In doing research for this blog, I decided to Google, “What is black culture?” and this was the first paragraph that popped up in the results column:
“African-American culture, also known as Black-American culture, in the United States refers to the cultural contributions of African Americans to the culture of the United States, either as part of or distinct from American culture.”
While this definition came from Wikipedia, I’ve chosen to reject it as an accurate answer to my question. I don’t believe that African American culture refers to the cultural contributions to the culture of the United States. It’s the culture that was created as a result of being oppressed in a foreign land.
I’ve often heard African Americans say they don’t have their own culture and I’ve had to question that statement several times. As a Nigerian girl born and raised in America, I’ve experienced true culture. From the way we dress, to our traditions, language, and dance; I have a clear image of what Nigerian culture looks like. So then I asked myself, what is culture? What is culture but traditions and customs? What is culture but the experiences that we share as a people, as a collective group? What is culture but the language we speak, the way we dance, the style of our presence?
Black people do have culture, but for some reason have been made to believe otherwise. Shared language and isms, macaroni and cheese and collard greens, bright colored suits on Easter, a unique style of dress, hairstyles, dances — that is African-American culture. (From this point forward, I will use the word ‘we’ and ‘ us’ as I speak about black culture. Married to an African American man and raised in metro Atlanta, I consider myself a member of two cultures.)
In an article featured on CNN.com, Justin Simien, the creator of the movie Dear White People, addresses the very real reality that often times black culture is misrepresented by the stereotypes and marketing schemes. Thus,
“Black culture (the misrepresentation) is a lifestyle standard made of assumptions about black identity, often used successfully by marketers, studio heads, fashion brands and music labels to make money. It can be the “cool factor” that makes kids line up for hours to spend their last dime on brand new Michael Jordan sneakers. Or the thing that makes white people call me “brotha” and blast 2 Chainz when I hop in the car.”
He continues to speak about the appropriation of black culture for media and marketing strategy; stating that often times black people are told what their culture is by white executives. I completely understand and he made amazing points.
Black culture has often been seen as a costume or as entertainment for other races. But I would submit that the above mentioned things do not clearly portray the culture of black people in America. It’s time that we recognize real black culture. The culture that stems back to days living on the plantation. Jumping the broom because that was the only way to signify marriage. The creation and foundation of R&B, blues, jazz, and hip hop. The foods that we eat at Thanksgiving and even the way our hairstyles recycle over times. Black culture is about community and even the differences that lay amongst each black person and their families. You can find affluent black families and low income black families, but yet somehow, many of the traditions, foods, music and subtle euphemisms are the same.
Reminiscent of the Rachel Dolezal mishap, we could all identify the correct answers to questions such as “What happens when you forget to take the meat out of the refrigerator?” or “What is the country crock container used for when the butter is finished?” All jokes but also very real. Black culture is more than those memes, it’s inclusive of everything we identify with as a collective community.
As we are able to acknowledge and embrace our culture, we will move from a place of seeking to a place of empowerment. Our children will have a more secure sense of who they are. A pride for their race and ethnicity. They will be able to boldly declare that they are an established people as opposed to an oppressed and displaced people. Black culture does exist; but it will lose it’s wonder if we fail to embrace it with pride. It’s ours and it’s beautiful.