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.

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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/.

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.*

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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?

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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

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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.

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*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/).

Who’s Mapping Who: Civitas’s “Mapping the Left Project”

Switching it up with a Broadly Speaking weekend edition, y’all.  This time with a meditation on what it means to be extreme.

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Dots, blotchy and disease-like, covered the page. The “map” I was looking at more resembled a terribly complicated STI transmission web or a bad case of chiggers than anything else. As my biologist roommate passed by, she offered, “What is that? A shitty illustration of blood cells?” As I hovered my mouse over each red blemish, a person’s name appeared alongside the name of an organization.

Some examples:

Catherine Maxwell, NC Center for Voter Education

Mary Lee, NC Advocates for Justice Foundation

Greg Lytle, NC Conservation Network

Katherine Selvage, Appalachian Voices

Sketched out yet?

Mapping the Left” supposedly “combines data, research and news articles to show the magnitude of the radical Left’s infrastructure in North Carolina.”

                                       Data. Magnitude. Radical. Cooties.

I suppose you could expect something like this from Civitas, an organization whose slogan is “The Conservative Voice of North Carolina.”

I would say that the map was poorly designed and executed; it provides a very user un-friendly experience, but it seems like it’s not about being able to use at all. Why would anyone want to look at more than five or so dots? Unlike the Hate Map that the Southern Poverty Law Center puts out every year, something Civitas seems to be attempting to emulate here, the Mapping the Left Project is unsynthesized and largely uninformative.  Other than perpetuating the conflation of and confusion about the terms “radical” and “liberal,” what is this map intended to do?

It almost reads ironically. Despite the visually over stimulating and icky impression (especially for those of us who have trypophobia, ahem) the map gives off initially, I found my repugnance quickly replaced by the warm-and-fuzzies. “What a great resource!” I began to think. But, given how things are going in North Carolina right now, it seems this is a good example of a watered-down neo-conservative scare tactic. One that serves as a warning: you too can be “added to the list.”

One thing is for certain: this shit ain’t new.

“In North Carolina, left-wing nonprofit advocacy groups for decades have wielded an alarming amount of power in the media, state politics, and government. They work together, both in loose coalitions and organized networks, to influence and control public policy.

Only now, however, is there a user-friendly online database that sheds light on this vast, shadowy network”-excerpt from intro page.

Just ‘cause you wrap up old slop in an “online” package with rudimentary graphic design doesn’t make it new. Civitas claims that the map is their attempt to report on the “extreme, liberal/progressive agenda,” that the media has failed to address.

                                        Extreme. Agenda. Terrorist.

The rhetoric the website’s authors employed oddly reminded me of the beautiful and prescient “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. which I had the pleasure of recently rereading. After laying out a thorough response to a letter 8 white Christian leaders in Birmingham had written about MLK, civil rights activists and organizers during their effective Birmingham Campaign, Martin Luther King speaks to their use of the word “extremist.” I implore you to read the whole letter again, but here’s a piece:

“I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

Black Studies scholar, George Lipsitz, points out that neo-conservative media outlets seem unable to address context and power.* Here, Dr. King eloquently pulls the concept of extremism back into its proper context. In the spirit of his words, I ask: Who and what does this “map” actually map? Even if any of the organizations and people included on Civitas’s map were extreme, what kind of extreme are they? For hate or for love?

 

 

*”Precious and Communicable,” Chapter 2 from George Lipsitz’s book Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture

Sourcing Things Southern

CALLFORTOPICS: Anything on your mind about the South, southern identity, or the fuzzy lines around southerness that you want us to write/know about? Seen, read or experienced anything lately that you thought we might want to think about?  We’d love to hear about it!
We created Broadly Speaking as as a way to challenge us all to think more about what the South means and to spark conversation and community for our readers. In that spirit, please shoot us an email at broadlyspeakingthesouth@gmail.com with what southern things are on your mind!

The Doors I Carry With Me: Part II

What I’m trying to say is, it was just interesting for me to look back and realize how typical my upbringing was in some ways as a white womyn from the South… In some ways it seems unusual, and in some ways it is so typical.”

-Virginia, August 2014


 

Looking at this quote from my oral history again, it reminds me of parallel conversations I have had about being from the South. These conversations seem to take one of two routes. 1) Why do I care that I’m southern? Isn’t it like being from anywhere else? As a matter of fact, isn’t the South just a backwards version of other places in the United States? I’d play that down if I were you… Or, 2) You’re right, it is the most unique, mysterious, fun, quirky place on earth!  Ahhh, the people, the food, the PRICES.  Oh, you’re from Connecticut? Sucks for you! Well, you can come and visit any time and come back after that, ya hear?!

