Okay if you are reading this post because the term “Sex” is in the title, then I’ve already got you.. LOL No doubt I will get more “interesting” hits from people looking for something other than food history and identity building…
This post is a short one–but I hope a meaningful one.
As I do The Cooking Gene I challenge Southern plantation museums to open their doors to me in the spirit of openness, honesty and integrity. I hope they know they have a responsibility to support and increase the participation of African American scholars, historians, and community activists in their programming, interpretation and knowledge base.
My fairer skinned colleagues get a lot of work because “we” are still in love with the colonial and antebellum Southern 1 percent. Sexy silk wallpaper, sexy windows with love notes cut into them with diamonds, sexy plastered ceilings, sexy imported china, sexy sexy sexy….Look how the Founding Fathers ate and gardened…sexy….look how wonderful it all looked and tasted…sexy…Oh how beautiful that gleaming spoon looks…sexy….It is nothing to go to conferences about historic foodways in the South and hear 95% about the wealthy planters and urbanites and the other five percent is usually addressed by about 5 people or less in the buisiness and they usually say the same things much to the bemused enlightenment of the audience who knows sparingly little, and usually wishes to know no further…….and this includes lower class whites, the midling sort, the lives of everyday women, not to mention African Americans and Native Americans. Nothing is spoken of their contributions, their diets, their lives, and often we are told with crocodile tears “we just don’t have that much information.”
We have tons of information. We just have institutions that don’t feel that this information is sexy enough to be presentation worthy, or that it serves any interpretive goals. I remember one meeting at an institution with a very eager director whose younger staff person basically was itching to go back to his desk because he put it out there “well I don’t see how this fits into our mission seeing that we are best known for our architecture….” He got up quite pertly and went back to his office to deal more with the sexy windows, wallpapers, and lest we forget the sexiest of all-those plantation columns–mmmm mmmm mmmm, Lawdy, Lawdy.
Your museum was a labor camp for exiled enslaved people…..and that labor built your house…but it doesn’t “fit into your mission…” pity and a damn shame….I guess…
One of the most heartbreaking moments growing up was accompanying my uncle to the library in Huntsville, Alabama and the courthouse. The courthouse had a mural of Alabama history in mosaics–floor to ceiling. At the bottom–the Muskogee (the Creek), the Choctaw, the Chicksaw, the Mound Builders, the Cherokee. And then a settler or two and then planter and judge and planter and judge and businessman. Not one person of African descent. Here I was, the descendant of one of the prosperous Townsend plantations–worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in the antebellum era and nobody who looked like me was in that commemoration. It made me sick to my stomach.
“You’re not as important.”
“Your ancestors meant nothing.”
“They were in the background.”
“You are not the equal of us or our history.”
Programs that honor and recall the African American contribution in their fullness and involve the community aren’t primary anymore it seems or even secondary. They are for Black history month it seems rather than a year round incroporation. I am asking Southern plantation museums, historic sites and sites connected with slavery to really open their doors and their hearts to this project and to African American interpreters and specialists in general. There is a whole world out there of conversations swirling around the culture and history of food and how it connects to our world and identity today. This is an opportunity to relate across lines of race in ways never before imagined and conceived. When we plant in the same garden, we reap from the same garden, when we cook together, we know each other, and when we eat together we share the satisfaction of having come to the table in peace.
And that I think, is pretty darn sexy.