Southern Charm and Slavery

I’m into reality shows.  I’m watching Bravo‘s reality show Southern Charm.  Southern Charm is in its 6th season.  I watched it when I was on cable and then there were a few years where I chose another option, firestick.  Then I discovered Sling where I can watch certain cable stations.  I had no clue as to why I was attracted to this show about rich Charleston, SC white folks.

First,  I should state at the tender age of 17 years old my future husband was stationed in Beaufort, SC  and I visited him there and then lived there few months until my escape.  He was military and was gone a lot.  I was alone and felt unsafe where we lived.  I could barely interact with the locals because I could not understand what they were saying.  I listened very hard and just couldn’t understand.  So, I avoided the locals but didn’t stop me from hearing about their tales of black folks coming through the swamps of Florida into South Carolina to get numbers to play.  This was before “lottery” systems.  We moved to an off base housing for military families.  I was shocked at the outward racism even among the military families.  My neighbor was from Kentucky and let it be known in every way that she was racist.  I was not use to the blatant racism of the south.  40 years later I discovered a different Beaufort, SC and a different local community.

The coastal area of South Carolina and Georgia, including sea islands, is known as the low country.  A segment of African Americans who come from this area are called Gullah and speak a language of west African and English that forms a Creole dialect known as Geechee.  How did this happen?

Historically, around 1700, white plantation owners from the low country preferred to imported slaves from the western Africa coast area of Senegal down to Sierra Leone and Liberia where they are known for growing rice. Rice was grown in low country.  Africans from this part of Africa knew how to plant, harvest, and process rice.  The story goes that the plantation owners avoided getting sick and death by an unknown cause by leaving the area and letting the slaves run the rice plantations.  Therefore, the African slaves had the freedom to practice their African traditions and the creation of their creole dialect. The Gullah people are direct descendants of those slaves.  Back to Southern Charm.  What does Southern Charm reality show have to do with Gullah?

Well, I started wondering where these Charleston, SC crew got their wealth.  The program creator, Whitney Sudler-Smith, is a character himself.  Whitney is well educated a classically trained guitarist, film maker and television director. His mother Pat Altschul is rich social-lite who spills words of wisdom and advice to the young cast.  And, there are those on the show that boast their ancestors were there in the 1600’s. For example, a new reality member is Eliza Limehouse, 9th generation from Charleston.  Eliza’s mother can trace her ancestors to the Mayflower and on her father’s side, Thomas Limehouse signed the Declaration of Charleston.

In addition, we have Thomas Ravenel who has a rich history of politics and being a southern scoundrel.  Thomas was Southern Charm’s big star a few years ago.  He ran for senator, he was state treasurer until scandal abruptly ended his term. Thomas’ on again off again relationship with young (26yrs old) Kathryn Dennis that produced 2 children was big story line.  Unfortunately, these days there’s a battle over the custody of the small children.  Especially, since Thomas, who has full custody due to Kathryn’s bad behavior, has been accused of sexual assault by the nanny.  Thomas was fired from the show.  And, Kathryn is rebuilding her life again.  There are fun cast members like Shepherd (Shep) Rose, Chelsea Meissner and Austen Kroll.   Anyway, I find it absolutely unbelievable that their view of the area is so different from mine.

Reality shows send the cast on vacae to wonderful places. I saw the episode where the Southern Charm crew went to Daufskie Island, Sc.  They went horseback riding on the beach and golfing and just had a wonderful time while there.  I had a totally different view.  Hmmm, I guess that’s called a white view and a Black view.

I went to Daufskie Island in 2010 and was in love with the place’s rich slave history, culture rich setting and island living.  The slave grave yard was on the beach.  If you died in good standing you were buried facing Africa but if you died wrong you were facing Brazil.  As a tourist, I looked for shells on the beach and put my feet in the ocean.  Hilton Head was the departure spot so coming back to Hilton Head we had dinner and the hush puppies and blue crab soup was to die for.

Anyway, I suddenly realized I could be looking at the monetary results of slavery.    These people are proud and boastful of their families’ generational ties to the area.  When you date back to a time of slavery with your plantation home still standing then you probably reaped the benefits of slavery.  And, there are no Blacks in this show which is not unusual since they seem to group these reality shows by race.  I guess that’s why they are known as reality shows because diversity in everyday life may only happen in education institutes or corporate entities.