“Community used to be a central unit where everyone was concerned about well-being but now we become more centralized and don’t know what is happening with our neighbors”-overheard at our community presentation in Cleveland, MS
Coming into Clarksdale, I caught myself enthralled in the rich blues history and culture here. I was excited to explore the community and see all that it has to offer. However, when I got here, my reality was different to my initial expectations.
On Tuesday night we went to a local blues cafe, called Bluesberry Cafe. I immediately realized that even though this community was predominantly black, this space was predominantly white. In a room of about 40 people, where Watermelon Slim pointed out the 9 different nationalities in the room, I noticed that locals were absent and there were about 5 black attendees, including myself and 2 members of the band. This made me wonder, where are the locals? Who is invited into this space?
Historically, the blues were associated with African American history and culture. However, here I was partaking in a part of culture, in a space that seemed to be for predominantly white foreigners. I honestly felt uncomfortable, as I battled with my identity and what that means for my interactions with and in this community. It made me wonder what was my role in the community? As a black woman from another country, did I get a pass for this experience? Could I be a tourist in a space that didn’t seem like it was for me?
A key takeaway from this experience is that it isn’t black or white. There is also lot of gray when engaging with communities that you do not belong too. Your identity will always impact how you engage with the world and how other’s see you. You can move along a continuum in engagement and it depends on how well you interact with community members. Through this experience, I’ve learned that if you are willing to be open and honest with yourself, and those around you, you can truly have a rich and engaging experience. With this understanding, you too can become an insider outsider.