Hopefully this post will not seem controversial. I feel that this post and a subsequent blog series which will be ongoing over a period of time, will be relevant to the vast nationwide (and even worldwide) online community. It seems people have a lot of ideas about what “black culture” is in regards to dysfunctional behavior, crime, the stereotypical view of what interests all or a majority of black Americans are “into,” our musical tastes, speaking patterns, and others. Many people, including friends, associates and unknown posters online frequently make false, stereotypical perceptions about what it means to “be black” and seek to define “black culture” as culture-less or totally encompassing of negative, criminal behaviors. When these individuals are asked to define “Black Culture” they usually have no response except crime and a perceived lack of education by black Americans.
This post is be the first in a series about “Black American Culture.” I choose to use “Black American” as a description for myself and the demographic, though I have no objection to the label of “African American.” My personal view is that I am an American who happens to be black. Blacks in America have a unique, distinguished sub-culture that is almost entirely different from any African cultures (which are many) on that continent. While I do not look down upon any African tribal cultures, I also recognize that not having an African culture to “own” does not mean that I am culture-less or that my culture as a black American is in any way “less” meaningful than those of the African continent.
With this series, I hope to educate readers about the fact that blacks in America do have a defined, beautiful, longstanding, inspiring culture. Our culture is just as good as any African culture. Our culture is not steeped in dysfunction or in anyway inferior to any other ethnic or racial group on this planet.
This first part in the series will focus on the definition of “culture” and which cultural elements, attributes, and traditions are prominent in Black Culture in America.
Culture – Merriam Webster
5 a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time <popular culture> <Southern culture>
c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization <a corporate culture focused on the bottom line>
d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic <studying the effect of computers on print culture><Changing the culture of materialism will take time … — Peggy O’Mara>
The above highlights the 5th definition of the noun of “culture” from Merriam Webster. This definition will be the focus on the discussion of Black Culture in this series. As shown above culture can be summed up to being the historical characteristics, behavior, activities, and practices of a particular group – in this case that group would be Black America.
As I have explored just by focusing on black Toledo via my genealogical research, there are many specific characteristics, behaviors, activities and practices that have been displayed by blacks in this area that coincide with the above for blacks in other parts of this nation.
My genealogical research has lead me to people and places in Black America and in America in general, that I had never known about. They have been shocking, inspiring, agitating, and comforting. I personally believe that I love genealogical research so much because it truly shows the commonality of all humans in this country especially in relation to being an American and in the desire to live a life of freedom.
Based on my studies, Black Culture is made up primarily of the following elements (in no particular order):
- Social Uplift/Activism,
- Education and Intellectualism, and
- Courage in the face of adversity/Determination
Below is a snippet of information that will be expanded upon in greater detail over the course of this series:
Nearly all forms of “American Music” were either created by or heavily influenced by black Americans.
Literature, from the oral and written tradition have had a huge impact on developing and defining black culture in relation to sharing the experiences and rich cultural background of black Americans
Visual and Performing Artists have also had a huge impact on disseminating what it means to “be black” in America.
Within black America there have always been debates about the creative aspects of the demographics – whether artists should create their art with the “race” in mind or whether artists should only focus on their art as a means to express their experiences of being black in America or just “being” and individual who happens to be black. This internal debate shall also be explored in the series.
In America today black Americans are considered the most religious demographic in the country. About 90% of black people in America state that they are adherents to a particular religious faith or are “spiritual” in some way. Faith has played an important part of the attitude of perseverance prevalent in black American culture.
Since the end of the Civil War in particular, there have been debates in black America about the role of religion and whether or not it is predominantly good or predominantly bad for the demographic.
The series will explore the current religious leanings of the black American public and trends in the adherence to particular religious faiths or denominations. It will also explore those black intellectuals (both lesser and well known) and their religious faith.
Black Americans in this country, even during the trying centuries of slavery, have always had a deep connection to our families and close knit communities. I would dare say that all black Americans would understand the concept of a “play” family where you bring a beloved friend into your life as a “sister” or a “brother” or a “cousin” and even reference these people in such a way that people like myself, a black American who does genealogical research, are always surprised to find out that “Auntie _____” actually was just your grandmother’s best “sister-friend!”
The series will explore the importance of family for black America and look at ways at how family has changed from the mid 20th century forward as a result of the Great Migration, the now Reverse Great Migration and other movements and events in between. It will also look at the ways in which recent historical epidemics such as those with drugs of health conditions have had an effect on the black family.
This aspect of black culture is one that is the most widely known about due to the dramatic climax of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movements in America in the mid to late 20th century.
Today social activism in many ways has changed dramatically since the 20th century. This portion of the series will focus on the roots of activism in the black community, from the earliest beginnings of this country, to the present and the use of technology. It will also focus on the lesser known role of black women in social uplift and activist organizations. The role of economics as a part of social uplift will also be examined.
EDUCATION AND INTELLECTUALISM
It is commonly written and spoken about online, in media and via personal conversations that black Americans are not dedicated to educational advancement, even though statistical analysis from the 1970s does not prove this assertion. Instead the results of standardized tests or in the past IQ tests are used to show a seemingly lack of education and intelligence amongst the black demographic.
The series will explore this history along with exploring some of the better known intellectuals and black artists who have spoken and written on this subject.
COURAGE IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY/DETERMINATION
Black Americans as a demographic have always been determined to enjoy all of our American freedoms as defined by the constitution. This spirit of perseverance is evident in our demographic from the earliest eras of our country’s history and is a defining part of what it means to be black in America. Even when faced with overtly oppressive laws and social treatment, throughout the history of black America, a dedication to equality and courage in the face of adversity has been a prominent feature of the demographic.
The debate about what it means to “make it” as a black American will also be discussed in the series as it relates to our present time period. What are the end goals of moving forward for the demographic? What are we moving forward to?