You both experience this cut, which she keeps insisting is a joke, a joke stuck in her throat, and like any other injury, you watch it rupture along its suddenly exposed suture.
Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014)
Our generation had our childhoods stolen from us—too invisible to notice at first, the micro-aggressions of desegregation were on the daily, so we grew up in a cutting culture—tiny nicks hidden away. We reached adulthood and only then did we start bleeding—no longer afraid to call what we experienced “suffering.” Our parents marched and had bloody feet to show—we were prone to internal bleeding. It made us dangerous as other human animals could sense the lethal coil at the heart of our injured selves. There is a practical reason why people of African descent have more clotting factor—it is nature’s way of compensation for the sanguine attrition. Now that’s deep. . . .
My Deep is funk. Not the funk of James Brown and George Clinton, but the funk of the late Chuck Brown, Rare Essence and Troublefunk and that sound called “go-go”—a relentless call and response of rhythm and not-rhyme. That thing that growing up in the nation’s capital, a political sphere of nowhere never nothing—we can all recognize when we see it. That thing that you can’t explain to someone—you just have to take them to the music. It’s so deep, it can only be experienced firsthand. That kind of deep doesn’t translate to vinyl or plastic, it is living and breathing, a worldling unto itself.
My non-bio brother (brother in law now b/c he married my sister (also non-bio), but more brother than in-law to me) and I grew up in the same town, danced to the same beat—sequestered in our separate homes and high school spheres, we did not meet until we were in our twenties. And one could say we meet over our sister’s love for us both, but in our hearts and minds we met when we experienced go-go together. I do not remember what the occasion was, but we looked at one another and swayed together to the signature drum roll and cow bells, shaking our heads in recognition. One of us raised between Washington, D.C., and Durham, North Carolina, the other raised between that same city which gave us go-go to save our souls and the continent of Africa. This was deep, real deep, y’all. As we danced and his first daughter and my first niece watched wide-eyed, we performed the traditional call outs, dancing in and around each other with your hands in the air, invoking the imaginary bandstand and the players egging us on to outrageous suppleness, each move outdoing the next one. When the song ended, we were sweaty and satiated and collapsed into an embrace of gladness. Deeply grateful for the awfulness of potato famine and transatlantic slavery, Hiroshima and Japanese internment that sutures our collective being together.
In the southern lexicon family and kin are everything—they are the sum total of being. Without them it is hard to say you are “southern” and actually mean it. It is deep when you can claim none of those attributes that make you southern—all of them having gone south in your lifetime. The price of the ticket, as James Baldwin would say, or simply the real consequence of so much blood—loss. In the now of this writing, I am taking a line from a few poets I love, one above, one in the middle (Fred Moten’s “the deep tree”) and one here. As Leroi Jones wrote before he became Amiri Baraka, “Things have come to that.” It is the simple truth of where we are as a nation, in the writing of this brief editor’s note. We are responsible, in the here and now, for making something recognizably new.
In this inaugural issue of south: a scholarly journal I have asked board members to focus on the word “deep” and all of its permutations. And they have responded with beauty, wit, and grace; with words like “dirty” and “dig,” entities like “water” and “snakes,” and orientations like “duration” and “love.” And they have responded with beauty, wit, humor, and grace. I hope this issue gives readers a sense of who we are and were we are going . . . south, perhaps, but that’s a good thing.
Sharon P. Holland