Where You Gonna Run To? Cultural Heritage Continuation and the Intersectionality of Calamity

“O Sinner Man, where you gonna run to? “O Sinner Man, where you gonna run to? O Sinner Man, where you gonna run to all on judgement day?”

Win deyclen bin dun ya, mi wake fa yeddi disya. Mi gone fa pray and den check fa see and mi see de storm bin still churnin and ain duh studee we.

This time of year, watching The Weather Channel becomes a daily ritual for me in addition to paying closer attention to alerts when I have the PDA on since I now have multiple apps concerning weather on it so that I have another tool of awareness at my disposal. I am thankful that GOD has also let me live through multiple storms that came to and through the Sea Islands of the Gullah/Geechee Nation so that I am able to consistently prepare for the next one and teach others how to do so in order to bring about more community and intergenerational “resiliency” as the western world has taught me to call it.

The western world has also taught me the word “intersectionality” which I find my self tired of hearing in meeting after meeting and blog after blog since it usually is in reference to how some Black person has to deal with multiple stressors simultaneously. I get stressed out hearing it because it is as if a scrolling list of problems comes on that someone else wants to document simply to say that they had a “conversation” (another word I am getting tired of in meetings) about this intersectionality while not actually taking any actions to resolve any of these things and provide solutions for the stress to be relieved. Dealing with multiple stressors has been part and parcel of being a Black person in America since the time of enslavement. As a Gullah/Geechee Sea Islander, I see no need to discuss the problem unless it is a solution oriented dialogue. Therefore, I sit in many of the meetings simply praying that folks would comprehend that we are well past having time to simply chat.

As I awoke today and started to pray, I found myself thinking of my beloved Sea Islands in the Gullah/Geechee Nation and how our faith and our communal sharing of the burdens of multiple stressors keeps us alive as Black indigenous people living in rural areas with low incomes during hurricane season where the sea levels, heat and the intensity and amount of storms are rising due to climate change in the midst of a global pandemic. The collective word that came to mind for all of it is “calamity.” I have yet to hear anyone addressing this intersectionality that is a storm raging against the continuation of our cultural heritage communities along the coasts.

Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation assessing the Sea Island shoreline as the storm approaches. Photo by Kwame Sha for De Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition‘s Gullah/Geechee Alkebulan Archive.

“Can’t you see the clouds gathering?” echoes in my mind the way it did when I started writing my novel duet. One of the stories opens in the midst of a storm approaching the Sea Islands. The appropriate sound track was that song that I had learned when I attended Clemson University decades ago. We sang it in well orchestrated harmony in the way that I wish we would harmonize over what to prioritize in order to insure the cultural continuation of the Gullah/Geechee Nation so that we can have the sustainability of the land as well as the cultural community. Yet, it seems that like many others in the world, folks turn their heads in distraction amidst the stressors and the misinformation cycle flowing through television channels and news feeds and they would have to answer the question in the song, “No” if they answered honestly.

Meanwhile, those that truly see the world devastation attached to the spiritual degradation that has led people to being so self absorbed that they are more interested in their distractions than they are in focusing on ways to heal the planet, find ourselves almost unable to rise from our knees to work since we are consistently crying out to GOD to hold back the storms and heal the land. If the root cause of climate change is truly anthropocene and climate inaction has produced and will continue to produce more human health issues from heat induced sicknesses to pandemics and will continue to threaten our food security by bringing about ocean acidification, drought, and wildfires amongst a sundry lists of other issues, “Oh sinner man, where you gonna run to?”

Thinking about all of these things simultaneously every time a new storm is named and while watching the digital illustrations of its path floating across a screen causes me to consider all the work that I do on a regular basis to try to assist people with disaster preparedness. It also causes me to reflect on the Global Action Summit that took place in California as a typhoon was in the Pacific, a hurricane was in the Atlantic, wildfires blazed in the west and midwest of the United States and an earthquake took place in South Carolina while flooding was happening in other parts of the world. Just when I thought there was no way for people to now ignore the fact that we each needed to self-reflect and take hold of our behaviors that were causing the world harm, folks simply had dissociative amnesia and resumed what they felt was “getting back to normal.”

The fact that “normal” means living at the intersection of multiple traumas for many Black people doesn’t seem to concern those whose status in life has allowed them to simply disconnect from one place to another and buy another life somewhere else. These are the same people that criticize folks that do not evacuate during hurricane season without taking into account that people may not have the financial ability nor vehicles to evacuate with.

Communal people will die from the heart ache of disconnection if they lose their land and their family members. We could never buy another Gullah/Geechee Nation or recreate it in another place. So, I would prefer to faithfully work toward and seek the answers to a new place of intersectionality that is one of peace, balance within a healthy environment and economic empowerment of a healthy faith filled communal community on the Sea Island and Lowcountry. To that end, I rise as the audience rose go give me a standing ovation at the Global Action Summit as I presented the importance of providing for and protecting cultural heritage in the midst of the planning for the protection of the planet via climate action.

I find myself this morning praying that people will begin to know how to act. I thought the lesson of last year’s lock down when Mother Earth started healing herself and the videos showed the air being clean and creatures swimming in the canal in Venice and lions and various other animals taking over the roads and parks and spaces that humans were not occupying would be a teaching moment that folks would truly learn from. Yet, the massive number of people that simply wanted to suddenly be out and about (consisting of many of the same folks that previously wanted to just stay at home and stream the world), streamed out and brought the pollution back into the atmosphere and seemed to have forgotten all about that healing moment. So, we again sit at the intersection of the time of year in which all of this environmental devastation threatens human populations around the world and folks are still contemplating where they should move as if they won’t take their behaviors with them.

We can’t out run this one. We have to hunker down and work together to bring about a higher quality of life for all people! The time to run has run out! So, as my elders would say, “Sit down and study yourself.”

• Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation www.QueenQuet.com

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