itsct: Southern Colonization and Why My Mama and a Few People Ain't Got No Peace of Mind

Southern Colonization and Why My Mama and a Few People Ain't Got No Peace of Mind

by Kariyana Calloway

“I’m grateful God made me from Georgia clay, spiced peaches, sweet tea, and red velvet”

This past Friday I gathered my edges and went job hunting in my home town of Decatur, Georgia. “The New Decatur” is the real-life version of southern nostalgic utopia with modern urban flair: white boys in long-sleeve polo shirts and little white girls in shirts so big that you can’t see that they are hiding distressed denim shorts underneath.

With my newly edited resume in hand, I began my job hunting stroll with the restaurant called Victory Sandwich Bar. The restaurant was formerly the original Raging Taco, but now stands as a modern “sandwich shack” where you can get a glass of whiskey and a $4 dollar sandwich with coleslaw in a mason jar. I closed my eyes and imagined myself working there alongside a white girl in a floral print Forever 21 dress, or maybe H&M, but I couldn't actually give a fuck.

I clear my throat.

“Are you guys hiring?” I am answered by a white man wearing a shirt I’m sure he purchased at Target, his hair literally engulfed with gorilla snot gel, stiff as a nerd in a trap house.

“Why yes we are. Do you have a resume?” I pull a crisp white paper with my mediocre ass accomplishments out. He skims … “Thank you, we will give you a call,” better known as “What kinda name is Kariyana?”

I answer “Thank you,” and about face the fuck out of this urban counterfeit Subway. I am met with haunting thoughts: What happened to my Decatur? Why am I not visible here? Why doesn’t this ground find familiarity with my feet? Why is the Georgia air forgetting my milk chocolate skin?

I walk into what used to be an American Deli. My mommy took me there to get food before we had to catch our train to go home. Just outside of the MARTA train station, my mom and I, tired from walking, would find rest in this cheap wing spot. It did wonders with my mom only making a hundred dollars a week, but now there are no wings.

Today, it stands as Cakes and Ale, a bakery and a bar. Because what is better than shitty wine paired with gluten, nut, soy, sodium, chocolate-free… chocolate cupcakes? I stand there in awe staring at what I remembered as the place with the best chicken tenders and fries. I hear a faint “May I help you?” I turn around, and a pale white girl asks, “Are you looking for something in particular.” I answer, “No,” and follow with, “Are you guys hiring for any summer positions?” She mumbles through thin, gummy lips, “Umm no.” I say, “thank you,” and again I get the hell out of dodge.

I pick up the pace, but I am yet again met with thoughts of the Decatur that I knew, and now fits of rage! Where am I? What is this place? Who the fuck is gonna drink Angry Orchard and eat blueberry pie? I shake my head and make my way to what was once a black-owned record store, the very record store that I watched little white girls from Decatur High walk out of with Lil Wayne’s critically acclaimed master piece The Carter III, or as he would say “tree” (in my opinion some of his best work).

I found myself in front of The Iberian Pig. Here you can get a seared duck chop with a white wine apricot reduction. Outside of this Iberian staple for classic Iberian delicacies sits a bearded black man with a cane (I’m sure he’s someone’s grandfather). We exchange salutations.

He asks, “Wachoo lookin fuh?”

I ask, “What happened to the record store?”

He shares, “Ion know. You know these white folks taken over, ain’t nothing the same here.” He sips a 20 ounce coke with the words “Best Friends” on the side.

I say, “Yeah I’m only 19 and it looks different.”

He says, “I bet by the time you old enough to drink this here will be a metropolis for crackers!” We share laughs, mine much louder than his. He compliments my smile and sends me away with love and hopes that some things Black will never change.

With this I make my way towards the Decatur Courthouse in hopes of finding my aunt’s favorite restaurant, My Friend’s Place. My aunt would go there to meet her lover after a day of work. They’d share carrot cake, and get lost in each other’s eyes, as they both unveiled their heartfelt love language over chicken salad with Stevie Wonder gently playing in the background. My aunt fell in love with My Friend's Place, going there to study for her tests for school and taking me and my little sister there for breakfast before we went to our elementary school, the same one that my aunt, my mother, and her mother all attended. We spent hours there after school learning how to be ladies, and staring at pedestrians as we sipped Dr. Pepper. Decatur was my altar, the only place that defined me, but on this hot, dry Friday I felt the foundation of my altar crack beneath my feet.

My mother and I have been without a place to live since late February; we are both from Decatur, and our experiences as members of this community aren’t too different. We both have watched white supremacy pitch a tent in our hometown. My mother used to live in a house in Decatur but was forced to leave when she could no longer afford the rent. She moved out of the heart of Decatur, where she went to school, had close friends, and where she watched her children grow. The house my mother used to live in is now a newly renovated house with a picture of a flower on the mailbox.