I am not going to lie, like any good southerner, I’ve fed into either of these stereotypes depending on the circumstances.  As comfortable as it is for me to operate between these extremes, there are tangible realities in the grey area that this quote hints at. This quote also speaks to the doors that live inside me.

Doors. Doors open and close.  They are a passageway and a divider.  You must go through a doorway to get to what’s on the other side.  Doors are easy to hide behind.  They are what you invite others through.  They are a space of negotiating identities.  They are built to mark gender, class, race, and physical ability.  They are held open for some and left closing for others. Doors are connected to walls. They are designed to permit entry or say “Keep Out!”  I have many doors inside me.  My doors come in many shapes and sizes; some are hand-made by yours truly, others were made for me, and others are the cookie-cutter, home-depot variety I picked up somewhere along the way that match the neighbor’s.   Some swing open, leading me into knowing myself better, others are heavy and remain closed until I push them.

My identity shifts with the flow of time; I constantly take on various aspects of new and old experiences.  I am not always one type of southerner, one type of white person, one type of womyn. These doors inside me, however, make me who I am now and connect me to the many “whos” I will be.  They move, but are always there.  I am and can be many things according to how I work my doors, but that fluidity does not absolve me of responsibility or mean that my way of being is inconsequential. The doors I choose to open and shut inside me have consequences.  For a long time, I wanted to keep many of my doors closed; fearing what would happen should I reveal them to others. I clung to them as my secret friends.  Instead, I am choosing now to see them as resources.  I am responsible for knowing those doors–using them intentionally and with care–and in order to do that, I must dig into their meaning.

In the selection of doors I have included below, I reflect on specific moments in my oral history. They are a collage of three pieces that resonate with a feeling of coming home within myself.  In sharing this collection of vignettes, I am trying to open doors of communication about what it means to be from the South.

Whispering Behind Closed Doors.

Listening to my oral history, I realized that much of my experience talking and hearing about race as a young person occurred behind closed doors, in hushed tones, and with other white people.  As I had to strain in order to hear, these memories are seared into my mind.  After getting back in the car and rolling the door shut, a family friend I spent nearly every day between ages 1-9 with would tell us “the truth” about people we had just seen in the Walmart based on their race, and reminded us to marry white boys.  I heard hushed stories about my great uncle, a man with dwarfism who endured being a guinea pig for “stretching” experiments, performing in blackface as a form of income.  Hearing my grandmother talk about race, she whispered.  I picked up on this behavior and whispered questions about what it meant to be a white family with roots in the South.  I both wanted to open that door and was terrified to hear the answers that might come walking through it.  The muffled reply was usually, “I don’t know much about that.”

The register of these conversations reached an audible level at school.  There, it seemed perfectly normal to talk about race and gender.  The first time I remember recognizing my whiteness as part of my identity was at the lunch table in middle school. My friends often discussed who was an “oreo” which meant being “black on the outside, white on the inside.” In my case, the “uh-oh oreo” phenomenon was the question. Was I white on the outside and black on the inside?  I wanted to be an uh-oreo, but no one could be sure because so many of the things I said or did were “white things.”  What did it meant to do a white thing, I wondered. Sure that my parents would be confused if I asked them and trusting my friends who seemed to be assured of their statements, I decided to go with their explanations. I was pretty much white.

Opening Doors

In my oral history, I talked about how my dad “really opens doors for me”.  That’s another way of saying, “I have a really great dad who cares a lot about me.”  It’s also code for the ways in which I receive class privilege from him and the white and class networks in which I participate. It signals to the privileges I have from growing up in a classically nuclear white family and alludes to what opportunities are open to me as a white, upper-middle class person. For example, two weeks after I graduated from college, I began working for a consulting firm.  I first learned about the job three years prior after my dad met the head of the firm on a plane flying from Florida to North Carolina and they exchanged information.  Over the course of two years I formed a professional relationship with the (white) woman my dad had met on a plane.  Upon graduating from college, I had a job offer.  There was no formal application process. There are a lot of reasons why this all worked out the way it did, but one of those is the undeniable fact that my dad was on a plane, was bumped up to first class, and had a business card at the ready (as he always does).

