"How would you describe Black Culture?"
That's the question I asked my dear friend and roommate, Shemica. She and I had a deep discussion about this topic last night, a conversation that lasted more than two hours.
I told her about a Facebook post I read earlier that day in which a person argued for "a physical separation into two very distinct black communities" (source). By doing so, this would mean having two separate cultures of Black Americans. His basic premise went as such:
"Black Americans (the original American culture which was created post emancipation of slavery and prior to the liberal systems "War on poverty/") will have our own communities, and the African Americans (Jesse Jackson's hybrid culture which gained significance during the turbulent 1980's) will continue to have their white liberal plantations. The Black Americans will thrive and progress as strong families and bonds are forged and new communities are eventually formed by us. The African Americans will continue murdering each other and bastard breeding in their white liberal plantations while simultaneously searching for racism and white 'supremacy' under every rock to explain their culture's misery, chaos and dysfunction." (Source) - Robert Townsend
Initially, she found the post a bit offensive. As a Black woman, raised by a middle-class family, being called African American was never a bother to her. I believe she, like other Americans who identify as such, saw this title as her willingness to associate with African culture.
I then mentioned that some time ago, I personally decided to stop calling myself African American.
I'm not from Africa and neither are my parents or grandparents. In fact, on my mother's side, my grandparents and great grandparents were considered "mulattoes," so who's to say my direct lineage came from Africa? After all, dark-skinned people have always been in every part of the world, even North America long before slavery.
I consider myself American with brown skin. People only assume all dark-skinned people today are descendants of Black slaves simply because of our skin color. But that is not always the case.
I call myself Black American, because I love how that phrase was used as a term of empowerment for people who looked like me. I can identify with that struggle of the Civil Rights Era because my family lived through it.
So, for me, calling myself African American, when there are people in this country whose immediate family are literally from different African countries...it feels a bit inauthentic for me to take such a title.
Now, that's just me. Other Black Americans may not feel the same way I do, and that's fine.
This conversation with Shemica, as I mentioned, lasted a while, especially as I began explaining to her that I don't see Black Americans having any unique culture today.
There's no distinct tradition or mark that we have, which would make me feel proud to pass down to Aaliyah.
There are American traditions that I give to her: celebrating national holidays, honoring our Black heroes, elements such as that.
But there's nothing I can find distinctive about Black American Culture that I want to give to her, because, as far as I can tell, our "culture" is being defined by mainstream media, stereotypes, and other propaganda.
Our culture is indicative of adverse single motherhood, male emasculation, violence, and blind allegiance to the Democratic Party.
If that is not our culture, then what is?
And if those of us who don't fit within this mold of what it means to be "African American" or "Black American" according to the collective image, then shouldn't we have the right to break free and form our own culture?
I explore this topic and more in today's post.
What is Culture?
Now, in case you are bothered by my post's introduction, let me use several working definitions of "culture" so you see what I mean.
According to Merriam-Webster, culture is:
Let me expound upon this further:
My roommate took the night to ponder these questions, and the next day, she determined the following:
"Victimhood is the culture of Black Americans as a whole."
Her assessment is exactly the same conclusion I developed when I first brought up the conversation.
On a collective front, Black Americans, for the most part, spend so much of their time and energy focused on oppression from systems, oppression from White people, oppression, oppression, oppression.
Then they take those stories of oppression (and not triumph) and condition their children to see the world in the same light.
When any Black American deviates from this collective thought, they are accused of "not representing the people." They are told they are "acting White." And I know this because I watched my father, who forbade the culture of victimhood in our home, endure backlash for his stand.
I argue that if there's such a push to maintain the culture of victimhood, then there should be an equal push to create a separate culture (with a new name and a new set of shared beliefs) within Black America that embraces victory and triumph.
Free Blacks vs. Black Slaves
When we take a look at slavery in America, we find two distinct Black cultures within the nation.
On one hand, there were a company of freed Black people, who, depending on their geographical location, typically enjoyed the same basic rights as other Americans.
Thousands of free Black people owned slaves.
Many owned land.
Many joined the army.
Many married and established functional families.
Many started their own churches, which became a critical component of their economic, moral, and social lives.
By all accounts, to be free and Black meant the possibility of enjoying benefits not ascribed to other Black people.
When we consider the lives of Black slaves, however, we see something totally different, and rightly so.
Slaves were property, not people.
They had no rights.
They could be raped, beaten, killed, and sold off at a moment's notice.
Slaves were completely dependent on their masters to provide food, clothing, and shelter.
Although some tried to establish families, to get married, and to raise their own children as they desired, they simply could do nothing without their master's permission.
Slave women, for example, were characterized as breeder women, thus making them susceptible to rape; and according to the laws regarding children born to slave women, their kids--even the ones whose fathers were their masters--became the master's slaves.
Imagine, for a moment, you are living in both worlds.
On one hand, you have freedom to do as you please.
On the other hand, you are limited in everything simply because of the color of your skin.
Such opportunities or lack thereof have a way of affecting one's psyche.
And when those experiences are passed down from one generation to the next, we see a cycle of behavior that isn't too often conducive to one's life if all you know is oppression.
Black Conservatives vs. Black Liberals
My historical reference of the free Black and Black slave is applicable to Black Americans today.
