Recently I had a somewhat tumultuous debate when I stated that African Americans do not have any culture in America.  There were some who strongly disagreed with me, naturally because, we feel at least what we deem as culture is simplified through our music, through our style, through the HBCUs and various African American museums that display our notable time here in America.  This ideal however does not notate culture in its rawest and viable sense.

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As a young black girl growing up in the suburbs of Washington, DC I was exposed to Black culture on a normal basis or so I thought.  I feel growing up in the 70s gave me some insight to ‘our’ culture.  I remember my mother having Earth Wind & Fire, Funkadelic, and Rick James albums that rendered a visual and ear bending release of Blackness in this sedated white world.  Back then, you did live in Black neighborhoods, you knew your neighbors and you went to Black schools where you were typically the majority.  So I grew up with a strong sense of that identity.  My father was a huge James Cleveland fan, he had stacks upon stacks of his albums, Mighty Clouds of Joy etc, of when Gospel music, was truly the real thing.

In our food, we know that soul food thing, hamhocks, pigfeet, collard greens, sweet potato pie, macaroni and cheese, I mean, these are the hallmarks of Black culture, it is what we deem as ours, no matter how damaging this food may be to us.  We know this food was carried down from our imprisoned ancestors who had no choice but to make do with what was given to them.  But this is Black culture in America.  What remains of it today can be scarcely traced as each generation passes, the environment becomes increasingly washed out, diluted and we as Black people are programmed with new ideas of what is our ‘culture’.  Today hip hop is supposed to be the voice of Black culture to some degree, however, it is clear that hip hop has sold out and can no longer be a voice for the voiceless, it is all stage, show, pomps and pride.  There is no culture in it at all.

When I finally became a grown woman and had gone thru all the phases of Black american music, it was still the music of the 70s that still held the light, but that in and of itself was still not enough.  When I began to seek deeper elements of what is culture, I had to turn to Jamaica and reggae.  Reggae music instilled pride, deep thought provoking pride, that Black american music seemed to graze the surface at.  Yes, we had James Brown, Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud, but Jamaica had Alton Ellis, I’m Going Back to Africa.  These two recordings were done around the same time, the late 1960s, and while we were just engaging in being Black and proud in America, Jamaica was already dialoging about going back to Africa.  What a huge gap in distinction and consciousness.  While Black america was just beginning to experiment with our natural tresses, Jamaica had long endured the Rastafarian revolution of dreadlocs and its impeccable meaning in society.  Jamaica was already turning the tide of producing meaningful and historical music that would break all the boundaries of Black music in the west.

When I sought culture, I found it in Jamaica, because reggae music in its early onset, was always a spiritual, but profoundly protest music. The range of artists and statements are monumental compared to the limited releases of such music in Black america.  Commerical interests have always destroyed the potential of Black culture in america, and so we have suffered as a result. While music remains at the heart, the ideal of culture in america, in Jamaica, there was indeed a culture, it was in the language, it was in the food, it was most certainly in the land.  The ideal that land represented the farm, the way poor people lived, and their connection to slavery has always been bitterly close and unresolved in Jamaican society.  Slavery is a subject that is highly sung about in a great deal of reggae music, while it is only hinted at in either deep blues or jazz, popular forms of Black music does not typically explore the effects of slavery.  It has been buttered down to love, love love.

When I had gathered all the reggae music that satisfied my soul and yearning for ‘culture’ I was still left hanging, because my day to day life was not on a Rastafarian sanctuary in the hills, I had to still beget inna Babylon. And these ideas reinforced the true calling of what ‘culture’ would mean to me.  Because with all the culture that is in Jamaica, it was dying also, and Rastafari has always called upon Black people to leave our slave dens of the West and return to our rightful place in Africa.  Because we are a people without our culture as long as we remain.

So I took the next step and went to Africa, because going to the places where we were dropped off (Jamaica or Caribbean islands) can give us a more stronger sense and reality of culture. In the islands, Black skin is the majority. But there is still much to be desired.  Going to the source can only heal the wounds, and can only define what ‘culture’ truly is.

