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!
Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia
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/.
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”
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 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” (“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. […]
 Oaxaqueños (Spanish), people with origins in the state of Oaxaca in the Mexican Republic
 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 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.
© Copyright Rosalba Lopez Ramirez 2015
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
Sinking through our skin
Drop by drop
So that the music.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
© Copyright Jamila Reddy 2015
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 is currently in Cuba and looking for Internet strong enough to it up her post!
It’s like the false posturing of the Chicken & Waffles shop downtown has seeped into my bones and built the goddamn hippest wall between me and my actual experience of anything. And as I take a bite of my gourmet food truck pimento cheese and fried green tomato biscuit, I am Eve biting into the apple: with this new self-awareness and over-analyzation of all things southern, there goes all the innocence I have left. There is no belongingness. It’s hard to say you are a thing and really believe it.
I am accentless.
My parents are both transplants to the area. All my friends and their parents are transplants to the area. I grew up in private schools full of doctor moms and dads from Massachusetts. The triangle itself is an island of education, wealth, and liberalism in an otherwise more traditional southern state. I had never been to a small town until I went away to the midwest for college. I didn’t grow up shooting guns, making fried chicken, wearing pearls, listening to country, being down-home, whatever, etc.
Even before hipsterism hoisted that sturdy and lovely and wild southern spirit up on the pedestal it now sits, I had already developed a sad striving to be some kind of picturesque little belle or farm girl or whatever real southern girls are. I’ve watched a lot of friends double down on their country-ness, digging pretty deep into their pockets for a history that isn’t really theirs. Our parents and grandparents didn’t give a fuck about obscure country music geniuses or pickling their own vegetables. They just did their thing.
Not to knock it. I get it. I’m a living, breathing, contributing member of the millennial generation, too. We are all starved for something that is really private and personal, yet deep-rooted and historical, and it only gets worse as our self-awareness grows. We have the burden of contextualizing everything we see, do, and love into the vast web of cultural references we (or our friends ;)) are buzzfeeding and pinteresting every day.
We get so delighted by our regional differences because it reminds us that we are organic people, people of our environment, born and raised in a real world and not a confusing ethereal stew of ideas. We pray (with every single purchase and instagram pic) that we are not a transient, cultureless generation. And so, whenever I celebrate my grits or my ‘y’alls’ too much, reaching for some badge-of-honor real southerness, I know I’m really exposing my insecurities. What do I get to claim? What is real versus what is put upon? And when does my awareness start to erode what is real and make it a parody instead?
There are too many ideas.
When I think about what I am, I try to remember what is backed up by facts.
These things indisputable: every summer is unbearably hot and humid, the crickets outside sing you to sleep. People are kind (as they are in other places, too). I grew up with fruit trees and horses. It is of utmost importance to my mom that I am a good hostess. I ordered polynesian sauce at a McDonalds once (shout out Chik-fil-a!). We picked persimmons off the ground in kindergarten and ate them during recess. I spent high school playing six cup beer pong (not 10. Shit, those games are toooo long). We camped at bluegrass festivals in the woods.
I have a little collection of experiences. They can be pieces of data but they are not reference points for anything in particular. I remind myself that I can feel good or bad about it, but everything that has happened so far is real. I don’t want to have to hold on to things too tightly or enjoy them too much. The food parodies and the twine DIY projects from the internet are real. Line dancing to Copperhead Road with a drunk redneck is real. Going to bonfires and watching Honey Boo Boo is real. And so are the times where I’m just myself, uncaring about dichotomies and social context, immersed in what is in front of me, creating little happenings that are for me or for nothing.
This Other Southerner:
Krista Anne Nordgren lives in Durham, NC and owns a little shop selling handmade goods in the heart of downtown. She also works for a startup. She loves making new things, whether they are businesses, blog posts, or silly dances.
“Then we would cook cornmeal porridge,
Of which I’ll share with you…”
-“No Woman No Cry” – Bob Marley
“Porridge is such a subjective thing.”
Subjective, certainly. This article, in “The Salt,” NPR’s Foodways blog suggests porridge is a traditional Scottish food eaten during cold winters. Multiple truths exist. For me, porridge is Jamaican breakfast. It has cousins as Brazilian São João street food (mingu,curau, canjica, and mungunzá) and Haitian late night snack (laboyi). I’m sure it is connected to Akamu, Ogi and Pap in Nigeria. It is grits in North Carolina. Perhaps it is polenta.
