I love being from the South. The land is so beautiful and rich, and I couldn’t imagine being from anywhere else. I love how kind people can be; the way everyone seems to smile back at you and how all your neighbors remember not only your name but also the names of your dogs and your little cousin that likes to spend the weekend at your house. I love the way everyone says “good morning” during your walk and how even the squirrels seem to greet you as you pass. I love the sudden summer storms; the way the rain smells. The way the thunder sounds. The way the wind rips across your face as you run home from the park, trying not to get caught in the downpour. I love the food and the creeks and the forest and the excitement I feel when there’s a wild rabbit in my backyard. These are things you can’t get anywhere else. At least not all together.
I also hate being from the South. I hate the way white people stare at my family and I when we’re the only Black people in a restaurant. I hate the looks my white friends get when they’re hanging out with me, a dark stain on their otherwise pure image. I hate the anxiety that ensues when being pulled over. The way the entire car silently keeps our hands in our laps and the way we yes ma’am and no sir the officers; perfectly submissive as an act of survival. I hate the names I’ve been called. Mutt. Nigger. Monkey. Black bitch. I also hate the way I’ve been called more beautiful than my darker skinned sisters. Light skinned princess. Pretty curls. Brown beauty. I hate that my people are still seen as less than by so many.
Recently, one of my professors emailed me and told me that she was surprised by the way I claim the South as my home despite the hardships that I’ve had to face as a result. And, honestly, I’ve come to the conclusion that that land is my birthright, like it is for so many others. My Native ancestors are the original cultivators and protectors of that land, and I feel it is my responsibility to return and take care of it as well. To uphold their values and recite their wisdom. My Black ancestors were brought to the land to continue that cultivation and protection. Out of their hardship, they created something so wonderful and beautiful: what is now known as the Gullah Geechee Nation, with our own spiritual practices, language, and culture.
I think this is something a lot of Black people, specifically from the South, have to come to terms with at some point in our lives. On one hand we drive through the country and wonder how many of these trees our ancestors were left to hang and rot from, and it can be difficult to live with those reminders always in our peripheral. On the other hand, the soil — quite literally — contains our blood, sweat, and tears and will always call us back to it, no matter how far away from it we are. So, yes. The South is my home and, yes, a lot of the South also hates me. But I refuse to let the descendants of those who stole, sold, and slaughtered my people put a damper on the joy I feel when I’m back on my ancestral lands.
Born in South Carolina, Arianna Haynes is a 22 year old senior at Hawaii Pacific University, majoring in English and minoring in Writing and Women and Gender Studies. Instagram: @the.ari.michelle