubers along with a number of grains, all ingredients in the above entrées, originated in Africa and were incorporated into African American southern cuisine. Whiskey bourbon emerged as a beverage produced in the south during the mid-19th century around the time that tending bar became one of the few occupations acceptable for free black men.[1]

People who study foodways understand the Great Migration through food and cooking traditions along South to the North and Caribbean to the North dyads. Not all African American migrants who moved to New York City during the Great Migration moved to Harlem, but over 200,000 black individuals moved to Harlem during the ten year span between 1900 and 1910 alone.   This massive movement of people who brought their traditions with them set the stage for the Harlem Renaissance and the foundation for flourishing black-owned businesses. Among these businesses, southern food restaurants held a special place in Harlemites’ stomachs and social calendars. Serving variations on southern dishes took hold immediately both inside and outside restaurants.

The interactions between new black residents and new immigrants in Harlem affected new trends in what types of foods African Americans made—like macaroni and cheese and pancakes for example.   After the First World War, Cubans began to immigrate to Harlem in greater numbers and the restaurants they opened also influenced how African Americans from the South cooked and ate. During the Depression Era, African Americans worked to support one another and used food as a way to do so. Black southerners in Harlem threw rent parties for one another and sold southern dishes to make a profit.   Because of the communal nature of food lines and free meals operations, African Americans gained even greater exposure to a variety of immigrant food cultures.   Those exchanges journeyed onto the menus of restaurants around town.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Harlem’s southern food scene thrived. The original Red Rooster, the current Red Rooster’s namesake, along with other southern food spots like Jock’s Place, Tillie’s Chicken Shack, and Well’s opened and became successful establishments, well known particularly for late-night food.   As black politics began to shift during the late 1950s, these same restaurants began using the term “soul food” to describe their menus and environment.

SOUL FOOD WAYS

In the 1950s through early 1960s, black political groups like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had a strong impact on the intellectual, social, political, and food cultures of Harlem. In an article written about the Red Rooster for the African American periodical in 1969, the author explained, “Like so many eating places located in Black communities, the Red Rooster was serving traditional soul food dishes long before the current national interest in soul cookery.”   The connection between black politics and African American foodways in Harlem was evident. Soul ideologies emphasized that it was important for African Americans to honor their African roots and to stay connected to black communities even if individuals experienced upward socio-economic mobility. The concept of “soul” took on various meanings in a foodways context, but restaurants both benefited from and benefited others through joining the dialogue around soul politics. In the late 1960s, black political activists even began producing soul food cookbook literature.

SOUL/SOUTHERN FOODWAYS

For black cooks and chefs during that time, the connection between soul food and southern food remained an important one. For them, soul food symbolized the African American experience in the South and the unique wisdom black Americans had from their familial ties to the South. It represented survival in the face of severe domination and violence and, therefore, belonged to black Americans only.   Southern and soul food restaurants have a history as spaces that signify progressive politics whether by black economic empowerment or by providing a space for black community bonding.

COMFORT FOODWAYS

The South is known for its “kindness”.  People are just so nice there.  For many, this is what they think of when they think of “southern comfort” or “southern hospitality”.  But, for me, it is also important to remember what other connotations “southern comfort” has, especially when it intersects with making a profit. Southern comfort and hospitality also represent an affective economy, or an economy of feeling. The terms carry a history of making the bourgeois feel comfortable. Comfort is not an invisible thing floating in the air, it comes from circumstances that people create.  Creating comfort in the South has traditionally relied on gendered, classed, and racialized social formations in which people of color, usually women, serve white middle to upper class people.   This performance of racialized, gendered, classed, and southern comfort played out around food particularly.

_____________________________________________________________________________

You are filled to the brim. That. Was. Delicious. Opting for one last cocktail instead of dessert, a hard decision in a place like this, you ask for the check. The waitress, dressed in jean pants, a chambray button-up, and with a red bandana in her hair, rushes to retrieve it for you. The golden oldies fill you with even more warmth as you get up from the table. A forty dollar tip? Yeah, that’s about twenty percent.