It has many names.
It is eaten in the constant year round heat that radiates from the equator.
But I don’t see these words in this article. So I will write them.
We must make the colonies visible.
Those far away islands that are at the heart of the identity, economy, and politics of those metropolitan British isles. Those places that seem to be easily ignored when talking about the roots of British and Scottishness. When talking about “changing the course of history.” When writing about how we came to be.
This article reminds me that I have a lot to learn about my history, personal and collective. About my ancestors before they came to Jamaica, Cuba and the United States, by will and by force. About Jamaican colonial and plantation society. About my African ancestry. About my Scottish and British ancestry. About Vikings. About the knots, contradictions and tensions that are my family tree. How love and violence, evil and good, power and oppression, wealth-building and poverty-making bumped up against each other to make us.
There is so much I do not know.
Porridge is tied up in slavery, growth, expansion, and capitalism. The British Isles and the Caribbean Sea are intimately related, in economy, identity, and genetics. For those on and descended from the Jamaican side of the relationship, it is impossible to make invisible the Scottish-ness, the Britishness, the Irish-ness of what we are. It’s in the skin, the food, the talk, the names. Sometimes, we choose to celebrate it. To simplify it. We do not have the choice of forgetting. We also don’t always have the choice of knowing.
When I think about Porridge I think about my Grandma, daughter of Lena Hall, from whom I get my middle name. I know that surnames in my Jamaican family – Hall, Robertson – have Scottish origins. I do not know how we got them, except for in vague terms that describe the violent and coercive ways that power, race, and gender collided in the colonies. I do not know the names that we lost, that we had before we were forced onto boats and crossed oceans.
I ask about my name. I learn that Hall is a name with origins to lands that border England and Scotland, and prior to that Norman Vikings. I ponder connections between my mother and my father’s family. My father’s family – Kibbe – is also potentially descended from Vikings that landed in England.
It’s in the porridge. It’s hot, and mushy, and mixed up.
Porridge references the class and identity divides amongst those in in both the metropolitan isles and the colonial islands. The type, consistency, and level of sweetness is code for wealth, status, prosperity and struggle – past and present.
I learn about identity constructed in contrast. About blurred lines of slave, free, white, black, ownership and immigration.
I ask about whiteness in Jamaica. I learn about the trade of Irish people as slaves.
I learn that a large number of Scotsmen (literally, male bodied people) voluntarily went to Jamaica, many as a way to increase their lot in life, and via their lives in the colony shed their marginal “Scottish” identity, replacing it with the more powerful “British”. By going “away” and into the contact zone of the colony plantations they built wealth and a new identity. Once color was constructed as the ultimate differential, these ancestors national difference from the British became relatively less important compared to my ancestors who were forcibly brought to the Caribbean island from Africa. Scotsmen were then able to re-enter metropolitan society as “British.”
I learn about spiritual forces that support us. About Brigid, the triple deity of fire, poetry, and inspiration. About Yemanja, the goddess of and mother of the ocean. About the meaning of corn, celebration of harvest, and how to celebrate and honor the earth.
I learn I have a lot more to learn. I learn to have more questions.
Porridge is sweet and creamy
So sweet and hot
It fills me up
I am overheating from the inside out
It is too much
I can’t finish it Grandma
Porridge is cornmeal, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is oats, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is green bananas, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is wheatena, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is cream of wheat, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is green plantain, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is hominy, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Porridge is peanuts, water, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla.
Each ingredients holds so much
Tells stories of trade of people, spices, sugar, rum
Lives and labor stolen, resources pillaged, people pushed to periphery
To create a metro center
Cream of wheat needs to have lumps
The strawberry jam was never in a spiral in my bowl, like in the commercial
My mother was not entertaining that kind of whimsy on weekday mornings
How do you eat porridge in the Caribbean?
It is so hot!
I’m overheating from the inside out
Sprinkle sugar on top
Stir in milk to cool it down
It forms a glossy film on top.
I don’t stir it in
I like how it forms lakes and rivers
I can’t finish it,
I just can’t
It is the only thing I can’t finish
I am a dumpling child
Round and soft
I love food
I even love porridge
But a whole bowl!?
I can’t take it all in
It’s too much
It contains the story of sugar
Of cheap grains to feed forced laborers
Of food stretched too far
Eat the outside edges first
It cools faster on the edges
You won’t get burned that way
The richness of my porridge – the fresh milk, the butter – is a privilege
My grandma cannot comprehend my inability to finish
Like she cannot understand my identity crisis and anxiety about my light-white skin and how I fit into the world I live in
of North Carolina,
It is a privilege
“Eat your porridge”
“Enjoy your lightness”
“You are who you are,
why ask questions?”
The sugar is not a privilege
Paid for in blood and burns and bodies
To spend/to invest in expansion
Of capitalist economies
Built on colonial foreign lands and metropolitan factories
Small islands fueling those slightly larger ones across the Atlantic
I do have questions about my ancestors
About their names.
Who came from Africa? From where?
Who came from Scotland? Why?
How did we get our names?
What names did we lose?
Porridge is creole
porridge is that-thing-we-do-now-that-we-don’t-remember-when-we-didn’t-do-so-perhaps-we’ve-done-it-forever
porridge is pap
is sweetness is the face of bitter
Porridge is grandma visiting
I find her in the kitchen
Stirring a hot pot
– – –
Ways with Food is a place to stir up, marinate and serve up our questions, reflections and stories about food.
In 2015, every 5th Wednesday of the month we’ll be serving up a “Ways with Food” piece. Today, it comes to us via the New York Times and Kim Severson’s article, “The North Carolina Way: A Food Sisterhood Flourishes in North Carolina.”
It seems that all eyes are on NC at the moment, for reasons of both celebration and struggle. As a North Carolina native, it is important to me that writing, images, and portraits that honor and reflect the complexity of the state I call home.
In this piece, Severson amplifies some amazing women voices and makes some interesting points on why this unique women-powered food scene has emerged in North Carolina, including:
- NC’s food ecology and economy
- the role of creativity and inventiveness
- the reshaping the identity of “Southern” food
- the gender dynamics of the food world, and
- shifts from competition to models of collaboration, connection, and community.
I am ALL ABOUT celebrating these women powerhouses. YES! AND ALSO this article also leaves me hanging. Food is connected to everything, so even when we’re talking about a high-end niche market (as this article is), we cannot pretend it doesn’t impact every part of the network. How can there be no discussion about race and class when we are talking about shifts in power, particularly those related to agriculture, land, food justice, and cultural traditions? Also, where is the voice of Mama Dip a black woman who put NC on the food map almost 40 years ago? Women who are cooking in NC have not emerged out of an empty void, they are walking in the footsteps of women like Mildred “Mama Dip” Cotton Council and many others! And I just have to say it – the rich food tradition and scene in NC is not dependent on NYC transplants.
That said, this article has me mulling how we can take some of the lesson’s that have emerged from this sphere, into broader conversations on social justice, alternative models for leadership, and collaborative economies. My big question is:
How can we take advantage of gaps and opportunities to invent more just models for our businesses, our economies, our communities, and our livelihoods? And how can we ensure that as these new models grow, they don’t fall into the old power dynamics?
Rather than write and article about an article, below are a few highlights. What are your thoughts? Please share!
– – – –
“They are not beleaguered by how they will move up through
the system because they are the ones who are inventing it.”
– Marcie Cohen Ferris, professor of Southern and food studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and author of “The Edible South,” which chronicles in part the role of women and feminism in Southern food
“We definitely don’t adhere to any rules about what Southern food should look like,”
– Vivian Howard, chef and owner of the Chef and the Farmer – Kinston, NC
“There are more high-quality farmers per capita in these
50 square miles than maybe anywhere else but
Northern California. If you cook here,
you are automatically part of that network.”
“As women have moved into positions of leadership and ownership, we began learning more about
community and how to take better care of
each other and our staff”
– Ashley Christensen, Poole’s Downtown Diner – Raleigh, NC
“This is an oddly progressive state that speaks of possibility.
We as women here embrace that naturally.”
– Eliza MacLean, Cane Creek Farm – Snow Camp, NC
“The women who cook there just own it, and they live so much better than us.”
– – –