I’m Not Your Entertainment: Black and Indigenous Relevance and Relegation in Climate Action
by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)
One of the greatest challenges in life is not responding to Anglo people that state “You are so articulate.” to me after they have heard and/or read my bio or CV (www.QueenQuet.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/queenquet/) before I even stepped on the stage as the person presenting the keynote address or providing the lecture. Prior to knowing what a CV even was, I was told this thousands of times over the years. The more I started to engage with Black scholars and doctors and authors, I found out that we all had dealt with this at some time in our lives the way all Gullah/Geechees have been accused of lying about the existence of the Sea Islands. Many people from Caribbean islands, especially Jamaica, immediately believe we are from the Caribbean also and find it hard to believe that there is the existence of an entire region and now nation of the world that they are unaware of. Many people born and raised in the United States are unaware of the Sea Islands and the Gullah/Geechee Nation in which they sit. So, when I speak my native tongue and then code switch back to America’s dialect of English, there is often a look of awe on people’s faces. If Black and indigenous people come up to me after a presentation, they come up with a sense of pride and appreciation, but if I sang once for 5 minutes (as is a custom of my people that can sing) and lectured for 55 minutes, somehow, the Anglo people missed the intellectual discourse and this native Gullah/Geechee is reduced to one word-“articulate.” I have grown numb to that so I simply don’t respond.
When I share the stage with Anglo scientists, I find that folks with the same skin tones as them will go over to them to discuss engaging in scientific collaborations. They receive additional invitations to serve on scientific boards and such. If the same people talking to them get over to me to chat at all, they commend me on my voice and how moving my presentations was and seem to forget that I, too, have degrees in hard sciences and that I just finished articulating scientific matters albeit in a fashion that allowed even a youth that has never been degreed in these areas can comprehend all that has been stated and now has some idea how to begin to address the matter in his or her own community or life. Yeah, I am articulate, but I’m not your entertainment!
One of the most difficult aspects of being de Head pun de Bodee of de Gullah/Geechee Nation is ensuring that my people aren’t brought into intellectual arenas in order to simply serve as the entertainment. There is a time and a place for everything. However, in regard to the negative impacts of climate change on Black, Brown and indigenous communities (or as some say, “BIPOC” although most of us classified in this way in America didn’t get to vote on that term), we don’t have time to perform while others plan.
The relevance of cultural heritage communities in sustainability and adaptation planning to mitigate climate change harm needs to be centralized at all times. We shouldn’t be used to come to voluntary focus groups and given meals and gift cards while others plan for and receive millions of dollars in funding to “shore up” their created “communities” while real cultural heritage communities along shorelines perish and someone simply seeks to come in with a camera or recorder to hear us singing the blues about the destruction and devastation to which you may received a token donation while this story is relevant in the news. After that, there is the usually relegation of your devastation to empty trite words-“I’m so sorry.” or memes “Pray for ______.” Instead of posting memes after the fact, help provide funding and resources to cultural heritage communities in advance of the next crisis as a proactive measure not a reactionary perfunctory exercise.
Support us so that we can join you on the massive stages of climate change events and in the rooms behind them to dialogue about funding distribution for our people, our families and our communities. See us in the manner that you see other “climate actors” as simply articulating a story for you to be clear on their needs and the plans that we, too, are already working on. Bring in the additional expertise as partners and collaborators and co-create with us instead of thinking what we share is only FYI or FYE-“for your entertainment.”
It is time for all “actors” to stop acting and start living out what we say is our purpose in regard to dealing with climate change issues!
Black, Brown and indigenous cultural heritage communities around the world are speaking our truths more and more loudly. The calm has passed and it is now time that there is a storm of ideas and voices that are moving into the arenas from which we have been excluded for decades such as the United Nations Council of Parties (UN COP) and the Our Ocean Conference to name just a couple global climate events. I have had the opportunity to present at both of these and to learn from what I saw in regard to who was on the main stage and who was relegated to the side. They literally call the events where you can truly hear and see the people who are living on the front shorelines of the negative climate impacts “side events.” So, they have clearly indicated and articulated that these folks and the statements that are being made and the scientific and traditional ecological knowledge that we share is being relegated to a particular location-the side not the center.
I have been truly blessed to have taken center stage in thousands of arenas over my life time. Many of them have had massive audiences of 30,000+ people and with the advent of streaming, I have done events with 1 million viewers watching while these folks were in the arena. I’ve been blessed to get the message across about the importance of the work being done in the Gullah/Geechee Nation to ensure that our coastline will continue to exist, the Sea Islands will continue to exist and due to this, Gullah/Geechee culture will continue to exist.
I continue to spend time using my scientific background to engage in field work and to assist in evolving best scientific and policy practices to assist in reaching the 30 x 30 goals on the state, national and international levels, the United Nations Sustainable Development goals and the Gullah/Geechee Nation Sustainability and Ocean Action Plan goals. Yet, it is difficult for our collaborative partners to get the actions that are being taken placed on center stage at these massive global events where a LOT of talking goes on and a LOT of speeches are made by the same men year after year. As soon as they are finished turning pages or reading from teleprompters, these men then immediately depart with their entourages and go negotiate deals that are the opposite of what is being called for by the enlightened citizens of the world that realize that the rape of Mother Earth has to cease if she is to survive and we humans are to survive.
Somehow, the planners of these events never fail to realize that there is a cultural heritage group or multiple cultural heritage groups in the host countries. They quickly get to the ministers of culture and the arts community in order to put arts and crafts on display for those of us visiting. As much as I love seeing and hearing people who love art present their talents, I also know that they need economic empowerment and I know that they need healthy environments in which they and their art can thrive and survive. When I get to talk with those who are sometimes invited to these events as “vendors,” I find myself in the kinds of conversations that should be taking place on center stage-economic empowerment, women’s empowerment, cultural community displacement by design as well as due to negative climate impacts, addressing reparations-oops! They call this “loss and damage” in these spaces. I find sincerity packaged in intellect and outstanding articulation of what the issues are and how we are addressing them in our cultural heritage communities.
As I walk on from these conversations, my spirit is always raised. There is hope among the global circle of children of Mother Africa and indigenous peoples. However, my spirit gets hit like the death by a thousand cuts when I enter another PowerPoint slide session of somebody not of the people speaking about and for the people as he or she presents research on the people which the people likely didn’t vet nor approve. I shake my head and try to stay awake (not woke) as my soul feels like it is draining out of my being while I watch these human hamsters on the same wheel that they have been on for decades. After the real show that they put on, they emerge smiling and proud of themselves for being able to read from their computer. They proceed to the private meetings to write the grants and get the funding for their next foray to a conference while the cultural heritage communities are still not funded and are eroding away.
I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to find my people at each of these events and that we have been able to dialogue and to support one another. I am pleased that this has lead to national and international collaborations that center cultural heritage and not relegate it to be an entertainment sideshow while others work on scientific and political ways to change the world for the better so that there will be a world in the future. I am proud to be a part of the Climate Heritage Network that disrupted the space of the UN COP and made sure that we had our voices heard from the side event stages to main stages in that space.
I’m proud to be engaged with numerous partners of the South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative that have come together at national and international events to share the importance of our work to protect 1,000,000 acres of salt marsh in the southeastern United States and the Gullah/Geechee Nation. You can read more about this here:
Hunnuh kin yeddi mo riycha:
I am also proud to have engaged with other scientist to clearly articulate what our cultural heritage communities are dealing with in regard to the data that is necessary to carry out the work to protect and enhance the quality of life in our communities:
I am proud to have met true family amongst the Afrodescendents in Panama and to see them proudly present who they are to the world that had journeyed to their homeland:
As I stated at the end of my presentation at the Our Ocean Conference, it is time for the scientists to sit with the natives and let us teach them another language. They are welcome to bring the politicians and policy makers and other power brokers with them to learn that language also. I am sure that I can articulate to them that we natives are the global partners that you need if we are to heal the world for not only ourselves, but also for future generations. This is not an “act” or”performance” for us. Our lives are at stake!
I am now clear on why James Baldwin articulated clearly, “I’m not your Negro.” I could hear him speaking to my soul as I came to this space to make clear that “I’m not your entertainment.” We will no longer have what is relevant relegated to the side. It is time to center cultural heritage communities in climate action!
- Posted in: Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation ♦ Climate Advocacy and Climate Change ♦ Emergency Resources and Storm and Disaster Preparation and Restoration ♦ Environmental Justice ♦ Gullah/Geechee Events ♦ Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association ♦ Gullah/Geechee Foodways ♦ Gullah/Geechee Health and Healing ♦ Gullah/Geechee Land Ownership & Rights ♦ Gullah/Geechee Ourstory ♦ Gullah/Geechee Riddim Radio Education Links ♦ Gullah/Geechee Sacred Areas ♦ Gullah/Geechee TV Educational Links ♦ Human Rights ♦ Queen Quet ♦ Uncategorized
- Tagged: climate action, climate change, climate heritage mobilization, Climate Heritage Network, climate science, cultural heritage, entertainment, Geechee, Gullah, gullah geechee nation, Gullah/Geechee Nation, James Baldwin, Our Ocean Conference, Queen Quet, science, Sea Islands, UN COP
Amen and Ase Queen Quet. May our potential partners hear you loud and clear, and then act appropriately! We in cultural heritage communities already have so many of the solutions we all need; what is missing is a prioritized place on the agenda, and substantial multi-year funding of our organizations and community-engaged scholars to support implementation at scale.
Asé Dr. Thomas! AMEN!
This is such a powerful piece on SO MANY FRONTS! A huge AMEN and a heartfelt THANK YOU from me! And such a blessing to see you in Panama, if only briefly!!!!
Peace Dr. Wright!
It was great to see you in Panama also. I am glad that you read and enjoyed this piece!
I look forward to us collaborating in the future.
Thank you Queen Quet for your work, insight and fortitude.
You are welcome.