“During my walks [by the restaurant under construction,] I looked at how Harlem has changed, even in the six years since I moved here. People were carrying Target bags now. It made me smile.” –Marcus Samuelsson in his memoir Yes, Chef

Samuelsson is married to a model who is also from Ethiopia. He serves on the board of the Careers through Culinary Arts Program. In 2010, he won season two of Top Chef. The very next day, he executed the dinner for Obama’s inauguration for 325 people. He believes in hard work, preserving Harlem’s history, that “labels are not as important as the journey”, and, of course, in good food.

Consulted Sources:

Yes Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America by Frederick Douglass Opie

The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, 7th ed., s.v. “Bourbon Whiskey.”

“Recipes for Respect: Black Hospitality Entreprenuers before World War I” by Rafia Zafar  in African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture

“Chickens and Chains: Using African American Foodways to Understand Black Identities,” by Psyche Williams-Forson in African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture

“The Customer is Always White: Food, Race, and Constested Eating Space in the South” by Angela Jill Cooley in The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South

Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940 by Grace Elizabeth Hale

“Soul, Champagne, Girl Talk make New of Rooster of old Red” by Unknown Author in The Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988) July 26, 1969, pg. 13.

“(Black) (Queer) Love” by Sharon Holland

Body/s in Question – first edition

Some places are born into us
When we come into the world
They have already shaped us
Laid foundations in our DNA

This map has always been there

Other places make their way onto us
We may choose these places
But we can’t choose how they stain us
Imprinting themselves
Sinking through our skin
Drop by drop
So that the music.
The accent
The food
Becomes a part of us

Permanently inked and carved
Becoming a part of the cells that make the cells

So even as we replace ourselves, shedding layers of old for new skin
These places remain

These maps float down
To meet the cartography of our DNA
To dance and chuckle together
To map out the particular world

That only we know


Body/s in Question is a multi-pronged research and performance project that charts chart the fault lines of race and identity that live in the multiracial body in the Caribbean and the U.S.A.

North York and The South: A Conversation with Jamila Reddy and Austin Monroe

Austin Monroe is one of those people. One of those people who will have things like 50 year retrospectives and honorary degrees from institutions who use his theories as their approach. He’s one of those people whose name will turn into a verb. Who young people will be shamed—by other young people—for not knowing. What I meant to say is: Austin is going to change the world. I know this, because he already is.

Living in this Black/woman body compels me to acknowledge the fact that I understand what it means to occupy that which does not belong to you. I imagine, in the way one imagines something they have already seen, that living in a Black/man body is to know this un-belonging.

Austin is one of those people who occupies a body that neither belongs nor belongs to you. One of those people who knows it, and is trying to make it untrue.

Austin is the brains and heart behind North York, a socio-creative [ad]venture intended to create spaces that serve to inspire and empower people to function as their truest and best selves. Established in the Fall of 2010, North York is a Brooklyn based collective of radical dreamers/subversives/queers&queens, many of whom have migrated from the South. The North York manifesto reads, “We’re a tribe of people who see value in all cultures and seek to celebrate creative expression in various forms. We reject the notions of high or low culture; we are as inspired by music as we are by food as we are by fashion as we are by nightlife as we are by art. North York exists to make cool shit happen. We are forward-thinkers who make the spaces we want to see exist now. We want to create spaces that inspire you and make you feel at home. North York honors our diverse and at times disparate histories and identities. North York is home. North York is about who we are now.”

I spoke with Austin about what it means to create space, the heart of Black American Culture, and how road trips through the Carolinas were the first journeys in a place we always knew we were leaving.

Oh, and Beyoncé. Of course.


 North York

JAMILA: What does it mean to create space?

AUSTIN: Creating space is, in a way, self-explanatory. It can both be a physical or mental space wherein a person, a group of people, a theory, or an idea is allowed to be. So more than thinking about what it means to create space, I’m interested in the implications of creating space—what hat the intentionality behind creating a certain space—or a creating a certain vibe—is.