Folk Dance in spontaneous, natural setting.

Deeply, African people and our relationship with music is like one of mother with her child.  And this concept remains strong in the motherland.  I spent my time in The Gambia of course, and there I found what is culture.  We have been stripped of so much as African Americans that our ideal of what is culture is like holding a cup of water compared to the ocean that is Africa.  In this culture you breathe it, you smell it, you wear it, you speak it, you dance it, you cook it, you pick it, you pound it, you wash it, you consume it in its entirety, not in bits and pieces.  Not with other people telling you what your culture is.  Culture laments all around you in everything you do.  We have been completely removed from that, deeply stripped in all its characterization, where we can see the intuitive humanity of African-ness that defines the word CULTURE.  Its not in a museum as a relic, or taught in university as a subject, its not in a song or two, its in the very essence of the people.  To be in that very organic nest of culture, you begin to understand why whites had to destroy our humanity and our ‘culture’ at every turn, and they continue to do so. Why they had to enforce that we should never try to ‘go back’ and remember all that they stripped us of.

If you’ve only viewed your identity from a minority perspective, to be in a majority will only be a mystery to you.  As African Americans, being the majority and what that means is a mystery, most of us have not had to function in an African society where our norms is the law and custom of the land, and most of us choose not to. We’d rather pick and choose the laments of African culture that creates a convenient exercise of culture, but not one that defines who we are, because we can’t.  America defines who we are. We are still blocked from that reality no matter how ‘diverse’ and multi-cultural america becomes.

I was told by my Black american compatriot, “there is culture here you just have to go seek and find it” but I find that to be an insult. Even in my beloved Chocolate City, whose chocolate is turning a pasty vanilla, I am not impressed with what is perceived as culture here, because there is none.

Make a voyage home, to find out who you are, and what has been taken from you Black America, you will never be the same.

~Adjua

 

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I guarantee by the end of 2013, we would have heard of a number of cases where Black people have been shot or murdered by police, or by another white person who was terrified at the presence of Black skin.  These incidents continue to plague the sick psyche of america, and Black people continue to be unable to respond to the constant attacks that vilify and damage our ability to function as normal people in a so called developed and modern society.

The ghosts and psychotic racist mind set of those mobs who hung and lynched Black people in open squares and cheered on their murderous rampage against us, are still lingering.  Where did those crazy, sick neanderthals go?  Did they disappear or were they finally civilized by the human struggle of Black people? No, they are still here, lingering in the dusty shadows of  “Stand your ground” laws, still lingering in the odorous stink of police brutality, and they exist in the daily routine of white people just being white.  Because after all, their pathology is what we are exposed to on a daily basis, we have no idea as to why we continue to try and make them human, when it appears they are incapable.  And when I say they, I’m not talking about those ‘good’ white folks, I’m talking about those white people who accept their internalized racism, their diseased and malfunctioning humanity.  Those good white folk somehow have managed to over come their inheritance of such ideals.  But they are far and few in between, because it only takes digging deeply into the mind of white privilige to see that its a very hard disease to rid one self of.

The consistent bi-polar relationship that Black people continue to have with america, is one that is like a co dependent wife, who is being brutally beaten by her husband, yet she continues to stay in the relationship because, she either loves him or is unable to break away and start a new life elsewhere.  She is usually stuck, dependent on him, and unequipped with vital support to help her out of it.  So she remains, until he has broken every bone in her body or he kills her.  Our co-dependent relationship with america, continues to show we are the brutalized wife, despite our protests, despite our calls for justice, despite our calls to 911, we are told to just  hold on…

Meanwhile we’re trying as hard as we can as Black people to be civil, to be patient, to wait for that line to be taken and given the proper justice and attention that is required, but before that can happen, we are brutalized again, in some city, some state, some local apparatus that gains national attention and by then its too late. Once the police get involved, its certainly a botched case. Details are left out, careful attention to the crime scene is disposed of, and careful analysis of the racial intent is ignored.  Because after all, white people’s rights have to be acknowledged no matter how many Black people they slain without provocation.  The likes of Renisha McBride, one of the latest names in a long, flowing list of names of African Americans whose life was taken by the racist psychopath of white american ritual, joins the ranks of lives who will probably receive no justice.

