Friday, May 23, 2008

BEING BLACK: Who owns the culture?

So before I begin I’ve got to define culture so that I can use it as the framework of this discussion. Wikipedia defines "culture" (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to cultivate,") as patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance. Culture can be "understood as systems of symbols and meanings that even their creators contest, that lack fixed boundaries, that are constantly in flux, and that interact and compete with one another." Different definitions of "culture" reflect different theoretical bases for understanding, or criteria for evaluating human activity. I’ll alter this a little by saying culture simply means that there are things that various groups of people do to make them unique, not necessarily better or worse than the next being, but different.

With that definition, I think is relatively safe to suggest that being black is a culture. The problem that exists within that notion circulates around who owns that culture or who makes up that culture. Now true, we can break culture up into various sub-groups that can exclude clusters of people. For example, if I post this article on a blog then it’s assumed that the people reading this would be those that participate in this “blogging” culture, there by excluding those that either aren’t interested in the medium or are simply unaware of its existence. My question then becomes who is black if being black removes the actual color of your skin and is defined by general patterns of a people? Very similar to the blog analogy people are given an option to participate in the culture or to exclude themselves from it intentionally or from being unaware.

African-American Cultural Marxism would lead us to believe that, the culture is owned by those that have the power to display it and I can’t say I totally disagree with that notion. Staying as far as I can away from anything religious or spiritual at the moment but if I can’t see it, how do I know its there? Television, radio and any other media outlet that connects to large amounts of people at once has a strong relationship to culture. The people that have control of those outlets have the power to filter out what they don’t want to be shown constructing whatever culture they feel best establishes their agenda, i.e. being late, red Kool-aid, collard greens and neck bones, etc.

Hip-hop culture at times seems as if its got a master lock on what is and is not black culture as if the terms Hip-hop culture and Black culture are interchangeable. There is this invisible line that many participate in where Blacks point at other Blacks that aren’t engulfed in Hip-hop culture and suggest that they’re denying there ethnicity as if the culture they’re embracing at the moment doesn’t belong to them. Does that mean that certain cultures are indicative to a certain type of people and inevitably excluding others that are the minority within that style of living? Maybe that’s why a Black person speaking correctly, being on time and being extremely educated are all traits of a culture not their own. The same notion as if a white person with baggy clothes, bad grammar and gold teeth is equally a disconnection from the culture they’re required to participate in.

When I was in undergraduate school, I remember going on a vacation to Daytona Beach with three or four of my best friends. We had a great week, chasing after girls and enjoying the nightlife. One of the nights we were there we decided to go to this upscale restaurant. I didn’t have anything but jeans and a few nice shirts, but the restaurant required a jacket. One of my friends was about my size and he had an extra jacket to loan me, so I wore it. Without thinking about it we went out to the restaurant, I held a martini in my hand, which was odd because I didn’t drink, I looked the part and I played it, but most of all we had a great time. What’s funny to me is I think of culture in that same vein. Culture is whatever I want it to be. There isn’t a specific manner of thinking, or way of dress I’ve got to limit myself to, I simply embrace what feels right, even if just for the moment. Me being black isn’t up for definition based off cultural stereotypes that in most cases I had no say in defining. I’m black. Period. And the culture I choose to adapt to stems from what I feel best reflects who I am as a person. But who knows, maybe that in itself is just another culture, and until someone contests me, I own that!