“Queen Sugar” is the best thing on television. Debate your aunties. No show depicts the nuances of Blackness better. “But, the Bordelon family is always in turmoil”, I’ve lamented. Such is Black life. Nonetheless, watching their trials unfold is beautiful. During the two-night, mid-season premiere, no struggle was more poignant than the concept of “double-consciousness”. In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois defined “double-consciousness” as “…this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks in on amused contempt and pity.” He continues, “One ever feels his two-ness, -an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
Over a century later, “double-consciousness” is a battle that Black folks have yet to fully conquer. It systemically manifests itself at nearly every turn. Largely, in the workplace and mainstream institutions. We witness one of the show’s leads, Charley Bordelon, attempt to navigate it.
Charley leaves California and re-establishes herself in St. Josephine. Utilizes her “by-any-means” business acumen to become the town’s first Black sugar mill owner. She soon learns that class status alone is no shield against marginalization and her identity crisis. Most important, Charley’s self-realization painfully parallels the Black experience in America. In a conversation with her white mother, Charley characterizes summers spent in St. Josephine with her father’s family as free explorations of her Blackness. Contrarily, she has to “manage” it during her majority-white, boarding school experience in California.
This duality resurfaces when she attends an all-white sugar cane society meeting, attempts inclusion and is roundly dismissed. When she suggests that KeKe Raymond, her son Micah’s girlfriend, be considered for the Harvest Festival’s Sugar Princess contest, Charley is told the teen isn’t “Sugar Princess” material. Reflecting on why she wasn’t more assertive during the meeting, “I didn’t want to be the angry Black woman”, Charley explains. If you’re Black, you’ve likely lost count of the times you’ve had to temper your language in mixed environments, as well as how often you’ve had to suppress your emotions to placate others.
Amidst the struggle of identity and marginalization, liberation is the show’s underlying quest. It operates in tandem with love. Love has sustained us from inception. It’s the emotion that has helped us survive trauma and recover from pain. Until recently, I attributed it to resilience, but it takes love to endure. It has required the greatest sense of sacrifice and humility from the Bordelons. Via Nova’s activism and Charley’s entrepreneurship, we witness the Bordelons’ love for each other extend to their community.
Following conversations with her Aunt Violet and Micah, Charley ultimately decides to create her own Harvest Festival for the Black community. Ownership and the rapport that she’s building with the Black farming community affords her that option. The option to create and flourish in our own spaces negates the impact of marginalization. It lays the foundation for liberation. It’s how we reconcile the “two strivings” of existing as Black and American. Liberation has long been our destination. By highlighting the importance of unity and celebration of one’s own community and culture, “Queen Sugar” is showing us how to get there.