BACK TO PERIODICALS
The Errant Origins of Black Culture
by Corey B. Buckner
listen to this as a podcast
I am rooting for everybody black to win. If you've never heard this saying before, it is a statement that we make in the black community to signify solidarity with literally everybody with black or brown skin around the globe. But, is this really a position that all black people everywhere should take, or is this nothing more than assimilation and submission to borders and classifications that non-black people have drawn around the various cultures that modern black people descended from? I believe the biggest misnomer of black and brown-skinned people, particularly in The United States of America, is the idea that a single unified black culture should exist and is the universal standard for black people the world over to aspire to. For those of you who believe that the penultimate achievement of overcoming American slavery and British Colonialism is the reunification of all black people around the world, I have some bad news for you. Black people in Africa were not a single, unified group of people before white people started dragging us off into slavery and drawing their own borders across the continent. Sorry, but we weren't "black people" in Africa. We were various distinct and separate tribes of people who didn't become "black" until non-black skinned people saw and described the whole of the various groups of people on the continent that way.
The concept of black people being one group of people, identifiable by our skin color, was created by the British and The Spanish. They looked at the Bono, Ashanti and Yoruba people and said, "Look at those black people over there," with complete and total disregard for how "those people" saw themselves and one another. Black-skinned people in Africa did not look intra-racially at one another and say, "I'm rooting for all Africans to win." While they may have been able to live peacefully among one another, they did not seek to create a single, black culture; neither did they actively root for everyone who shared the same skin color as them to succeed. It was the act of drawing borders around a plot of land that is modern day Ghana that sought to make those three distinct tribes and cultures one single group of people... black people. Not that those three tribes didn't share some common practices, goals, treaties and enemies; but the idea that they needed to become a single, unified culture was as foreign to them as the notion of German, French and British people determining that because they are all white, that they need to become a single group of people.
This is why I say that Black Culture is a White thing. Hear me out, and let me be clear in saying that what I understand black culture to be is beautiful and I love it. I am very proud to be black; which in the context of my preceding statements is a bit of an odd concept. But, in the modern, post-colonial, post-slavery colloquial context in which I speak today, I genuinely love being black and being a part of black culture. But, one has to consider, what actually is black culture? If in fact we are operating under the created concept that all black people are African people and thus, are a single group of people with a shared culture and heritage; then while I love what I understand black culture to be; I am also guilty of calling other black cultures that I do not agree with, "not black". This is what I call black schizophrenia; the trick that many black people's minds play on us to allow us to both hate and love different black cultures, while still claiming that we are rooting for everyone black.
The truth is, there are many things "black" that I detest. There are many aspects of certain black-skinned cultures that I am honest enough to say that I want absolutely nothing to do with. I am not going to get into a game of one-upmanship by stating those particular cultural practices and explaining why my cultural practices are better. I am simply going to state that no black person accepts every aspect of every black-skinned culture; and all of us are guilty of looking down on or turning our noses up to the cultures of other black-skinned people. Some urban blacks accuse suburban blacks of being soft and aloof. Some suburban blacks accuse urban blacks of being ghetto and ignorant. Across both the urban and suburban lines, you will find multiple opinions on drug and gang cultures. Some see gangs as their culture's heroes in the likeness of Middle Eastern freedom fighters, while others see them more akin to Middle Eastern terrorists. This is not division, this is black normalism in the absence of the borders that were drawn around us in an attempt to create one, single black demographic in the names of Colonialism and slavery.
A major mistake in our thinking in Black communities as it relates to slavery is the notion that it divided us. As if the whole continent of Africa was united and then slavery and Colonialism split us up, and that is why we are not unified today. Nothing could be further from the truth. Black people weren't separated by slavery and Colonialism; we were combined and crudely clumped together without regard for individual tribes, traditions, languages, or religions. Those barbaric practices literally erased the vast variations of cultures that black and brown-skinned people had and forced them to live together as a single group of people. They forced us to intermarry and interbreed with one another; and forbade us from speaking our various languages, instead forcing us to speak the same language. The Ndwandwe and the Zulu did not feel compelled to put down their weapons and become brothers. They were free to keep black-skinned cultures diverse and were free to openly admit that they were culturally averse to one another. Nobody called a Zulu a sellout for not accepting and supporting Ndwandwe cultural practices. To the contrary, each of those cultures were allowed to thrive and strengthen themselves by not allowing their individual cultures to be watered down through forced amalgamation on the basis of both tribes being black.