What the nation is currently witnessing, thanks in large part to more Black Conservatives expressing their views via social media, is a stark divide within the general Black population.
On one side, you have a group of Black Americans who ascribe to a way of thinking and behaving that has resulted in dysfunction.
These individuals are consumed with hatred towards America for its treatment of Black people in the country. They speak of racism like it's a plague in this nation today. They focus on limitations based on their color. They erect barriers in their minds, which then leads to what many call "mental slavery."
These individuals embrace a type of culture that is OK with depending on the government for assistance and survival. They wear victimhood as a badge of honor. They have no problem letting politicians or other people think for them.
While they have managed to survive and even cultivate a life within those boundaries, they seek not other opportunities that would cause them to prosper beyond measure.
On the other side, you have some Black Americans who think differently, who see our history in America as a story of victory and triumph. They focus much of their attention, not on the White Man and all he did to oppress us, but on the miraculous wonders Black people accomplished during rough times.
They relish in stories told of Madam C.J. Walker, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Black Wall Street, and many others. They do not ignore the history of slavery in this country; but they have a way of seeing everything from an enlightened perspective.
They love hearing about these heroes who, against all odds and in the face of overt racism, learned to thrive on their own because they had the will to win.
This, essentially, is the bedrock of the Conservative movement among some Black Americans today. Yet, this frame of thinking is considered "too White" or "too fanciful" for those who remain locked in one image of Black America.
Media Project One Image of Black America...and That's a Problem
I remember this one time, while sitting in my Chicano Studies class at UC Davis, my professor asked this question to all the students: "Why do you think the Cosby Show was so problematic?"
A White student raised her hand and said, "Because that show didn't truly represent the Black family."
I looked at that girl and wanted to smack her, but I maintained my decorum, raised my hand, and gave the class my response: "The Cosby Show is a representation of the Black family. Both my parents are married. We live in a middle-class community. My Black friend also has a similar type of family. Her mother is a lawyer and her father is a Dentist, my Dentist, with his own successful practice back home."
The classroom went silent for a moment, and the professor proceeded with his next topic.
It's interesting to me that so many people assume the culture of Black Americans is indicative of a dysfunctional, broken home.
They assume we have no intelligence, no moral rectitude, no "class."
It doesn't occur to some people that shows like The Cosby Show are actual representations of the Black family; and the reasons for this is because most people derive their understanding of Black culture from media.
They watch the news.
They watch these debased television shows.
They look at papers and magazines.
They witness Black moguls emulate these images, making them believe this is the true culture of Black Americans.
Then they formulate an opinion (usually a stereotypical one) about that group based on how it is represented.
This is a problem; yet it explains why media would be the same agent used to crush any thought that perhaps not all Black people are and think the same.
By now, you've heard about CNN and its recent attack against Kanye West.
Don Lemon(ade) and his gang performed a high-tech, public lynching on West in hopes of downplaying his impact on Black Americans who want to break free from the culture of victimhood.
They hate that this mogul, who is now in a place where he wants to see love conquer all, wants to work with President Trump to bring actual change to Black communities like in Chicago.
West, who considers himself a free thinker, refuses to allow racism (an invisible wall) stop him. He refuses to acknowledge its power, thus making him more powerful than it.
West, by all accounts, would be considered a "free Black man," because he made the choice to be free.
And any Black American who decides to do the same thing is considered "a traitor to the race," an "outsider to the community" because he or she no longer aligns with what it means to be "Black."
A Difference in Mentality Calls for a Distinction in Culture
When I shared with Shemica my support of having two separate cultures represented within the Black population, she initially thought I was trying to disassociate myself from African history. In her own experience, she has witnessed a number of Black people looking down upon Africa as if it's a continent full of poverty and disgrace.
I shared with her that my decision has nothing to do with that.
My desire to see this "divide" or distinction is so those of us who ascribe to a different way of thinking and behaving can establish a culture that is uniquely ours; something we can proudly share with those of like faith; a unique culture that can be represented more visibly.
Personally, I'm tired of people assuming all Black people are the same and think the same. I'm tired of Black Culture being presented as wild, sexually deviant, unintelligent, and always oppressed. While it is true our representations in mass media have improved, still, the overwhelming majority of these images focus on victimhood.
This, of course, is simply my analysis of the issue.
All throughout American history, we have seen two distinct Black cultures, two types of Black people, and at least two different ways in which these cultures have been represented in media.
For the most part, Black Conservatives have been demonized as not "truly representing the correct image of Black Americans."
And those who preach the inferiority, oppression message typically get praised.
This is a problem, a major one.
But I can see that with the rise in conservatism among Black Americans during the Trump Era, a lot of this is coming to an end.
The question is, will Black Americans who break away from the culture of victimhood be willing to establish a new set of cultural forms that we can proudly transmit to the succeeding generation?
A culture that embraces:
This culture isn't a separatist one in which no one is permitted to join.
Rather, just like freed Blacks worked towards bringing Black slaves into freedom, those who ascribe to this new type of Black Culture would willingly welcome any Black American who wishes to escape the "plantation."
I argue not only is there a need for this, but we will see this new cultural movement manifest in the near future. This is certainly something I'd be willing to pass down to my daughter.
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