“They talk funny,” was all I could remember when it was time to visit my mother’s side of the family in North Charleston, South Carolina. “Hush,” she would say to me as I would look at my cousins playing around my grandmother’s pecan tree. Always up underneath her coat tail feeling like an outsider because my family had a distinct accent that sounds foreign to me, and I was the “white girl” because I spoke “proper English,” I felt left out. There was camaraderie and pride amongst my family who I didn’t talk like but would later in life come to respect and understand when I got older.
It took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that I too, am Geechee by birth right. But, I didn’t sit in that truth until I was well into my 30s and mature enough to understand the beauty of being in THE ONLY black subculture in America that has close ties to African traditions. To quote the kids today, “it’s lit.” What sparked the fire in my Intercultural Communications class back in college led me to question my own spiritual path and connecting with my ancestors. Later, dating a man from London by way of Sierra Leone who showed me the close resemblance between the Geechee people and Sloane people further put the stamp that I was closer to my people than I really thought. It was beautiful. My disdain from a child of not feeling the inclusivity of the Geechee people blossomed into the utmost admiration and love for a culture that not even most African Americans know about, unless they seek to find it.
These days, I want more of our people to take over and see South Carolina as more than just a place to go to Myrtle Beach. Instead of reducing Charleston to just some town only for privileged people on Bravo’s Southern Charm who prosper, look to the Geechee lands to be the introductory you need on the journey of discovering your African roots. From the sweet grass baskets to the savory boiled peanuts, what I’ve learned from watching on the outside is that I’ve already BEEN on the inside, I just didn’t SEE it.
Thinking back to when I was a little girl, the venacular I didn’t get back then, is now the sweet sound of Gullah (Geechee creole) that moves like poetry to my ears. So closely similar to the Krio of the West African people today, there’s such beauty in knowing even when they aren’t even trying, they exude the regalness of a culture that still beats in America today. In our own backyard. So yes, in the words of my family and the ancestors that came before me, I Geechee, and I’m so proud to share the blood of what I shied away from . Look to the palmetto trees and the soft Carolina sun and you’ll find a community waiting to share stories beyond Nickelodeon’s Gullah Gullah Island (yeah ...that's that Geechee too). Where you’ll feel the kumbaya and embrace the hoodoo spirit of the ancestors who came before us. There’s so much power in the island people of South Carolina that I’ve grown to respect and love. So many stories to be passed down and traditions to uphold. I Geechee, and I’ll never shy away from that truth again.