Therefore, "black people" of today; we need to allow ourselves that same freedom. We need to be free to live in separate and distinct black cultures should we choose to. We need to shed the remnants of slavery and Colonialism and retire the idea of there being one, single black culture. That thinking is a prison that continues to pull all that is spectacular about us individually back to the mean of the watered down, amalgamated group for cultural acceptance. I do not have to like, accept or appreciate everything that crosses BET's airwaves; neither do you have to accept any aspect of a culture that is presented by people with similar colored skin as you. Love what you love and feel free to dislike what doesn't sit well with you. Black people have the right to have separate, distinct and disconnected communities just like people with other skin colors do.
Black Muslims and Black Christians are not obliged to be pushed together into a single community, no more than Anglos and Saxons were obliged to become one, single, amalgamated group of white people. This may rub some people the wrong way, but it is not the responsibility of upper class black-skinned people to reach back and pull every type of lower class black person out of poverty. Like people of other colors around the world, we are free to help those people that we want to help to the degree that we want to help them based on the criteria that best resonates with us. All black people are not obliged to carry the weight and burden of helping all other black people no more than all white people are obliged to help all other white people. Survivor's remorse is a weight that we have witnessed crush the success of many black-skinned people in our lifetimes. For those that remember, it is that weight that infamously crushed the financial wealth of M.C. Hammer and many others.
When we begin to realize that stamping out diversity and creating a single, unified group of people makes us much more easily attacked and targeted by those who want to remove our diversity, we then begin to also realize why it is essential that we embrace our diversity. It is essential for the survival of our communities that we embrace the endless number of incompatibilities that exist among various black cultures; and refuse to let people convince us that the most important thing about us is our blackness. It is essential that the Banks of Bel-Air do not allow themselves to be shamed into being neighbors with The Parkers. It is the right of The Jeffersons on the East Side to see themselves as separate and distinct from The Evans in Cabrini Green. While in each case, each demographic representation would agree that it is beneficial to remain in solidarity against the common enemy that seeks to define us as one single group of people; that enemy will succeed in creating a foe that is easier to control, manipulate and defeat if they erase from us what is separate and distinct.
There was no single treaty for foreigners to offer the Zulu and Ndwandwe tribes because their interests were vastly different. Therefore, foreigners had to deal with each tribe individually according to their cultures, traditions, needs, etc. Yet, in the 2020 Presidential Election, thirsty politicians proudly presented their single "Contract for Black America"... all of black America; and their "Platinum Plan for THE Black Community". Because they have erased our intra-racial diversity, they have succeeded in convincing us that they only need one, single plan to meet the needs of all of us. Now do you see how that high-level manipulation and control has worked?
They didn't take "Africans" and make us slaves. They took people from various tribes, different groups of people who had different cultures, different values and different traditions and made them one, single group of people... SLAVES. They erased their individual cultures and erased their lineages and made them one group of people... SLAVES. They did not do that in order to create a powerful, unified black culture; they did that because it's much harder to make people work together for your purposes when they come from different, sometimes warring tribes. Conversely, it is exponentially easier to control people around your common purpose if you first make them one, single group of people... SLAVES.
Like it or not, black unity wasn't created by black people; and it wasn't created to liberate us from white people. Black unity was created to make a single, controllable group of people. Black unity was created to get upper-class Black people in the South Suburbs of Chicago to feel obliged to vote for the needs of impoverished black people on the West Side of Chicago at the expense of their own governmental needs. Black unity was created and is propagated today so that politicians only need to come up with a single "plan" to add to their platform to pacify the whole of the various cultures of black people that exist in this country. Black unity was created so that we will ask them "what will you do for the black community", and we won't individually ask them, "what will you do for me".