Don’t stand in the doorway

The mobility this job afforded me made it possible for me to move to Providence, Rhode Island. Yes, you may be wondering, out of all options, why did I choose to move to Providence, Rhode Island?  Well, after a few beers with a dear friend, I just up and agreed to move with her. That’s how it went down.  The fact that I, without much thought at all really, decided to move 681 miles is in part due to what supportive friends might euphemistically call spontaneity, but is really my enduring impulsivity.  It is also a manifestation of ability to think in those terms.  The historical and literary narratives of escape from the South to the North have taken on new and weighty iterations today.  My story is far from most of the political facts and motives that lead people to move out of the South.  Making that decision over a few beers had little to do with getting “the hell out of the South.” Behind the hastiness of my decision, however, was a longstanding curiosity about how I had been shaped as a white womyn who grew up in the South.  Clearly, I’m still figuring that one out.  And I always will be.

Throughout my oral history, I struggled with wondering: Is my southernness a door? What do I do with that door?  Class, race, gender, sexuality, and other structures of privilege and oppression that make up ourselves and society are as central in the South as they are in any other place in the U.S.  Yet, my story is based on a specific history of a specific region.  Michel Rolph-Trouillot, a complete badass, once wrote, “We are never as steeped in history as when we pretend not to be, but if we stop pretending we may gain in understanding what we lose in false innocence.” These vignettes don’t tell my whole story, but they tell some of it.  While this is but one outlet for me to explore the doors that live inside me and why they are important for me to know, move, and swing, I hope they offer at least some insight into the important questions that arise out of confronting the lands that produce us.
*google maps

This part 2 of the “Remembering Together” oral history series. Read Part 1: On Being Interviewed here

What We’re Reading: A word on a book concerning geography…

Demonic Grounds

In Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle , Katherine McKittrick creates a rich territory for the fields of black feminism, black studies and geography to intersect and learn from one another by considering the geographic spaces that black women both analyze and shape regularly.  As she puts it in her introduction, McKittrick sees the geographies of black women as, “a conceptual arena through which more humanly workable geographies can be and are imagined.” [1]  She is interested in critiquing traditional geographies (geographies of domination,) their relationship with black women’s geographies and narratives that perpetuate seeing black lives and histories as “ungeographic.”[2] Inspired by Sylvia Wynter, she uses the word “demonic” to explain that this book does not seek to uncover the lost stories of black women, but to create a “discussion about what black women’s historical-contextual locations bring to bear on our present geographic organization.”[3]  What can it mean for people to better understand the spaces black women move in and work on as we live in spaces structured around traditional geographies?  What can these spaces show us?  What is “dangerous” about those spaces? McKittrick weaves together the work of writers and theorists like Olaudah Equiano, Octavia Butler, Neil Smith and Patricia Hill Collins in chapters on spaces like the auction block, black Canada, and books like Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

[1] McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. (Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), xii.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., xxvi


The “What We’re Reading” Series
We decided to create this series of posts for a couple of reasons.  While we’re pulling on lots of different sources when thinking about Broadly Speaking, we don’t always get to cite all the books that inform/inspire our writing.  We hope this space serves as a more accessible archive of the stuff we’re reading these days.  Also, we love a good book list, so really we’re just trying to pay it forward. If there are books you want to recommend to us, please send us an email at broadlyspeakingthesouth@gmail.com!

Censoring Southern Space

Recently (if you haven’t picked up on this already) I’ve been thinking a lot about the South as a moral geography*, or as a place that is made up of cultural and political practices instead of a physical borders.  What are the stuffs that the South is made of beyond what I imagine it to be and what it looks like on a topographical map? What are the political practices that both shape the South and are read as southern political practices?

While pondering these questions, a friend sent me the following link. The long of the short is this: in December 2013, local archivists in Franklin County, NC uncovered a variety of documents in the Franklin County courthouse dating back to 1840.  As they began the arduous process of sorting through the papers, the North Carolina Archives became involved and halted their work.  The next thing they knew, someone had come in and burned all of the documents.  There are lots of ways to speculate about what these documents could have been, what they could have meant.  Some people reason that these documents contained records relating to the brief moment of property distribution to former slaves just after the Civil War.  Since most of that land was subsequently reclaimed by whites, these documents could have proven some land in North Carolina to be owned illegally today.  We won’t know what they meant besides the that they contained information important enough to be destroyed.

The story here is complicated and unclear, but it is just one example of the practices that censor the political and physical landscape of the South today.  Who owns and does not southern lands now did not arise out of nothing. It arose from the cultural and political practices of today and the cultural and political practices that make up the South’s history.

https://stumblingintheshadowsofgiants.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/boxes-burned.jpg?w=676

Some of the worst of the mold damage

To read more about this story, click here.

*Term coined in the works of Michael Shapiro, a political science scholar at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa