Black: A Spectrum? On Culture
When I was younger, I would hear Black people say “We don’t have a culture” and it would confuse me.
When I was younger, I would hear Black people say “We don’t have a culture” and it would confuse me. It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand the pain of being separated from your roots, causing an entire racial and ethnic group to feel detached from their true identity.
While I more than understand the sentiment, I disagree with the idea that Black Americans don’t have a culture. Not only does Black culture very much exist, it has impacted the entire world over centuries.
Culture has been called "the way of life for an entire society." It is what happens when arts, beliefs, and institutions of a population are passed down from generation to generation. If we base the existence of Black culture on this definition alone, black culture is alive, well, and thriving.
Black culture is a result of innovation, curiosity, and desire. A set of unique and nuanced traditions that span the spectrum of basic essentials for daily living. Infused into everything we do, the beauty of Black people lies within our diversity. In school we learn of the everyday inventions attributed to Black people, but we never quite learn how much black culture has influenced world culture.
In music, Black musicians span every genre from Caribbean music to Brazilian to techno. The Rock and Roll sounds of Jimmy Hendrix and Chuck Berry are still heard in movies and television around the world while country artist Jimmie Allen became the first Black male artist to launch his career with a No. 1 song at country radio in 2018.
We’re in hockey, baseball, swimming, gymnastics, NASA, the CIA, and everything — Black people are in everything. This wouldn’t be impressive if there wasn’t the 400 years of historic slavery that kind of gave African-Americans a slow start.
Black food is not just tasty and rich, it creates community. The Sunday dinner spread as seen in movies like Soul Food is a tried tradition and a coveted table to attend.
Black faith has been the foundation for our spirituality and perseverance since the beginning of time. Many Black families can relate to Sunday morning routines, colorful Easter suits, and Baptist shouting. In recent years, Black people have found solace in connecting to ancestral practices and traditions native to African countries.
We have our own dialect. Our inflections in the words we say imply different things depending on how we say it, when we say it, and who we say it to.
Black culture is sisterhood. It’s the Electric Slide at any and every single social event from a cookout to a repass. Black culture is complimenting strangers and family meetings over who’s going to make the yams and mac and cheese for Thanksgiving.
Black culture is excellence, style, and keeping it real. It’s keeping family secrets and never raising your voice to your mother even at 30 years old. It’s loud, animated conversations and flagrant laughter at the same joke over and over.
We often ask the question “Why is culture important?” While that question couldn’t possibly be answered in one sentence, what I can say is that culture keeps us alive. It reminds us we aren't alone; that the places we feel at home and the phrases that feel innate were also home and innate for our ancestors. The work they put in centuries ago still impacts us and enriches our lives today. It’s an honor to cook soul food for family dinner knowing that those ancestors who were slaves did so only with what they could find around them.
So when Black people say “We don’t have culture,” I’m forced to disagree because I have been a witness and participant of it for years. I have embraced it as my own and have been honored to pass it down to my own children.
Black culture is divine and necessary and present in every facet of American history. History we weave into our art the same way school books illustrate the details of war. Black culture is the fabric that keeps us connected despite how far we’re spread across the diaspora. My cousin in Nigeria knows and relates to Black American culture through music and movies as he infuses it into his own life.
Our music, our movies, our hair, our euphemisms, the way we raise our children and comment on why that child doesn’t have a coat on — our culture is our history. And our history is forever evolving as we continue to educate, revise, resist, and rebuild our legacy.