J: What was the genesis of the idea to create North York?

A: It was a culmination of years and years engaging with media culture and events and everyday people and just not seeing certain images being shown and certain ideals being represented. I was talking to a friend of mine who helped found a start up, and he was talking about entrepreneurship, and the baseline is: you’re someone who has located a gap, and your product or service or company should exist to fill that gap—to fill that void. So the genesis of the idea was bridging those gaps that exist.

J: So what is the gap that you want to fill?

A: On a selfish level, it’s the desire to have ownership over my experience—to put something into the world that I think is good. It’s about making creative space for myself and for other people.

Movement

J: Talk to me about your move to New York. You moved to New York from North Carolina. Why?

A: That was a lifelong dream. It was always going to happen at some point, and the stars just aligned—a job worked out, and then an apartment worked out, and then three weeks later, I was moved. So that’s how that went down.

J: What was that dream? I’ve always dreamed of moving across the country. In my mind, California was the farthest place from home. If I had to look at a map and pick a place, I was like, “this is as far as I can get.”

A: Why did you want to go so far?

J: It’s not even that I was trying to escape from what I knew or anything like that—it really wasn’t even that serious. It was just a place that I thought would be most different. I felt really different growing up, so it was a place I felt was aligned with my identity. I was like, “I feel different, and this place that is so far must be different, too, by virtue of its distance.” My mom moved to California in her twenties, and there are all these Out West narratives… I just sort of romanticized it. I still sort of feel that way. And I knew that there wasn’t slavery. Won’t no plantations in California.

A: I think that’s relevant, because I always identified with the narrative of migration and the people who are pursuing a new dream—a new identity. So yeah, that’s absolutely a part of it.

J: That’s so true—migration is all about the pursuit of a new identity. That’s what it’s about. For me, I idealized the West, not because I wanted to pursue a new identity, necessarily, but because I wanted the environment to be more integral to my identity. I wanted there to be integrity between my identity and environment, and I felt like where I was, I did not have that. So the dream wasn’t to find a new identity, it was to find a new place for my current identity to exist.

A: As far as I’m concerned, New York is the center of the world. This is where any and all things can and do happen. I feel like it’s good a place as any to come and try to live out some dreams and goals and to create a little world for myself as much as possible.

J: Word. So if that’s always been a childhood dream, why now? You said the stars aligned, but did it feel urgent? Or was it just the natural flow?

A: A little bit of both. I had spent two years or so after college just kind of learning—on n a personal level—learning about myself and spirituality. I spent that time doing a lot of personal work to let go of fear narratives that I had. When I started to get really comfortable with a lot of the new stuff I was learning, I was no longer comfortable standing still, or doing what I felt like was standing still. And so I knew I had to move –both physically and spiritually/mentally—So I moved.

Southern Space

J: What about the South do you embrace, and what do you reject?

A: I like the South. I really like the pleasantries and the politeness, there’s something very cute and inviting and intentional about that. And I think Southerners tend to coexist with nature in an interesting way, because there’s so much of it, specifically in the Southeast. I feel like it’s a very Black space. It’s where Black American culture started and came to be. So I feel at home with all of that—the food, the music, the slang—it all feels really good. I was going to say I reject the small-mindedness and the idea that there is a proper way to be, but I feel like you kind of encounter that everywhere. Now, living outside of the South, I can’t honestly say that that’s endemic to the South.

J: To respond to what you said about Black culture, I feel like I have always been like, “is this a Black thing, or a Southern thing?” So much of what I experience, I don’t know if it’s a Black thing or a Southern thing. And for the small-mindedness thing, I find that I do sort of believe that about the South, but I wonder if that’s because I’ve believed the narratives that have been put out about the South. But all the homies—all my friends from the South—are not that.

A: I think it’s kind of misguided to suggest that some super-progressive utopia exists in this country. I haven’t seen it, in the South or otherwise. But the people who I have personal relationships with absolutely reflect an actual progressive worldview. Most of the people I know from the South are excellent.

