The Blog

The Island of Martha's Vineyard

To the general public Martha's Vineyard is known as a small island off of Cape Cod recognized for its beautiful beaches and cute towns. Yet behind the scenes, Martha's Vineyard is also distinguished as a vacation spot where African-Americans on the East Coast often frequent.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Early this summer a very touching film called Jumping the Broom was released to theaters. The movie features academy award winner Angela Bassett as well as other respected actors such as Loretta Devine, Paula Patton, Meaghan Good and Mike Epps. Jumping the Broom follows the story of an elegant wedding that joins together two Black families from very different backgrounds as they vacation on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Although the majority of the film was not actually shot on the Vineyard, the plotline is endearing and the actors are excellent. One of the most intriguing aspects of this movie is the portrayal of the wealthy family who is hosting the wedding on Martha's Vineyard. To the general public Martha's Vineyard is known as a small island off of Cape Cod recognized for its beautiful beaches, cute towns, and famous celebrity sightings. Yet behind the scenes, Martha's Vineyard is also distinguished as a lush vacation spot where African-Americans on the East Coast often frequent during their summers. There is a whole culture on the Vineyard that is not generally discussed in pop culture with exception of films like Jumping the Broom or the 1994 adaptation of Black life on the Vineyard known as The Inkwell.

As a person who is often labeled a "Vineyarder" who wears Black Dog sweatshirts in the off-season and has a MV bumper sticker on her car, I have grown up visiting this island every summer. I have recognized that in the Black community, Martha's Vineyard has attained this "boushy" association. Many have built the island up as this elitist vacation spot where wealthy Blacks network and build from their highly successful connections. Several believe that some of the East Coast's most successful Black families vacation on this island while their children bond with each other, ultimately forming an unspoken type of elitist club or pedigree that is very difficult to get into. When I speak to my peers and mention that I may be going up to the Vineyard in the summer, they automatically have this image of me sitting on a porch dressed in white, drinking tea and schmoozing with water crackers. The thought of that alone is comical, and I am almost shocked every time I hear one's perception of a Black girl's summer on the Vineyard. Honestly though, I have to say that the wealthy image many have in their heads is very much a part of the island... but it isn't my idealized vacation on the Vineyard. I can confidently say that I have only just recently witnessed some of the wealthy Vineyard behavior last summer, and I have only been visiting this island for about... 20 years.

For me, the island has always been a relaxing, almost sacred place where I could spend quality time with my family. There is this suave, artistic element to Martha's Vineyard that is almost untouched and sacred. If you take a walk through the back roads in Oak Bluffs you can almost feel it... this calm, sweet sense of relief that helps you get your head together after a long summer of mayhem in the hectic city. The Vineyard is the place where you would take an afternoon drive just to listen to that new Erikah Badu CD, simply because you can. It is a place full of infinite time where you can let go and meet new people, enjoy clams on the beach, go for a bike ride, or just window shop for a day. For my family a typical day on the Vineyard would begin with brunch at Artcliff (this amazing restaurant up island) followed by an afternoon of bumming on the beach. That's about it. No schmoozing, no picnics at the country club with "Muffy," no wine tasting events on the patio... just chill time with the family. Sometimes there would be a twist to the day, if we casually ran into my uncle and cousins in town, or decided to grab a football and play with strangers on the beach, yet the island was essentially a location for R&R. There was no pressure to entertain others, make an impression, or network about your thriving business. I have always envisioned the Vineyard as a place where people can really be themselves without the social pressures of succeeding within a network of highly accomplished individuals.

Now I'm a young adult and I know a variety of families who are also known as Vineyarders and vacation throughout the summer. I have to say that I have definitely run into people who very much embody the elegant image of Angela Bassett in Jumping the Broom. Those interactions with the somewhat wealthy Vineyarders have generally been entertaining and beneficial. I have visited a couple wine tastings or Black social networking events, yet whenever I attended those social engagements I always felt as if I was transported off the island for short period of time. For the hour I may have been schmoozing on a private boat, I was secretly ready to jump off a dock and swim to refuge on the beach. Now don't get me wrong, these classy events some hold at the Vineyard are wonderful, yet it's just not exactly my favorite image of the island. I guess Martha's Vineyard, just like any place in the world, has several different aspects to it, several sides that can be photographed and judged. Overall though, the Vineyard is really just what you make it to be. One shouldn't assign labels to it until he gets a feel for which part of the Vineyard he identifies with. Although, if I absolutely had to associate Martha's Vineyard with one word, it would definitely be paradise.