That sound, each drawn out vowel, over pronunciations, mispronunciations, and other characteristics about the highly accented drawl, made her cringe. She came to believe that, the greatest history lesson, and reminder of the atrocities that man can commit, along with the degree of outright hate that man is able to harbor in his heart, were all tied to the slurred and heavily accented Southern Twang.
So, what seemed like a friendly greeting from the shuttle driver, the “Well-cum to Charlot, North Carooollinna”, which in her mind should have simply been pronounced as “Welcome to Charlotte, North Carolina”, as it is listed on the map; made her instantly uncomfortable. This wasn’t the Deep South, but that sound, told her, no reminded her, that she had traveled far south enough. This was the land of Dixie, the hypocritical Bible Belt, a Republican stronghold, where the map of presidential elections always showed a conglomerate of Red States, and that sound reminded her of Rednecks. Rednecks cloaked in white robes and pointy white hats. Yes, that is why she had cringed.
Each time that she heard that sound, it was followed by others:
Sounds of weeping and despair along the Trail of Tears. Sounds of whips and boisterous overseers, who were only happy to remind the enslaved of his superiority based solely on his melanin-deficient skin. Yes, with his broken moral compass, and with that drawn out speech pattern, he spoke of his own virtue, while preaching Fire and Brimstone to those whose melanin-rich skin, held the shame of the Biblical curse of Ham. Creaking sounds and grunts of passion and fulfilled lusts of men who gave rise to a new ethnic group, African Americans, who complexions run the gamut of hues, from café au lait to mahogany, and who’s DNA stored the evidence of generations of rape. Sounds of search dogs and their bellowing barking, and the sounds of those crying out in agony, as they were being doused with the full force of fire hoses and bitten by the descendants of those search dogs. There in that slurred Southern Twang, was the sound of Bull Connor’s voice, and she even imagined that she heard the voices of Emmit Till’s murderers, and the horrid laughter and Yee-has of those who assassinated Medgar Evers.
She tried, but could not help it. So, she heard and visualized so much suffering as the result of the simple slurring of words. She tried to ignore the sound and the lively discussions taking place within the shuttle bus, by looking out the window, and staring at the landscape. As she was beginning to relax and enjoy the scenery, noting how charming the city architecture appeared, she noticed it, and then another. The Confederate flag was prominently plastered on the back of two pickup trucks. All that she could do was shake her head, and then she considered rapper Kanye West, and his clothing line which used the image of the flag. “There is always at least one coon”, she heard herself whisper in disgust, but then she panicked, and wondered if anyone heard her. Sure, she found Kanye’s latest antics ridiculous, irresponsible, and highly disrespectful; however, as a Black woman, she still felt somewhat protective. She was on a shuttle bus, in a Southern city, seated among mostly white Southerners, some who appeared old enough, to have used that word, as well as the other notorious word that begins with “N”, frequently in their youth. Hell, they may still use those terms now.
When she realized that her comments went unheard, she turned to look back out the window, and again got lost in her own thoughts. She again considered Kanye and his new found admiration for the Confederate flag.
And for that paper, look how low we a’stoop
Even if you in a Benz, you still a n***a in a coop/coupe
She thought about the lyrics to his single, “All Falls Down,” from his debut College Dropout, and found it interesting that he was somewhat prophetic and was foreshadowing what was to come next. With his many antics, including defending the use of the Confederate flag, he has provided proof, that, Yes, he would, like many other rappers have, stoop extremely low for the fame and money. Apparently, calling the women who birthed them, loved them, cared for them, and who were the first willing to share their bodies with them, bitches, hoes, and other derogatory terms was not low enough. Objectifying them and reducing them to body parts, orifices, and even receptacles for sliding credit cards was not low enough. Kanye is apparently being cutting edge, and simply has discovered a new low.
