Black Americans DO have a culture

January 26, 2011 at 8:11 PM | Posted in Ah C'mon!, Don't be a Dummy, Education | 14 Comments

I had a provocative discussion with my friends @lovemecca and @chewchronicles about the amazing book “The Book of Night Women.” We discussed our love for the book and the plot and storyline along with issues brought up in the book. The conversation turned to colonization, culture and finally race relations as it pertained to the two aforementioned topics. The book was about slaves in Jamaica and the history of the island’s colonization. My Ghanaian girlfriend, read the book and said the book was probably a biography of her family. It talked about the Ashanti tribe and there was even a town in Jamaica that was similar to her last name. She recently went to Jamaica with the book and was telling a waiter about it and he tuned out and walked away when she spoke about the slave history. In another incident she said a Jamaican lady she knows says “Jamaica is such a backwards country, I am British.”

I told Steven and Mecca some West Indians (not all) would be more apt to claim they are the nationality of their colonizers than admit they are descendants of African slaves, some even go as far as to not even acknowledge they are Black, I said it’s because they resent being grouped in with Black Americans. Steven said, The Black American experience is NOT the (only) Black Experience. I agreed. I have seen this shocking phenomena time and time again. I have never heard a Black American refer to themselves as English or British. The insanity needs to stop. Blacks in their respective colonized countries did not spring from the mountains, they were brought there some way or another. I simply cringe and die inside (sometimes my Haitian girlfriend and I laugh and point) whenever I hear a Haitian refer to themselves as French or a Jamaican say they’re British. Legitimately, there ARE Haitians and Jamaicans born in those respective countries but that fact does not apply to those who do this.

Steven and Mecca said it is similar to the Black American phenomena of claiming Indian (Native-American) in their blood. They went on to both say that the true story is a lot of slaves were raped, thus Black Americans do tend to be mixed with European blood, and it may be less painful to illustrate that a grandparent took up with a Native American (which did happen, although not as much as people may describe) versus saying their great grandmother was raped by a slave-master. Expounding on this, I added that the question “are you fully black” makes absolutely no sense because the Black race is such an inherently mixed race, given colonization, the slave trade and the diaspora, that the concept doesn’t even exist anymore, and hasn’t existed for a very long time. I said really, Black Americans should start taking more ownership of their culture. There is an established Black American culture and it should be celebrated, not diminished.

The fact is, the slave trade, and colonization is a huge part of the history of many people of color. The Spanish and Portuguese colonized Latin America and some of the West Indies. The English, Dutch, Swedes, Danish and French colonized the West Indies. Everyone in Europe exploited,raped and pillaged colonized Africa. Colonizers brought slaves over to these “colonies” and oppressed the indigenous people that were there already. They raped the slaves, they raped the indigenous people. Some married others, others pro-created with the next. A mixture was the result. An abundance of mixtures from African, European and Indigenous resulted in all of these colonies. Spanish-speaking countries included. This is the same EXACT story of America. The English brought slaves and oppressed the Native Americans. So what makes people of color that were born in these “foreign” countries have their own distinct culture and not the people of color born in the U.S.? The history is exactly the same. Exactly. Ebonics is essentially a pidgin language. Haitian Creole is also a pidgin language, called “the language of the slaves.” Creole on any of the islands are all pidgin languages. They all followed the model of their colonizer’s tongue. What’s the difference of the island pidgin language versus the American pidgin language? There is none.

A bit of history:

Creole resulted from African slaves’ efforts to speak the French that they heard when they arrived in the colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). Slaves came from all over West Africa and spoke many different languages. On any one plantation, several African languages were spoken. Also at that time, most of the French people in Saint-Domingue spoke French dialects and everyday spoken French. That type of French, called Popular (common people’s) French, differed a lot from the French spoken by the ruling classes in France called Standard French. The slaves, seldom able to communicate with fellow slaves in a common African tongue, tried to learn Popular French. Slaves who arrived later, especially field slaves who had little contact with French speakers, tried to learn the approximative variety of Popular French the other slaves spoke rather than Popular French itself. Over time, this approximative form of French became more and more different from the French varieties and came to be recognized as a language in its own right–Creole. It is also interesting that it was picked up by the whites and became the language used by all those born in the colony.

And this is the way the Creole languages of other countries came to fruition as well. So let me beat this horse until it is dead. The operative word in the term the “language of the slaves,” is the word slaves. African slaves. From the continent of Africa. If Haitians are descendants of slaves and so were Black Americans, wouldn’t that make their history (and racial make-up) pretty similar? Makes sense right? Facts usually do. Moving on.

There was a huge uproar after @QuestLove twitpic-ed a menu for Black History last year. It consisted of fried chicken, collard greens and black-eyed peas and if memory serves correctly, cornbread. @TheOtherWiseMan saw nothing wrong with it, as did I, citing if it were Mexican night and the menu consisted of tacos nobody would have made a peep. He had an immensely valid point there. Culture is defined as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.” Practices can be tied to the food that an individual of a particular culture eats. It can also be attributed to music they listen to and holidays they observe. Would it be safe to assume all Black Americans eat fried chicken and chitlins? No. Would it be safe to assume all Latinos eat pernil or rice and beans? No. But these components are definitely part of each respective culture, just as ackee and saltfish is part of Jamaican culture and curry (which was brought over from Indian indentured servants who were brought over by different European powers) is part of West Indian culture. I don’t see what the big fuss is about honestly. In no way does this depict Black Americans as a monolith. Again, you have to look at the history.

In colonial times, hogs were slaughtered in December, and how maws or ears, pigs feet, and neck bones were given to the slaves. Until emancipation, African-American food choices were restricted by the dictates of their owners, and slave owners often fed their slaves little more than the scraps of animal meat that the owners deemed unacceptable for themselves. Because of the West African tradition of cooking all edible parts of plants and animals, these foods helped the slaves survive in the United States.”

And a lot of Latino cuisine can be attributed to Africa as well as Europe and the Indigenous populations. So why be outraged if a Black History menu consists of these things? Take ownership of it. Celebrate it. It’s yours. Know that Black Americans made jazz and rap and hip-hop and rock (just to name a few) and you may like collared greens or you may not and you have your own vernacular that you may or may not speak. It is Black Americans who afforded foreign-born Blacks to immigrate to this country freely. It is the Black American Civil Rights Movement that allowed me to get an education and work in the field (no pun intended, *snicker*) that I want and have the freedom to go home and speak Spanish with my parents and eat my rice and beans and plantains (which originated in Africa). Steven pointed out that although it may seem like people of color from different countries are totally different, our history tells us otherwise. We are tied in ways many do not even know, and what ties us together is greater than what separates us. Haitians greatly influenced New Orleans culture. In 1709 after the Haitian Revolution that ended French rule and gave Haiti its independence 90% of the Haitian refugees settled in New Orleans. You want to find out more of these interesting tidbits, people of the Diaspora? Do some research to know your history, but most importantly be proud of the culture that your history cultivated.

Related: “I had no idea it would resonate the way it did.”
Related: Dude, the whole concept of race is made-up

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dash, Dash. Dash said: Oh you guys gotta read this: @chewchronicles @lovemecca Black Americans DO have culture http://bit.ly/fJFjCJ […]

  2. Excellent post. You hit every point we discussed and more.
    This topic can even be expanded to what people intepret as “Black American culutre”. Black American culture is diverse in itself.
    Aside from ebonics, we have “gullah” and the “gullah culutre” created by the slaves isolated in South Carolina islands.
    We also have Creole, spoken by blacks in the Lousisana area. And also the cuisine.
    People of the African Diaspora need to embrace all aspects and the beauty of our culture. Our culture is one of our greatest strengths.

  3. My sentiments exactly. I could not have said this any better. A Black American culture exists and it is nothing to be ashamed of or to be shunned.

  4. Just when we read something that could take us 10 steps forward, we get something that sends us 20 steps back.

  5. Great post indeed. I think it’s an extension of mental slavery placed upon Black Americans. Yes, based on the foods we were fed during slavery, we by and large like fried chicken, collard greens and cornbread. It’s the shame we need to eliminate. That shame is holding us back from truly taking over the world like the true royalty we are!

  6. You could’ve squeezed 3 blog posts out of this one! You touch on several topics: 1) aftermath of colonialism on a personal scale 2) cultural parallels among the black diaspora 3) power of African American cultural & ethnic identity

  7. Definitely applaud you for this post! I am glad someone is trying to learn more about the history!!

  8. […] Girl Crush Related: Dude, the whole concept of race is made-up :rolls eyes and walks away: Related: Black Americans DO Have Culture Related: The problem with stereotypes, is not the stereotype at […]

  9. I love your writing. Very interesting take on African American culture and lack there-of. There is an article in my blog by Prof George Ayite. He is trying to explain the same issue, but misses several points along the way. Check it out.!!!!!

  10. […] Keeping the Reality Tee on Dude, the whole concept of …Black History Month:… on Dude, the whole concept of …Black History Month:… on I’m not African-American…Black History Month:… on The problem with stereotypes i…Black History Month:… on Black Americans DO have a… […]

  11. […] Black History Month: Africans in Latin America Related: Black Americans DO have a culture Related: I’m not African-American, I’m Black. Related: My Girl […]

  12. I don’t think the tendency of Black Americans to claim Indian descent is nearly as absurd and bigoted as the tendency of Whites to play the “1/256th” Cherokee card, what with the seminoles of course native-black relations have not been totally positive as we can see from the poison spring massacre but that only shows the fallacy of regarding Indians as monolith.

  13. And of course the egalitarian maroon societies and Blacks who were involved in pirate republics (though libertatia was fiction) shows that Black Americans have no shortage of things to be proud of.

  14. Sistah there are more oral accounts of african runaway slaves ending up with indigenous peoples than we have been told, but i appreciate you and your work..

    Chief eagle spirit dancing black and cherokee indian…


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