I want you to encourage black people to stop feeling guilt when you look at another group of black people and "clutch your pearls". As an adult black man, a husband, and a father; I am man enough to admit that there are some black people that I do not allow my kids to associate with. There are some black cultures whose values I do not agree with, whose levels of ambition I do not want to rub off on my kids, and some black parents I do not want to influence the minds of my children. There are other black cultures, most specifically the ones I was raised in myself, that I work hard to engross my kids in. There are also other non-black cultures that I make sure have influence on my kids as they age into adulthood because there is more to raising children than reinforcing their race and racial allegiances.
Some black people would call me a "sellout" for choosing not to associate with some black cultures; yet no such criticism is found of the Zulu or Ndwandwe regarding their refusal to intermingle with one another despite also both being black, African tribes who lived in the same region. I want us to know that the ones who are trying to force us to be a single, all-encompassing group of people fear the notion of us acknowledging that black and brown-skinned people are as varied and diverse as people with other skin colors. They hate the idea of having to roll out more than one Black History Month commercial to pander to us all. They despise the idea that some black people will be offended if they use a gospel choir to represent us, and another group of black people might reject them using a homosexual to represent us, and another group of black people might reject their choice to represent us twerking, and another group might despise them still referring to our slave heritage. They fear that reality, so first they tell us that it is all black, and then they tell us that we must embrace everything that is black. Then they throw it all in one commercial in the month of February and call it a "Celebration of All Things Black". And we all cringe and smile at each other, pretending that we accept all those things they call black, but that we individually don't identify with.
Blackness is a notion that was forced on us by Colonizers and slave traders, and it's time for us to embrace our right to be separate and diverse groups of people. Like the Native Americans that the settlers defined as Indians (singular), who themselves were determined to remain The Sauk, Seminole, Sioux, Navajo, and Cherokee people (plural and distinct). They did not blend and amalgamate into a single group of people, and as a result the American Government has to deal with them on a tribe-by-tribe basis on many issues. We have that right too. We are not obliged to become a single entity and have the right to seek our own interests in our own communities and have separate and distinct cultures. We are not bound by our skin, as it was not us who literally bound us together by that skin in the first place.
In closing, there is a saying that states that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the spirit of that saying, I want to state openly and publicly that I stand in total solidarity with anyone who makes an enemy out of those who make an enemy out of people with black skin. In that way, I pray that one day the whole of black people around the world can stand together in unity and vanquish those who are ignorant enough to group together, classify and make enemies of people solely based on of skin color. Likewise in the spirit of that saying, if I am free to make unity with those who are my friends, those who are my associates, and those who are my enemies; I am also free to make those classifications between the people I stand with. Separate from that common enemy I am free to view people who share my skin color as friends and as enemies. I am free to view the cultures of people who share my skin color with admiration or disdain. I am free to view the cultures of people who share my skin tone as desirable or detestable. Black people, we are as free as the Germans, French and British; the Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese; The Sioux, Cherokee and Sauk; and the Zulu, Ndwandwe and Setswana to be separate, distinct, compatible, and incompatible people despite sharing skin color.
It is our right to be separate and distinct tribes that extend beyond the borders that our oppressors have tried to use to clump us all together. We are free to establish our own treaties and embargos against one another. We are free to determine which Black American tribes are acceptable to influence the minds of our young, and which ones our children are to avoid and ignore at all costs. Black people, we are free to look up to one another and free to look down on one another just like our ancestors did. Black people, we are not all descendants of a generic, nondescript African people. We are the generational offspring of separate, distinct African tribes; each with its own rich, well-defined culture and history. Our ancestors fought to their deaths to maintain their distinctions from one another and to not be clumped together as one, single, generic black or African people; and we should be doing the same.