Sure it can be disputed what black/African American culture is. I personally don’t believe blacks have much of a culture in America anymore, thanks to assimilation. When I hear blacks referring to every and anything as ghetto, ratchet, bad, and hood,…I assume this is the Negro people culture if anything. *Never knowing nothing about themselves, but what they’ve been told by the media and brainwashed blacks.
Most people’s concept of Race relies on an artificial construct of relatively recent invention. Since the human race originated in Africa (ca. 150 – 250 thousand years ago) there have been several sub-species of human. The last was called Neanderthal. They became extinct about 30,000 years ago. Since then, there has been only one race: the human race. We are all biologically identical and interchangeable, yet culturally and ethnically diverse and distinct. This cultural and ethnic diversity has been institutionalized during European global colonization from about the 14th century on as categories of Race.
In the colonies that were to become the United States of America, these racial categories came to be institutionalized on the basis of skin color. People were placed in different groups based on skin color (among other differences such as religion). This was a political arrangement made mostly for economic reasons. Indian land had value. African labor produced value, and so on. Therefore these groups became (racial) social classes. Social Class refers to a person’s economic access and opportunity within a social system.
Since society is made interlocking institutions (systems) that control people’s lives, race and class distinctions have concrete consequences for all involved. For some the color based race system would mean rewards – for others it would mean degradation. To be defined as White (and male) resulted in unachieved preference and power. To be institutionally identified as non-White resulted in degrees of disenfranchisement and unrewarded labor. It is a social history of a racist culture.
Culture is – in part – is the set of assumptions and beliefs about the way the world should work. These assumptions and associations govern individual behavior. As I have said, these peoples coming to the lands that would be called the United States were culturally and ethnically distinct. Sometimes – often, actually – the cultural expectations of a people are in conflict with one or more of the institutions of society. They had differing interpretations of how the world should work. It is just that one of the color-coded racial groups would have the (unearned) power to enforce its vision of exclusivity. If one institutionally confirmed group expected the world should work one way – let’s say enslavement – and yet other groups expected the world should work differently – let’s say freedom – then out of that cultural and institutional conflict emerges the incidents of history. It is the interaction between these three – race, class and culture – that we will use to define Black American history. This interaction drives historical events.
And, all too often, the history of African Americans is taught as if bound in the fetters of enslavement – as if the sole identity of Black Americans is one of tragedy. Instead, this text substitutes the triumph of an enslaved people – a people who – though racialized and marginalized – yet continue to challenge the nature of American Justice.
First, what is an African? Second, what is America? And, also, what do I mean by Black? To be Black and American is an international experience. To overlook that fact diminishes both Africans and Americans. After all, more Africans ended up in other parts of the Americas than the small area we now call the United States. To use the words: Black American – to be Black and American – acknowledges a social and cultural dislocation from both Africa and America. Both Africa and America are continents. Each is made of many nations, cultural traditions and societies. Almost all Americans came from elsewhere – decimating and absorbing the indigenous Americans in the process. Each immigrating group retained an identity associated with their place of origin. Only the African diaspora required the purposeful destruction of national, social and cultural identities. Only the forced relocation of Africans required a people to re-invent themselves – and – in the process of this reinvention – American culture has been reinvented. The politics and economics of the African American experience have transformed America. And, it has transformed Africans into Blacks.
Black Americans are not just African any more than other Americans are just American. But, the cultural genocide of American institutions of enslavement stripped Blacks of this self awareness. “Black” may well be an ironic metaphor for this blank spot in what could have been a truly African American identity. Other Americans can proudly self-assert themselves as Dutch-American, or English-American, from Cornwall, or Jicarilla Apache. African Americans must affiliate with an entire continent. This presents certain unusual problems in understanding African American history and identity. No matter how strongly some Black Americans may wish otherwise – contemporary African Americans may well be the most “American” of us all. The African American search for a useful past upon which to build a present full of possibilities – the Black yearning for freedom and self determination – has defined just what it can mean to be American. And, it will be the future of Black Americans that will define the future of the American Dream.
Structurally, technologically and culturally speaking, there is no “music industry” any more. There is also no “movie industry” any more. Those two things have been consolidated into a more generic and all encompassing, “entertainment industry.” But that’s not even the kicker. The kicker is that technically, the entertainment industry is now a sub-division of a much larger and more insidious industry known as the “telecommunications industry.” This is the delivery system under which all media and cultural distribution is being consolidated. Some entities to look out for in this telecommunications act generated morass: Google, Apple, and Access One. This shift presents both new challenges and new opportunities. Those engaged in cultural struggle as well as those engaged in labor struggle are currently smack dap up against that.
Firstly: all of you reading this are Africans. To be human is to be African. It is where all contemporary human life originated. Current American culture views African as synonymous with skin color. We do not know whether ancient Africans were Black in the modern concept of Race (capital “B” and “R”), but they were African.
Africa is where most of what it means to be human originated also. The family, language, astronomy, technology, religion, domestication of plant and animal species (and, perhaps, beer): all African. In brief, the biological, social, and cultural source of all human beings is Africa. Therefore, we are all Africans in some more recent or more distant context.
Exhaustive DNA studies have replicated the biologic origin of humanity as being African. Some of the best evidence places the origin of all modern humans in the womb of a single mitochondrial “Eve” in East Africa around 200,000 years ago (Ehrlich: 94-109). It is from her that we are all descended. She was the mother of all humanity. And, she was African.
Our best current scientific data show Homo sapiens – modern humans – first migrated from their African origins into other parts of the world about 100,000 years ago (Fernandez-Armesto: 13). Already, the primary elements of the civilizations we all know and share were part of the human toolkit. Cultural understanding and complex social organization are well documented in many archaeological sites in and near the continent of Africa (Ehrlich: 205-09).
The next step in the human adventure on this planet is called “Civilization.” It, too, is of African origin. Along African rivers such as the Nile, the Congo, or the Niger, Black people would develop all aspects of complex and sophisticated societies. The well known ancient architectural marvel of the pyramids is the only one of humanities Seven Ancient Wonders to survive. But other less well known African civilizations contributed the bulk of peoples that would one day be called African Americans.
Beyond the physical biology, the size of our brains or the types of tools we make, the things that make us all human – that gives us our humanity – are culture and social relationships. These too are of African origin. Language, religion, and abstract thought, are all elemental to the human being. Families, bands, tribes, city-states, and nations are African firsts. The use and control of fire, organized scavenging, hunting, and gathering, the domestication of plants and animals are all part of our African heritage.
The diverse environment represented in Africa also laid foundations for the diversity of human approaches to survival and prosperity. Twa and !Kung hunter-gatherers share the African continent with Bantu agriculturalists and Maasai pastoralists. These modern examples of our collective African heritage stem from an ancient population that generated far more than we see now. Probably the most ancient and certainly the most original human society and culture of all time is African. Even though some interesting modern interpretations assert that it is in the Middle East or that its people were “White,” or that it was a Mediterranean empire, and even though we know it by the Greek name, Egypt was (and is) African.