There are no laws to ensure Black rights or that our existence is somehow protected under the Constitution.  The Constitution continues to be a document that protects and promotes white people over others, and discounts its creed of providing ‘freedom’ for its citizens, is really a piece of toilet paper for white people to use when its convenient.  For us the Constitution remains an illusive piece of paper, like the dollar, so illusive, because we don’t own it, we don’t control it and it has never brought us the fortune we deserved.  Black life ain’t shit in america, and no matter how they try to frame it, and keep pushing back our legal rights to exist in this country, we are constantly reminded that america, the racial experiment it continues to be is a powder keg, testing the boundaries of Black patience.  Since we have less in guns, artillery and capital, we stand to lose should we ‘rise up’ against the burdensome beast of racism that remains at the heart of american life.

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Being born and raised in America, a world that millions dream to escape to, I found myself as the complete opposite, I think for many years, I always wanted to leave and find myself.  Having argued with my teachers for many history classes that the history they were teaching as it related to american discovery and african american relevance in particular was always tripe and incorrect. We are given a nice glossed over version of what life was really like during chattel slavery, abolishionist movements, post slavery, jim-crow, segregation up to our holy savior “affirmative action”.

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Yet being black in america felt too small, after all my ancestors suffered to be simply “american” something we still have not really achieved. Just read the news daily, everyday, black american’s disparity against white americans, black, this white that, in every single mode of transaction, getting a house, getting a job, getting a loan, having health, having money, having poverty is all in black and white just look at the penal system in america and who is more housed than anyone else. To be american you don’t have to know anything about american history, you don’t even have to care who marched to Selma, who died on many plantations and who hung from too many trees in the South. There’s no need to know such notations in today’s america. No need to care about the native americans who still today, have very little to account to the country that used to be theirs. So for my sake, being Black had to be more than just sitting next to a white person, eating in their restaurants, going to their movie theaters and working in their corporate/government offices. It had to mean more. Many are content with this, but I was not. I felt homeless in an america that had no identity, no culture, no essence and no fertile crescent. It was an empty shell of all it used to be. My heart longed for Africa, despite all the stories and pictures of war, poverty, destruction, famine, and disaster. The pot bellys, constant flies, and porridge eating became the consistent image on my tv screen, never anything of positive daily life. We in america were stained with this image and this image is consistent.

In 2003 I took my first trip to the continent, at the age of 33, I had not ventured too much far before, other than Jamaica. And even visiting that caribbean country made me feel more at home than I ever felt all my years living in america. So going to Africa, in particular, The Gambia was the next step in completing the triangular trade from where many of my ancestors had voyaged from. It was momentus, as my expectations of Gambia were low, I still had that mind set that everything and everybody in Africa was “poor” but if you looked really closely, there were plenty of “poor” in america too.

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It was my first visit to the motherland, that prompted my attention to the fact that, Africa is moving forward, they are not stuck in the past of colonialism, slavery or even the negative news about the continent daily.  I found an African people who were savvy, modern, yet traditional.  A strongly vibrant culture, language and musical energy that I had never seen or felt before.  I found a level of communication that was one of dignity and humanity.  Yes, I felt more human in Africa than I had ever felt in America.  I had to put all my low expectations away, because I was profoundly surprised at the amazing amount of beautiful homes, pleasant spaces and opulent beaches that the Gambia beholds.

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I didn’t see any empty bellies, nor did I encounter people living on the streets, its not to say I didn’t see poverty, however, you see people fighting that poverty every day with the way they hustle, work and maintain their independence.  As well, I saw Gambians from the Diaspora returning home, investing in their country, building compounds and operating businesses.  I found my home, and upon my first visit, I knew, this is where I wanted to be.   Interestingly, seeing my people was only the half of my inclination to move their, but I have to say I was just as intrigued by the many whites or europeans I saw living there, and in my mind, I was like, if they can do this, I damn sure can!

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