My mother worked during the week to keep bills paid while my aunt was still in school. We struggled, but my mother always kept her faith rooted in the heart of Decatur, where she walked to school, and where she spent her time in her grandmother’s garden. She thought that it would never fail her. My mom knew all things about Decatur; she knew it like the back of her hand. I recall my mom telling us stories about what she called “The Back Alley” where “the black folk lived,” and how many people there worked hard and kept their heads down. She admitted how down she is about us not being able to live in downtown Decatur saying, “If I had the money, I would buy one of them houses and live right in the heart of Decatur.”

My mother has no dreams of leaving Georgia or Decatur any time soon, but as I roam the streets I find myself imagining what Decatur may look like without my mother, and black folks. Would it be an archive of what used to be the town that held my family and so many other families? Or would it merely be a memory, like The New Decatur ain’t got place for black men sitting on stoops or black women gathering for church on Sundays, like black folk ain’t allowed in those parts.

New is just a word for ‘black folks used to…’ - Dr. Jasmine E. Johnson

The man on the stoop outside of The Iberian Pig had the same look in his eyes that my mom does when she talks about Decatur; I’m sure this is the look in every black and brown person’s eyes when they are stripped of their homes, when the store they went to every week is turned into a boutique for white soccer moms and their daughters, when they are urged to migrate from what they know cause they “just can’t afford” the new, high priced condos, and when they are forced to exist in spaces that aren’t familiar.

I am well aware that there is no logical form of pedagogy that can inform or make sense of what it means to lose the authenticity of the soil in which God planted you to grow. There ain’t no teaching for the ones who worship the garden the way my great grandmother did, and I will never know what it means to build something where you were born. Some forms of walking memory lane can cause a host of different traumas. The casualties of urban colonization are that black and brown folk are forced to ask, with these notions in mind, what they can do to preserve a type of heritage that represents the people whose skin resembles the toasty brown Georgia clay, and how they can re-cultivate a body of people who’ve been robbed of geographic authenticity.

My mother and I gather for conversations about our circumstances, and I notice her demeanor change when we talk about pursuing a home in Downtown Decatur. It seems like my mother’s world shrinks, like she feels un-welcomed everywhere she goes, like there is no place for us because “we just can’t afford it.” I remember the man…“These crackers taking over,” pause and digress, “We can try to find something close.” But my suggestion goes unanswered.

“I looked at some places around Glenwood,” my mom interrupts. My disgraceful thinking intercedes, “Maybe we should take a break on looking Mama, maybe God will bless us, maybe there is a ram in the bush that we are overlooking.” I lend my mother a smile, knowing she longed to be in her hometown.

While tweet watching my favorite professor Dr. Jasmine E. Johnson, I come across a tweet that feels particularly fitting in this moment. She chooses to focus on the movement of black bodies, gentrification, and what present day colonization work looks like when it is forced upon black and brown folk. She talks about how the community that nurtured her is now a place riddled with white people walking around in hipster gear and cell phones that look like “candy bars.” With this I find some solace in knowing I ain’t the only one reminded daily that black and brown folk don’t really have a place for resting.

I hear my best friend Gilberto, who always gets mad when the whities talk about a new type of New York that makes him sick…“CAUSE THAT SHIT IS MAD WILD YOO, LIKE HOW THEY STEAL OUR SHIT!” I gather that all of my friends, and all of my people, are losing a piece themselves somehow, and I question if these are the same thoughts that I internalize when I see Decatur’s streets marked with white bodies. I question if the activist work I do even matters. How can my individual resistance act for a whole country when my colored community is casted with an all-white shadow, when school kids think my grandmother’s front steps can carry the weight of their skate boards and bear witness to them calling each other “Nigga”?

“My streets can’t take that,” I want to scream as I walk away from the man on the stoop who I know will be asked to move after 7:00 pm. “My mama can’t deal with this,” I want to tell the white man in his charcoal-gray Armani suit, who churned my great grandmother’s rose petal alter into a solar powered town home.

What do you do when you once had access to a world that looked like you, but return to find that everything you built was a fantasy? Cause let’s be real, white people been plotting on our shit from jump street. I just wish they’d give my mama back the peace of mind they stole from her.

Weeks later, I find a job. I'm supposed to teach Black kids how to find themselves. How to see themselves in the fog that is academia, but really they teach me. I give them Morrison, Walker, Spillers. I'm returning to school in the fall, and momma found an apartment. My favorite professor is no longer a professor at Brandeis, but I'll figure out a home somewhere permanent in me.

 

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Kariyana Calloway is a double major in African and Afro American & Music Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Kariyana, who goes by Chari, is originally from Decatur, Georgia. Chari’s research focuses on black voice origins and accessibility. Chari is also a video blogger on her channel: Muvakayduhgawd. She uses her platform to give way to blackness, womaness, fatness, and various other intersections that show up within her identity.

Dawn Wu