Wednesday, June 27, 2007

a creation in a void

A friend of mine (who happens to be white) expressed to me that the man she’s dating (who happens to be black) made the comment that “African Americans have no culture” which spawned a moving train of thought through your fellow blogger’s head that I haven’t been able to dismiss.

First of all, one has to consider the man she’s dating. Not so much his point of view (he’s entitled to it), but him as a person who happens to be African American; and to take the stance that we have “no culture” is to dismiss all the makings of what American culture truly is. Not to mention one must take the stance of “what is culture” and “what is culture to you?” Therefore it would be difficult to make a blanket statement about this man’s opinion; yet it must be remembered that this type of thinking comes from lack of understanding and lack of research on what defines “culture” and not to mention proves the contemporary embracing of good old fashion denial.

Consider the statement: “African Americans have no culture.” That would mean he should dismiss music, theater, cinema, language, dance, food, education and politics from his life completely and live in a cave. For this seems to be a statement to come, understandably, from the white supremacies before the common black male. For even those who lack a sense of intellectualism can understand the impact that, not only black, but every group one can think of, has had on this country in the creation and adaptation of culture.

What this man seems to have missed is that African Americans are every bit of culture; the set back is, we’re the least practicing of our culture. From our removal from Africa and entrance to the Western World we lost a sense of cultural upbringing; but this doesn’t mean we “have no culture.” It means that we adapted to the circumstances we were presented with and made the best out of it. We were forced to find a new way of life and incorporate our homeland routines into the newfound American life. We found the blues in the fields. We found a new form of comedy in the presents of “Ole’ Massa”; and later “Ole’ Massa” took this comedy and created the Minstrel show that, forever, immortalized the trends of black life, which was soon excepted world wide – in the most important, yet, offensive way, since the Minstrels were not intended for flattery, but for imitation and insults. Yet, as it’s said, “mockery is the biggest form of flattery”; and this proved itself to be true up to right now, even while white people display an admiration for us while consistently holding contempt for black people; and yet for this man to take the stance that we “have no culture” is for him to discredit all the work we put into the building of America. Does he know not of Booker T. Washington? Fredrick Douglass? Bessie Smith? But, oh yeah, “music is the common response” to a statement such as us having no culture; so to include a musician on the list would be to play into the cliché of what “black people are good for”. Yet did he look back to see that there was pride set in our creativity (even with having to submit to the ways of white folks, leading black performers to have to perform in Minstrel shows – blackening their already black faces -- in order to make a dollar?) that gave a sense of hope for upward mobility? Did he miss how Nat Turner (though a crooked preacher) took the initiative, and demonstrated his leadership in the most memorable slave revolt of American history? Does he not realize that Tuskegee Institute was built through the blood, sweat and struggle of Booker T. Washington, despite the odds against him? Should we cancel out the beauty behind the Harlem Renaissance, which brought black people together in a way that has never been repeated (creating the best music, poetry, and literature that this country has ever seen), and gave us a spot of our own in American history? Would the Harlem Renaissance be considered (since it’s cliché to group black people with music) irrelevant because on a surface level it seems like it was only about “the arts” and not about community, way of life, and upward mobility? Community, way of life, and upward mobility were EVERYTHING that that Harlem Renaissance was about, and the music was the celebration and added bonus. All of this is a representation of what culture is about; and all of this is a reminder of what we’ve done to move America forward. Has he not considered Zora Neal Hurston, and her reminder to us about the importance and beauty in black folklore? The folklore tales that was adapted from African heritage (a part of our “culture”, that I guess is nonexistent) with the intent to educate? Should this be dismissed since “African Americans have no culture?”

the behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought, especially as expressed in a particular community or period.

…to see this definition it blows my mind that this man can boldly say that “African Americans have no culture.” Sounds to me like everything described above is EXACTLY what culture is; and yet we live in a generation where we didn’t have to suffer, therefore it’s easy to discredit the blood spilled for the sake of our twenty-first century privileges.

The Harlem Renaissance is the very definition of black culture. The building of Tuskegee Institute (a black college) is the very definition of culture! The influence of Rock and Roll from the roots of The Blues is culture! The origin of hip-hop in the parks of the Bronx is culture! All things started by black people. And to dismiss these, and hundreds and thousands of others (including speech patterns and linguistics) is to admit to one’s own ignorance.

Second of all, music is the culture of all cultures. Music is the greatest gift to the world. Music defines emotion, action, and progression. Music is the worldwide culture that sustains a universal understanding. However it’s a “cliché” to accredit music as a part of African American culture? The corruption comes from those who profit off the music (white people) in contrast to those who create it (black people); and if he’s speaking in terms of the status of contemporary music (“black” music is only considered hip-hop) and how it has become solely a marketing tool, then that’s one thing; but to claim that music doesn’t hold water in the relevance of our culture is an insult and screams “bullshit” from all angles. For this man to say that it’s a cliché to connect black people and music is for him to admit that he doesn’t love music in the first place. Even white musician worth their salt will admit to the influences spawned by black people (unless you’re Sheryl Crowe, who alarmingly, lists the most influential albums in her life and she failed to mention one black artist) and tirelessly make their contributions to the origin. The slaves use to say that “white folks can’t live without the niggers and the niggers can’t live without white folks”, which states the social co-dependency that we have grown to incorporate in our daily lives. In other words: white people KNOW even without saying, where their debts lie in why America has found it’s place in upward mobility. And that reason is because of black culture!

However, it was because my friend is white that this man found comfort in shutting her down when she attempted to disagree with his point. It’s easy for black people to state “it’s a black thang; you don’t understand” and take no responsibility (probably because it’s too “white” to do so) in explaining their point of view to a debatable level and agree to disagree if necessary. It’s the inner privilege that black people have created for themselves, and allows us to play the victim rather than get a deeper sense of why we may feel the way we feel; because if we were to truly study the “why” we would discover that there is very little to get heated about without a conversation. This doesn’t take away from the arguments in the walls of white ignorance (my mother told me as a kid: “You can’t argue with a fool”); but it does break down the walls of our victim hood and allow us to confront an issue head on.

To sum up: African Americans DO have culture. And the reason we know this is because it is a part of everyday life. The problem is, those who lack the eye to recognize it take the gifts for granted; therefore, with a certain type of thinking and certain type of denial, it is easy for some to mistake our, so called, lack of culture as truth.


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About Me

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writer, actor, & producer in training. in 2005, along side my partner in film and best friend since childhood, we produced and executed 3 films. to this day i am still working in "the business" to the best of my abilities and moving forward to the "next level." currently i am producing a film project, co-writing another, awaiting word on a stage play for New York, and pursuing my next one-person show. i'm also in school pursuing my Ph.D in Social Science.