“Out of every place in this whole big world, this land bears your name. Farm it, nurture it, love it, Pass it on to your children”.
I remember reading on twitter, about the sharecropping practices post-slavery in, which former slave owners leased the land to black folks but with high interest, while demanding higher and higher quotas. In this manner, many black families died working on land that could never become theirs, under the guise of post-slavery labor. This is what I flashed back to, when I watched this opening sequence of Episode 3 where Ernest’s will is read to his children and his sister. The will of a black man passing down land to his black children, telling them they have land with their name on it, ’twas a beautiful symbol. A symbol of black resilience, a symbol of giving to his children what our ancestors had only dreamed of while they broke their back under the scorching southern sun, working on someone else’s farm. “This land bears your name”. Bordelone.
Unfortunately, it seems that two of the Bordelone siblings don’t feel so warm and fuzy about owning a farm. Nova and Charley (the two girls) share the same sentiment that the farm should probably be sold, while RalphAngel would prefer to keep it and use it as a fresh start for him and his son Blue. But the sisters don’t think he can do it alone given that he has no money nor the experience to run a farm. The conversation is very revealing of the relationship between the siblings; Having lived apart for most of their adult life, the communication between them isn’t at it’s best. Both of the sisters seem to either forget that RalphAngel is a grown man and not their baby brother with no mind of his own. This is quite obvious in how dismissive they constantly are of his opinion as is the reoccurring theme throughout this episode.
We move on to a scene in prison, where Nora is visiting a young black boy named Sweet, thrown in jail after the cops stopped him to ask he wasn’t in school. He knows he’s done nothing wrong but understands already how his future is doomed because of this arrest. “Why they tryna break me”, he asked Nova. To which she replies, “that’s how they break us down; With the mountain of charges, force you to take a plea. That’s what they do to us. They make us scared to fight”. That quote to me wasn’t just a symbol of the systemic racism of the prison system, but also of the larger conversation around fighting racism. Because for many of us, our silence or complacency is us wondering whether the weight of disrupting the status quo costs more than simply enduring it. But what’s also significant about this scene is the fact that black women are always at the forefront of fighting for black men, willing as Nova says, to show up “as many times as it takes don’t you worry. I’ll fight with you. I got you”.
This solidarity of black women is further witnessed, this time, woman to woman. Charley’s husband David, shows up at the farm to see his wife and child, and meets Aunt Violet at the front porch. She answers his questions with nothing but silence and epic side-eyes, walks in the house and closes the door behind her as though she isn’t aware of him walking closely behind her. The men in the house are happy to see him (likely part star-struck, part unaware of the rumors against him), while Aunt Vi makes it clear he’s not welcome. Hollywood (Aunt Vi’s boyfriend) tries to offer him coffee, and Violet replies, “uh uh, we out”. Hollywood says “ oh but we got sweet tea in the refrigerator too”, and she says “ no we out too”! Let me tell you how much I laughed at this scene, because trust, nobody can out-petty a black woman.
This light-hearted moment is short lived however, as Charley walk ins the house, with David pleading to talk to her in private. When they step outside, he tries to beg her to come back to houston so they can face the media and speculations together. He insists that he didn’t rape a girl, but eventually admits that he and he hired an escort and had sex with her. What is particular for me in this scene, is the poise with which Charley handles the news. She is clearly shaken by the confession, but her reaction isn’t as explosive as the first episode where she walked onto the court in the middle of the game, and proceeded to scream, hit and kick Davis until she was carried off. What is evident is that Charley is the kind of woman who only allows herself few moments of self-pity before she is back to damage control mode.
Charley is very calculated in her moves, not in a manipulative way, but in a protective manner which unfortunately often comes off as distant and a bit emotionless. But this ability to compartmentalize is what allows her to always focus on what needs to be done, rather than dwell on emotions. That’s the reason why in Episode 2, she has already hired a service for the funeral while others were still mourning; it’s why at the beginning sequence of this episode, while the other 2 siblings are still discussing whether to keep the farm she has already called a potential buyer for the farm; it’s why upon her husband confessing that he cheated, she can still advise him to get a lawyer even though she’s hurt. Charley is great at keeping emotions aside so she can forge ahead, but perhaps this is also the reason why she may not be a great listener.
She’s not a great listener, but neither is Nova. At least when it comes to Ralph, because they continuously make decisions without accounting for this opinions or feelings. In an explosive scene we see him getting angry because his sisters have already started packing their father’s things without letting him know. To the viewer, it’s quite obvious that this wasn’t a considerate thing to do, but it further solidifies that the sisters are just not seeing that Ralph is not a little boy anymore. Because they tend to make decisions on his behalf the same way that Ralph does for his son Blue. Ralph is not a little boy anymore, and perhaps this next scene, is where it really sinks in for them.
A towing truck arrives on the farm, showing up to repossess their father’s tractor, due to his being late on loan payments. While the sisters are trying to convince the 2 men that their father just passed and they should be given more time, Ralph pulls out a gun and tells them to leave. For me, this scene is pivotal for various reasons. First, the shock on the sisters’ faces illustrates the moment they realize that Ralph is not kidding about not wanting to give up the land. If the argument they had in the previous didn’t convince them, this definitely will. Secondly, this scene was scary and revealing to me. Because I immediately thought oh no! I was rooting for Ralph, a good black man victim of the prison system, just trying to rebuild his life. Now he pulls this gun, and white people watching this are going to say “see!??!! He deserves what happened to him and this is why black men need to be in jail”.
Maybe it’s true that this will be the white audience’s reaction, maybe it’s not. But what I realized in this very moment, is how much I am (and perhaps many of us are) concerned with the white gaze. Forever bending over backwards to be the proper negro, deserving of basic humanity. But in this scene, if I didn’t know it before, I know now that Queen Sugar has very little interest in sanitizing the black experience for the white gaze. Queen Sugar centralizes the black experience, telling it as it is, without caricatures and devoid of respectability politics.
Who knows what will happen to Ralph after this, given his parole status. But at that moment, I was just in awe of the show’s determination to display black characters fighting for what they have and not always doing what we expect them to do. Characters allowed to be nuanced, complicated and nuanced in every aspect of their lives. Queen Sugar is like a Griot. Bearing witness to our lives and retelling our stories back to us, as we are gathered around the Baobab tree…I mean TVs, every Wednesday, ready to be re-introduced to ourselves through the small screen.
And Just like Ernest telling his children that out of this whole big world, this land bears their name, for me Queen Sugar feels like these storylines really truly, bear our names.