I hate being hoodwinked.
As a proud Jersey girl, I never imagined my aversion to the South as thinly veiled antiBlackness, but I’m now convinced.
Through curricula and media representations, I came to reject any associations with the South as backwards, behind and generally ignorant.
Even with this it wasn’t an overt disdain for the region, it was just the expected sentiment towards an area of the country that I was taught simply fought and failed to maintain “their way of life.”
Had it solely been this depiction, I likely would have seen through it. But in addition to being instructed by my high school history teachers that “industrialization” forced by the North compelled an otherwise united country to tear itself apart, media also piled on in reflecting a podunk drawl-laden people as rejecting cosmopolitanism.
Beneath this lay the true bamboozlement. With no direct connections to the South like many of my Black schoolmates had, I never considered that, in aggregating the entirety of “the South” as monocultural, I not only dismissed the region as “falling behind the times,” I released from consciousness an entire tradition of Africanity that tied me both to the Caribbean and to the African continent.
The veil that covered my eyes was thick and heavy. I went to a Baptist church where my pastor was from South Carolina and who we regularly identified as Geechee. The term “Geechee” to us was a euphemism for Southern; so Southern that a person is hard to understand. The customs of serving elders, eating together, checking on one another, pooling resources, singing spirituals a capella, playing tambourines, clapping and shouting - none of it dawned on me as having roots in the South. Roots in me.
To make matters worse, I presently carry the shame of learning that not only are the Geechee Gullah a people of West African descent, they built a longstanding community on the coastal Sea Islands of South Carolina, and maintained their own language and ways of being and knowing. I even have close friends who are Geechee Gullah who were made to endure my ignorant criticisms for years.
It is only now, through fervent and deep study, that I am connecting the dots. Every time I casted aside a “Southern” accent or mannerism, I was willfully rejecting the region of the country where the majority of Africans captured and enslaved in the contiguous U.S. were located. Constructing a mental and linguistic barrier in my life between my beloved church family and everything else allowed for me to ignore the antiBlackness in my very person - one cloaked in my overall treatment of “The South.”
None of this was conscious for me. I’m approaching 40 trips around the sun, and am just coming to realize that accepting curricular and media depictions of the South as having little to nothing to offer in the modern era is tantamount to depictions of Africa as a ‘dark continent’ that obstructed Europe from the riches of Asia. It’s false, it’s antiBlack, and I’m more than over it - I’m committed to unlearning it.
[Allegorical depiction of Misha Green's LoveCraft Country with 'New Negro Republic' in the Southeastern U.S.]