Savannah is is trying to create a renaissance of profit with live bodies portraying Gullah Geechee, enslaved Africans or immigrant indentures plodding through a mod-gothic spook show.
“Tragic political and cultural history is paired with ghosts, ghouls, fried food and zombies.”
Current heritage based programs (attractions) in Savannah are completely consistent with municipal branding strategies of colonialism, Confederacy and antebellum (Lost Cause) commercialization. The ghost spectacular at, The Savannah Underground: An Immersive Experience, merely points up depraved notions of non-white presence in Savannah no different than those at the atrocious Marriott Baobab lounge. At that site, fetishized African torsos and zombie-like mannequins share space with the dismembered heads and posed bodies of stuffed trophy animals. Similarly, at Savannah Underground, live bodies of those portraying Gullah Geechee, enslaved Africans or immigrant indentures plod through a mod-gothic spook show reminiscent of the most abject Jim Crow caricature, and replete with a distorted and out-of- context historic backstory. Tragic political and cultural history is paired with ghosts, ghouls, fried food and zombies.
Tourism, attractions, entertainment and profit are not appropriate protocols for history or cultural awareness. They are, rather, the tragic plunder of reckless fantasy myths, heritage bullying and skewed memory. Lost Cause, Jim Crow and Dunning school notions of African and Native American presence, and/or extinction, drove and continues to drive, a discriminatory and supremacist ethos in both Savannah and the country. Shibboleth, memory and genteel civility outstrip archeological data and complex history. As the whole of the city, including buildings, monuments, flags, names, markers, discourse and etc., enmeshes the character and charisma of plantation-chattel-slave Southern hospitality, the presence of similarly signified alternate history remains repressed. Unfortunately in Savannah, a city of the newly constructed Blue-state woke- claim pantheon, and simultaneous Confederate Mecca, Gothic Bohemian spook fantasies and racist fetish chapels continue to spring up. Black mayors and former Black mayors are pictured elbow to elbow with new antebellum oligarchs (COVID 19 maskless), smiley faced and in abandon as African, Native American and Gullah Geechee repositories of political history and
culture remain buried, or outrightly obstructed. It is no surprise to that, while Georgia’s new Confederate flag has replaced the old cross and stars, somehow an assumption of ostensible change and neoliberal policy supposedly portends a magical fix. A new brand design is merely refitted on to the same old product. A look changes, but the mediocre product never transforms.
“Gothic Bohemian spook fantasies and racist fetish chapels continue to spring up.”
Suddenly many Georgians are calling themselves woke, liberal, progressive, activist, warriors or anti-racists while simultaneously inhabiting a strong-port of a Confederate, Gone with the Wind, Jim Crow style tourist carnival. Resisting the hard work, self reflection and study needed for a complete transformation, this erstwhile Coastal Empire (by name), a former bastion of slave sales, cotton plantations, railroad cotton distribution, human trafficking, military massacre, Wall Street to Savannah synchrony, the cotton gin, cornerstone of the Confederacy declarations and etc., is enabled as normal daily reality. Stale and bankrupt narratives of so-called diversity and inclusion have now become trope and fodder for industrial tourism entertainment which trades in on somber history, untold suffering and hard fought liberation relics. It is the daily brand currency. Multicultural mayors along with liberals, hamstrung progressives and activists share in a focused apathy. Their silent complicity and anomie work like more cotton in the gin. New bales come out for sale, money is made, yet nothing really changes. The new antebellum oligarchs merely tally the surging dividends—just like now, just as before. But also, just like now, just as before, escape, rebellion and freedom (liberation archives) ring as testaments to the genuine historic and cultural truth of African, Native American and Gullah Geechee people.
“Multicultural mayors along with liberals, hamstrung progressives and activists share in a focused apathy.”
Although Marriott’s Riverside Plant serves as a driver for further and future atrocity and plunder of African, Native and Gullah Geechee archives and knowledge, that content could be transposed into a genuinely equal resource for economic, educational and political development. The people, however, are currently left with dead-end service economy tour jobs: low pay, few to no benefits or career opportunities, and a municipal leadership which fails to establish a solid conceptual footing which might burn down the old plantation of ordinarily inviolable bureaucracy. Instead, they embrace the ordinary Lost Cause-Dunning School-white savior perspectives, or at best construct flavored commercial models which merely fit in as redivivus neocolonial enterprise made to order for gadabout neoliberalism.
Commerce driven shows are not correctives for repressed cultural, political and ecological history. Gullah Geechee, African and Native American history not only remain distorted but continue to fester within reproduced segregation, disparity and customary apartheid. Only genuine culture, history and agency might supply the proper recourse for transformative action and growth. A new vision is possible, but one built upon appropriate and sober realizations of the sacred precious lives and perspectives of those who suffered for so-called normal democratic assumptions of the present.
“Only genuine culture, history and agency might supply the proper recourse for transformative action and growth.”
Maybe there is a place for fantasy, fun, escapism and titillation, yet, not at the site of actual harm, massacre, murder, torture, human trafficking, eco-threat and etc. This is particularly troubling when genuinely equal, just and prolific representation has been (and remains) horribly repressed, in the city and region. Efforts to envision and then develop a genuinely just circumstance is far, far, far from realization.
Black mayor after Black mayor, term after term, have failed to push back the surging cadence of Confederate battle drums. Their new beat is merely on-the-surface, multi-cultural, spicy and groovy. But, even as that beat holds the structure of hegemony in place, the latent force of ancestral power commands an authority of ethical force relevant for and consequential to immediate transformation. It is a polyrhythmic, syncopated and step breaking potential rife to shake away apathy, anomie and lack.
It would be heartening to see such efforts for a cogent, sensitive and visionary new city narrative receive the same attention as those less fruitful entertainment, show and attraction style representations. In Savannah, this has yet to be an option. If such visionary works do not yet exist or exist in short supply, then we should support efforts to create them and not simply extoll and celebrate exploitive festivals of distortion and half-truth (or allow carnivals of racist enjoyment to casually run unabated). Actual culture, not commercial enterprise using culture as a brand signifier, avers a synthesis of meaningful political recourse, genuine history and respectful agency—rife for self determination and true liberation.
Percussionist David Pleasant has worked for over 35 years as an exponent, researcher, developer, and innovator in early African American and Gullah-Geechee performance legacies. The Pleasant Institute supports a linked effort in Community-based cultural awareness, continuing education, and arts-based literacy.
David Pleasant’s previous article for Black Agenda Report, “Savannah, the Afro-Fetish-City,” appeared December 20, 2020.
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