J: What are some personal ways—if at all—you experienced the legacy of slavery in the South? In terms of culture or general experience or energy?

A: That’s a really big question.

J: It is. It’s huge.

A: Everything is the legacy of slavery. Honestly, everything. So of course, I have. Be more specific.

J: Okay, that’s fair.

A: Because it’s everywhere.

J: What made me ask this question was – part of the reason I felt I wanted to move out of the South was because I wanted to experience place that wasn’t marked—as marked—by this huge traumatic thing that, to me, feels like it’s very much in the ground. In North Carolina, there are all of these farms and plantations. Its literally in the Earth there; its in the infrastructure. It’s everywhere. I felt like I was standing on graves of people who were… you know? I just felt like I was walking on it. Like slavery was under my feet. I just wanted to be in a place that didn’t have that same presence.

A: The legacy of it is there. For sure. There’s something. I don’t know if I can name it. But it’s there. There is a difference.

J: There is a difference. But why is it so hard to name?

Belonging

A: My mom is from Cabarrus county. And in Cabarrus county there are some very rural areas. If you go into some of those houses, they straight up still looks like slave shacks. I don’t know that they are, but for some people, the standard of living is still that.  My great aunt and uncle, they had this house made of wooden slats, and there were gaps in the slats, and they had a rusted tin roof. They didn’t have running water, they didn’t have any heat or AC, they had a woodfire stove. They both passed away between 2007 and 2010. That kind of experience was still there in 2010.

J: That’s nuts. How do you not have running water?

A: They had electricity, but the whole house was made out of wood and a tin roof. On this back gravel road, 30 minutes outside of Charlotte. I grew up going to that house. That’s an experience.

J: Oh my god. That’s so nuts.

A: So yeah, the access is right there. These structures are still standing.

J: That’s so interesting. There were a lot of reminders for me in the South. There were a lot of reminders that we weren’t so far removed from being slaves. And I think that was reason for being like, “All right. I gotta go.” I remember driving to the beach and we would stop in gas stations and be terrified. Terrified. Absolutely terrified. And I feel like the unspoken fear was “these white people think we should be slaves.” These white people in these gas stations, selling confederate flags… they’re everywhere. I feel like there was a resentment that I felt from these white people.

A: For sure.

J: The memory of slavery was still something that felt sweet, instead of something that felt like a place of shame.

A: It felt like something they had lost.

J: Totally. It felt like something that they had lost.

A: I remember that we were driving back from Florida or Georgia or something, and we stopped at this restaurant, it looked like a well-lit, modern restaurant, and we were the only Black people in there. I might be dramatizing this, but I feel like the whole place got silent when we walked in. And we were seated eventually, and then we were not served. We waited. We sat there for 45 minutes. And eventually we were like, “Alright.”

J: You can only have so many experiences of blatant racism that you can call coincidence.

A: Yeah. It’s crazy. We were not served. This was in the 2000s. So yeah, the legacy is real there.

J: Yeah. All of those little reminders that you’re not welcome… I just feel like they were too abundant. I had to roll out.

A: Too abundant for sure.

J: So where do you feel like your home is? What does home feel like?

A: I don’t know. In my hometown and state and region there are so many feelings of home-ness and safety but also so many feelings of dispossession—feeling like I didn’t really belong. So I guess a more full definition or a more full understanding of home, for me, is that it isn’t necessary a physical place. I think as long have people who I love and support me, then I can rock anywhere. Honestly. I think New York is starting to feel like home. When I went to visit over the holidays, I was definitely glad to be back. But it felt distinctly different. It didn’t feel like a space that was my own, or a place that was my own.

J: Do you mean your house? Or North Carolina?

A: Both. It’s like, I love this place, and I love these people. But this isn’t my place.


 These Other Southerners:

Austin Monroe is a curator, event planner and student living in New York.

