“…once we got here, we were robbed of our names, our language. We lost our culture, our God…” (Public Enemy)
The sports commentator Doug Gottlieb once told the late Kobe Bryant that the only way you are black is if you are from “the hood.”
Gottlieb was reacting to Kobe wearing an “I can’t breathe” T-shirt in tribute to the late Eric Garner, choked to death by New York Police some months prior to Gottlieb’s comment. There was no indictment. You know the story.
Gottlieb did dial it back to his credit and said he joked about the wrong thing. It was one of those moments.
What is Blackness anyway?
As the gospel funk group, The Sounds of Blackness on their song “Optimistic” sings: “the Blackness…”
Blackness is real in America. It has also been controversial.
James Brown’s “Black and I’m Proud.” RUN-DMC’s “I’m Proud to be Black y’all.” Lorraine Hansberry’s “Young, Gifted, and Black.” “Black Power” by the writer Richard Wright. And Audre Lorde’s famous fragment from the poem, “Coal,” “…is total black.”
It should not invoke fear really or controversy or cause heads to turn. It is like any other identity or culture in America.
Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga defines the history of blackness as follows:
In the United States, it is not surprising that African Americans (Blacks) eventually had to say who we are/were. From the days of chattel slavery, and within the racial caste system, African-Americans were defined by those who sought to oppress them.
They were also defined by America’s racial caste system. African people (African Americans/Blacks) were not part of the superior “white” class, whether super rich, middle class, working poor, or just poor. We were always in another class, the lesser class, regardless of our economic status. This system, at one time, was backed by the law but also by customs, local and state.
This is a major part of the racist mess America is in right now. African people, in America, did not really buy into the narrative either. It was forced upon them.
But Blacks in America always knew they had culture and an “identity.” It had come to America with them. They had music, an “oral” tradition, religious observances, food, rituals, customs, family practices, and an overall way of life.
“Black Americans are a cohesive ethnic group with a distinct culture defined by historical experience.”
— Paul Robeson, Jr.
There are likely hundreds of traditions and practices by other American ethnic groups. That is the beauty of this place — its diversity and the freedom to assert that diversity.
Despite an old, diverse, and ancient history and culture that did survive significantly through the Middle Passage to the Americas, somehow the lie was advanced that Africans had contributed nothing to humanity. Nothing. African people were dismissed as less than human and only worthy of being worked to death.
But, African-Americans, here in the Americas, since the 15th century, here in the lands now known as the U.S. since 1619, continue to fight to be themselves. We are Americans. We are also Black (ethnicity) and/or African American (the modern name).
We reshuffled the deck. We made ourselves anew. That definition was declared in the 1960s most profoundly. Before that time, African Americans were “Colored” or “Negro.” You can look back on census records or birth certificates and see it.
Yet, those titles were/are mostly the racial caste construct of America. They are not cultural or historical identities.
It is no different from Irish Americans or Ethiopian Americans. They are Americans. But, what is defining for them is the history, traditions, language, and other defining characteristics.
Over the years, the hyper-focus on identity politically has come under some criticism. The late writer bell hooks was one of the best to examine and write about identity in America.
Yet, identity does not trouble me. I embrace the identity of others as well as myself. Identity is a complex and personal matter.
On the other hand, America’s racial caste system remains an albatross for all Americans and also for new immigrants to this nation. It divides and it might not conquer but it makes exploitation easier.
I have never run from any cultural or historical identity. I am an American. I am African American. I am Black. I am a man of African descent.
I understand why “Black” is capitalized. It is not to diminish “white” but it rejects the caste system rooted in “whiteness.”
It is why my mother and grandmother made spare ribs, greens, and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve. It is why Kwanzaa came into being. It is the barber shop and beauty parlor of the African American communities in America.
It is cornbread, sweet potato pie, and long hand and body greetings when old friends meet. It is words like “bofum” and “errrbody.” It is house parties and the “fish fry.” It is the survival of people in an oppressed society.
This is my explanation of it. I am pretty sure many other people have their own.
This post was previously published on Momentum.
You may also like these posts on The Good Men Project:
|Escape the Act Like a Man Box||What We Talk About When We Talk About Men||Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race||The First Myth of the Patriarchy: The Acorn on the Pillow|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStock