I go to school in Albion, Michigan. The first thing people ask me is what’s my name. The second thing is where I am from. My response was always Memphis. They would then ask: “Oh, so you’re from Tennessee?” My response was also always: “Honey, Memphis is not Tennessee; I’m from Memphis, Memphis.”
The notion that Memphis is not a part of Tennessee is Memphis, Memphis standing a part from the rednecks, the country music blasting gun toting confederate flag lovers, racists, and conservatives that surround the state of Tennessee including places that desire to ostracize themselves from Memphis like Germantown, Collierville, and Cordova.
With that being said, it comes as no surprise that Memphians who say they are from Memphis, Memphis are often Black. Memphis to us is a barbecue grilling, Blues/Trap/Soul music blasting safe space for us. Memphis, Memphis is a place to uplift the Blackness that has built this city with so much talent, so many goals, so many kinds of shades of Blackness, and so little credit.
My question then is why do so many people want to get out of Memphis and never look back when this is supposed to be our safe space? When my mom moved to Memphis from California, she got so many funny looks. She got so many “why would you move here” kind of questions. There were so many people who were telling her and I all these cool stories about the glam of their big city that I soon saw my city as a dumb. When I was old enough to understand that Memphis is the influencer of a lot of those same cities that are booming today, I decided to take a deeper dive into what Memphis is really about. Unfortunately, for some people that realization never happens because the negative is so overwhelmingly powerful. The positives never come to light. They move on. They never look back.
Those who prefer not to block out the negative perspectives of Memphis will never see that our musical talent, our athleticism, our impeccable culinary work, our Grit and Grind mentality, our activism, etc. has floated across this globe for years and continues to float without recognition from most outsiders who benefit from Black Memphis’s cultural influence and most Black Memphians who created this atmosphere. It’s time to end the cycle of negativity, or we will never see our city for what it truly is.
To answer my previous question about why so many Black Memphians want to get out of our city so bad, the answer is quite simple. Black Memphians, the same Black Memphians who have spilled our blood, hard work, and talent for this city, are the last on the hierarchy to get credit, so we don’t give ourselves enough credit as a result. I believe that Black Memphians have been conditioned to believe that Memphis is one of the worst places in the United States because of overarching oppression, and mainstream’s failure to recognize us as one of the fullest places in this country. The goal is to push Black Memphians out to continue to gentrify the same streets we grew up on and learned our talents and skills on.
When you turn on Fox 13 news, WREG, Local 24, you can’t scroll more than 5 articles down before you see a Black face and a criminal charge below it. Black Memphis is full of insecurities because of how we are portrayed by media, outsiders, and ultimately ourselves because of the former two. Until we explore these insecurities, how they came to be, and how to abolish them, there is no way that we can reap the benefits of our creation: Memphis, Memphis.
The most common insecurity I see in Black Memphians is if you come from Memphis and you stay in Memphis, there will be nothing here for us. The reason we feel that there is nothing for us is because the word about great things that are happening in Memphis is not coming our way. Instead we are clouded by the constant news reports about what Black Memphians are doing wrong instead of what Black Memphians are doing to better our city. I think a simple solution for this is expanding our network. We can’t rely on the people we have followed on social media since the first day we created an account to give us all the information we need to know about Memphis. We can’t rely on the news to tell us what great things are happening in Memphis. We need to expand who we follow on social media, where we go, who we hang with/talk to about Memphis, what and who we choose to believe about our city. Most importantly, we need to expand who we exchange our ideas with. The cycle of the idea that “there is nothing to do in Memphis” is old, played out, and false! We make our city whatever we want it to be! We deserve more.
We as Black Memphians need to create spaces for our appreciation as well as reach out to those around us, who we haven’t reached out to, to find those spaces for us. They aren’t going to fall into our laps. This is how we put Memphis on the map the way we have secretly always wanted to. This is how we become proud to say we are from Memphis, Memphis.