Visit North York’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/NorthYorkCreative?pnref=about.overview

Jamila Reddy

Jamila Reddy

Jamila Reddy is a writer, director, and facilitator of dreams based currently in Brooklyn (but always in pursuit of magic wherever it may be). She spends her days exploring, reflecting, and trying to get free.  As a queer/Black/Southern woman, Jamila is thankful for language and the light it shines on the dark corners of transformation. She received BAs in Sociology and Dramatic Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She recently completed and self-published her collection of poems, the consequence of silence. 

http://jamilareddy.com/

© Copyright Jamila Reddy 2015


Cuba (rough cut)

I’ve gone south/(re)turning/stretching borders /with my/hips//in–rhythm

As I write, I’m driving through the countryside of Cuba, passing  fields of caña and palm trees and shaded mountains with coffee, through what were some of the first plantations in this “New” World that already very much existed before the ships arrived, but is also made new each day.

This is a return. Una vuelta.

I am halfway through my time here. I spent the first week on a program organized with PlazaCuba immersed in popular and folkloric dance traditions with some of the leading companies in Havana, including Ban Rarrá and Raizes Profundas. I am thankful that my experience in Cuba began with and through the body. In the turning and listening and following of salsa, rumba, and son. In the rhythms of the Orishas and the diversity and connection of traditions created in through the exchanges between Yoruba, Congo, Dahomey, Voudou as African, Spanish and later Haitians and Jamaicans found there way in this world of islands.

I am now beginning the second part of my journey, heading to Esmeralda, Camaguey, the town where my grandfather was born, as I explore migration and multiracial identity in  the America’s via my family’s story in Jamaica, Cuba and the USA. I am carrying questions and wishes from the generations that came from this land but have never seen it and from my grandfather who left at 14 and carried Cuba in his heart, giving it to his children and grandchildren through his stories. 

I continue to follow and weave the strings of ancestry, migration, racial identity and cultural heritage that have guided me thus far. I continue to dance because I have to. I continue to be caught by the arms of the universe in the form of friends who guide my next step.

I am halfway through my trip and my head, heart, body and soul are full. I have no complete thoughts or thorough reflections so for now I offer some rough cuts from my time thus far.

Besos y abrazos

-Alison





















The South is in the Cake and it is Inside Me

“Excuse me,” I stopped the waitress just as she turned to put our order in, “do you know what makes it ‘Old Fashioned’?”

~The “Old Fashioned” Coconut Cake~

“I don’t actually. I’ll go ask.” I, trying to temper the typical wave of disdain that washes over me when I spot ‘old’ or ‘old fashioned’ next to menu items, was sitting in a gourmet pastry shop with my friend and her boyfriend whom I had just met. The pastry shop, on Federal Hill in Providence, was the same one in which I met the first long-term boyfriend I’d had since high school. Being my first return since our break up, I was already jittery due to the number of awkward interactions with his former coworkers I would inevitably have. The cake bit fueled my agitation.

The waitress returned with our pastries and I, squirmy and expectant, sat with my eye-brows lifted and chin up with a half-smile ready for her answer. “So, it turns out it just means it’s from the South. I don’t know why we even have it. I mean, no one from the South lives here.” My friend, aware of my slight neurosis on the subject, pointed at me and smiled. I found the word Yankee, one I thought I’d won the battle over, floating up from the ghostly crypts of my mind. Though it was sort of a double-offense (the attempt to take the South out of a cake and the South out of me,) I was embarrassed by my knee-jerk defense and turned to the possibility of sugar-rush for consolation.

________________________________

You see, the coconut cake is a southern classic. When I say that, I don’t mean “By the way, southerners make that kind of cake and you should know that.” As they put it in the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, “To many southerners, the thought of favorite cakes brings to mind certain occasions. Weddings, holidays, “dinner on the grounds” church picnics, and funerals. Memories of fellowship hall tables laden with traditional southern sweets such as pineapple upside-down cake, Lane cake, coconut cake, and red velvet cake not only conjure tastes but also stories of the ladies who bake them.” The coconut cake is an icon of the South both because of the memories it conjures for southerners and because of the southern memory embedded in its layers.