“So whut brings yooou to Charlot?” There was that sound again! Only this time it was softened, more syrupy, and feminine. She looked across the narrow shuttle aisle, in the direction where the sound was coming from, and locked eyes with an elderly woman. Her face was mostly wrinkled, her hands and arms bore liver spots, and her silver tresses were pinned into a low bun. Within an instant her head filled with images of mistresses sipping mint julep, sweet tea, or some other concoction out on a veranda, while being fanned by her favorite slave girl. Next, the image of the slave mistress too tired and too lazy to nurse her own child, handing him over to the enslaved Wet Nurse, to provide vital nourishment. Although the slave was thought to be sub-human, those slaveholders still allowed their children to suckle at the bosom of those that they deem to be animals. She chuckled at the twisted irony. Last, she reflected on the image of the angered faces of white mobs who protested and attacked those who took part in Sit-ins and marches during the Civil Rights movement. Many of those faces, were that of women, who were supposed to be these hospitable, charming, graceful, and fragile Southern belles; yet there they were taking part in these mobs. How did they resolve this obvious dichotomy? She wondered if this woman could have taken part in all of that? Was she glancing at the aged face of one of those women from the many photos that she had seen in history books? She tried to manage a smile, and quickly blurted out, “I’m just here on a business trip”, and was relieved when the shuttle finally ceased motion, and the majority of the passengers, including the inquiring elderly woman exited the vehicle.
As the passengers began to file through the shuttle bus the sound began to engulf her again. It was the sound of American terrorism and hypocrisy. “All men are created equal”, states the highest documents of governance, yet people of color are still not treated as equals. In fact, here in the 21st century, in a nation that was built by and on the backs of immigrants and people of color, we continue to hear shouts of “We got tuh take our country back”, and yes, we often hear that familiar sound. Those who practice dog whistle politics, who mistakenly assume that we cannot hear that pitch, despite the familiar sound wrapped up in that slow as molasses drawl.
Why did she make this trip? The sound was everywhere! It echoed from the lips of those chatting on the shuttle bus, and she heard it again as she entered the hotel lobby. It was too much, historical flashbacks and reminders of lingering racial prejudice, all helped to bring about this headache.
“This is definitely not what I need!” she mumbles, while fumbling around in the dark of her hotel suite. Tomorrow she had to attend a conference, where she was expected to sit on a panel, and would be discussing the intersectionality of race, gender, and socioeconomic status and class. So, she was going to break her rule, and actually drink the overpriced beverages stocked in her hotel room. “Finally”, she whispered as she found the light switch, and with a few more paces she was at the fridge pouring herself a glass of water. Next, she went to remove her emergency stash of Advil from her coat pocket, only to discover a folded piece of paper. In haste she unfolded it, and it read “Noticed you the moment you entered the lobby. Was glad to be of assistance, and I am not sure how long you will be in Charlotte, but I would love to have the opportunity to take you out to dinner. Matthew 704-111-0001.”
With the scrap of paper still in hand, Amber took a seat at the edge of the bed. Surely, she remembered the tall, dark-haired, relatively attractive White man, covered in the scent of a captivating cologne, who came to her aid when she dropped her purse and all of its contents in the hotel lobby. Could that have been Matthew? In shock, she looked down at her 5’10 frame and her long and toned, honey brown legs. She reached up to feel the bantu knots that she had just set her hair in, and traced her fingers along her scalp, as if she was checking to ensure that her hair still had its kinky-curly texture. It dawned on her that this Matthew didn’t even speak a word to her. He had gathered her items so quickly, and when she turned around to say thank you, he was already a few steps ahead and only turned to tilt his hat and smile, before exiting the hotel. Now, she wondered, if she called this number, would she hear that familiar sound on the other end of the phone?
By Cherise Charleswell, Contributor
Cherise MPH is a Bio-cultural anthropologist, self-proclaimed Womanist, author/writer, poet, public health researcher/practitioner, founder, host & producer of Wombanist Views radio, as well a contributing producer for Feminist Magazine 90.7FM KPFK. She is the Chair of the Women’s Issues department of the Hampton Institute, and is currently working on the book projects: Walking in the Feminine: A Stepping Into Our Shoes Anthology and The Link Between Food, Culture, & Health Inequities in the African Diaspora.
Featured Image via Google Images