I could go into all of the ingredients and their legacies here. Sugarcane and sugar plantations, the flour trade in the Gulf, and the Mexican origins of vanilla certainly set the stage for a discussion of coconut cake’s global roots. Since the primary descriptor of this cake is the coconut, however, I’ll give a little background there. The conditions that came together to make the Southern Coconut Cake possible are not listed exhaustively above.

1840s: the demand for cheap soap ingredients spawned the development of coconut plantations, built and run off of slave labor, in tropical regions around the world, especially in the Caribbean.

1500s: Portuguese trading conquests spurred an uptick in the appearance of the coconut in European written records, but accounts of Europeans enjoying coconut “milk”* date back to the 1200s.

A long time ago: It is speculated that coconuts’ first use was for clean drinking water in tropical and coastal areas. It is also speculated that coconuts evolved on the coastal regions of Gondawanaland.

1880s: Dried coconut was first manufactured in the 1880s, right around the time southern bakers* began dressing up otherwise boring cakes with coconut shavings.

1840s-1880s: Evidently, trading the fruits of enslaved labor between the Caribbean and the U.S. South was so efficient that coconuts could be available for sale in a port city like Charleston within four days of harvest in the Caribbean.*

________________________________

Like I said, a southern classic. So, why don’t they just say that on the menu? Is it a fear of losing credit over their baked goods? A tactic to avoid questions? A way to impart an exotic hint while not spoiling the surprise? Does “Old Fashioned” just sound better? Does it roll off the tongue better?

________________________________

Recently, while in the Rhode Island Historical Society archives, I decided to do a little genealogical digging on a rumor I’d heard about being related to the Lizzie Borden, the famous (infamous?) axe-murderer from Fall River, Massachusetts. (My southern relatives would have been proud; they LOVE searching for new genealogical material.) It seems we’re pretty distant cousins which is both a drag and somewhat reassuring (for my parents at least.) Our common relative, it turns out, is a guy named Richard Borden who actually came over from England to Plymouth, Rhode Island in 1638 as one of the first British colonizers of what would become the United States. He was a member of the Friends Society and served as general treasurer and commissioner of the Plymouth Colony.  In 1661, he bought sixty acres near “Newtokonkonut Hill”* (now spelled Neutaconkanut,) which is about a half mile from where I live currently and provides an excellent view of the port city of Providence’s skyline. A few years later, he “purchased” land in New Jersey from “certain Indians.” In Borden’s willed goods, there is a record for an enslaved black man and woman valued at £50 and three enslaved black children valued at £25. They are listed among an inventory of his animals.

Richard Borden

________________________________

I turned my attention toward the cake, Neutaconkanut Hill somewhere in the background. The icing was bright white and glittered with fine coconut shavings. The cake itself was soft-yellow and, from sight alone, seemed to own the word moist like no other cake could. Dense, but not too dense. Form and flavor in seamless union. It was absolutely perfect; the raspberry sauce design of a flower on the plate was overkill. Sinking my fork into it felt pornographic even before I put the cake in my mouth. I’ll stop there.

________________________________

*Its “milk” is actually called coconut water.

*“Southern women,” with a flavor of southern white belle, usually get the credit here, but I am choosing “baker” to return to who actually baked the cake.

*Emancipation occurred in different places the Caribbean (in some places due in large part to slave uprisings and resistance) in the early to mid 1800s.  Here, I am thinking about how the trade itself was established based on enslaved labor.

*“Coconut” and the last three syllables of “Newtokonkonut” just felt worth mentioning.

For more on coconut cakes outside of the South, the Southern Foodways Alliance has an incredible piece on Edna Stuart, her restaurant (http://www.southernfoodways.org/interview/ednas-restaurant/) and the coconut cakes she makes (https://www.southernfoodways.org/going-nuts-for-coconut-layer-cake/).