I was having a conversation this past weekend, and the topic came up of Black people being told that we have no culture; especially as African-Americans. Many people know that I have a Nigerian dad and an African-American mom; so I’ve grown up always finding similarities in the cultures; which led me to start this platform in 2016. The truth is, American culture is Black culture. Everyone has heard this saying before, however, I want to explain it in a slightly different way.
The only reason that African-Americans are told that we have no culture is because White people have consistently redefined us and defined us by our skin tone. This needed to happen for their benefit; they wanted us to see them as our God, that owned our image, to benefit their “empires”. We are the only group of people in the world who have constantly been re-defined by outsiders; and Africans are not excluded. Even calling myself a Nigerian still represents a name given by colonizers while dividing up the African continent. A Nigerian wasn’t a thing until a colonizer said so; before I would’ve just identified as Igbo. In America, we went from Nig*er, to Negro, to colored, to black, to African-American, and now they’re slowly starting to push us towards multiracial. Because of the constant redefinition of us; we have come to see our identity as defined by outsiders even when we are well aware of our cultures. This is because, and as I’ve written in my book, as Europeans and white people have been involved in the colonization of black people; they demonize our traditions so we hate them and embrace something else; then they copy the tradition, copyright it, then sell it back to us as something else. This happens time and time again, and we continue to believe that our traditions are wrong when we really practiced some of the same traditions with another name. We have the gifts, and the talents, and we have often sold our own ideas for a check; this has happened amongst many celebrities and everyday citizens. Some of our great inventions have been sold to the legacy of another race while all we have is a check to show for it. Let’s look at Walmart for example, Sam Walton and his family members are some of the richest people in this country. Sam Walton has left is a legacy, so that even if Walmart was to not exist after today, that Legacy is still there and his children have something to build from. When we sell our legacies, we then have to fight over who invented it first because our name is no longer in history books, and we have to wonder, was the check worth it?
I went to the US-Africa summit (2014) in Washington, DC that was led by my current 2020 President, Barack Obama; and African leaders from all over the world, to include; presidents, ambassadors, and many more leaders, were present to discuss initiatives that would help US-Africa relations in the building up of Africa. Not to my surprise I sat there and watched with my own two eyes as white people would literally approach Africans; seeking out information on how they could either buy out their companies or basically Americanize them. I went to the dinner for the President of Nigeria at the time, and I was the only Black woman at a table of white men, the room was packed with white people. This is a tradition of white people, plainly put, but it would not be so impactful if we just learned to say no and look at the legacy we’re creating rather than the check that is being offered in the moment. I can go on and on with even personal stories of people that I know that have had ideas robbed from them; for example, my friend who wrote a curriculum for her job, they fired her because they said she couldn’t have written it, then they kept the curriculum. I told her to copyright it; but she said she trusted them. As a result, what happened is what I just explained above. I was with her while she was writing the thing because she was consulting me, but it was her ideas. So let me get to what I’m really trying to say. When God gave us a vision, it was given to us for a reason because we were the ones to implement it. And because we represent a certain culture, that vision is a representation of our culture. Need an example? Yoga, Thai, these are examples of cultural ideas that people partake in globally; but they only credit it to one culture. We can’t continue to look for a perfect representation of us if we are not the ones creating it, which leads me to my next point.
As Black people; we’re consistently trying to force our gifts, talents, and cultures into corporations that don’t care about us; then get upset when we are not represented right. All this effort can benefit us if we embrace our cultures, make businesses out of them and support corporations run by Black people; we’d then represent ourselves right. What we are downplaying as part of our cultures, some cultures are making money off of. What happens when we try to force our gifts and talents into these big corporations that don’t have our interests, is that they now are able to control the narrative because they’re the ones who have the money behind what is being shown to the public. If anyone asks “where are the big corporations run by us?” I say we have to support them when they are just ideas and still small so they can become corporations; and stop selling our ideas to corporations. I support Black businesses as much as I can (to include constructive feedback not just dollars) but my money is no comparison to what all our money can do. As Black people; globally, we support established corporations and not ones that have our names on it; not realizing at one point that the established entities needed support to grow as well while they were still small. We have become accustomed to only supporting finished products and not humble growth. Which is why I honestly believe that some of us end up becoming bitter towards other black people because suddenly when we do have a big platform everyone comes out of the woodwork’s but we’re ghosts when we were still small.
I’m a firm believer that we create things in our own image; so when I create I instantly think of people like myself. We’re allowed to exclude in our creations because it’s ours to create. When I say exclude, I mean, create what we create without having the burden of what people will think simply because they don’t see everybody else. Every corporation now that is including black people in their marketing and their products is doing so simply for monetary gain. How do I know? Because, those corporations are not doing anything to build up our communities; they’re simply putting us in a marketing ad to reach customers who look like us. Then we get all excited and start praising that company because they finally put a Black girl in the ad and we run out and buy their products; but the only entity who benefited is the corporation. Meanwhile when we spend our dollars at Black corporations and Black businesses, we are supporting the Black community because as Black people we will put dollars back into our own communities (for the most part). We are supporting the legacies in the next generations of Black entrepreneurs when we sew into black businesses right now. Obviously we may not be able to avoid certain big companies especially if we live in this world where we survive off of certain things; just as long as we know what to do when we find out about the next black company, we support them as much as we can.
I’ve never looked for myself in creations that weren’t created by people that don’t look like me; because I’ll always be disappointed; we can’t create what we don’t understand. Which is why if a white person doesn’t accurately get the culture or the hair texture right in their depiction of me, I could care less, because I’m more concerned about what i’m doing to accurately depict myself and the people who look like me. We are created culturally different for a reason, which is obviously the way God intended it, so our responsibility is to represent ourselves. I understand that as African-Americans it has been hard to depict ourselves mainly because we did not own the media, but I think it became too much about wanting white people to see us differently rather than loving ourselves for all of those things that were once demonized. For example I can take you all the way back to Igbo tradition of “Twerking”, but when Miley Cyrus did it, suddenly it was embraced as a national phenomenon, which is still talked about in mainstream media today as something to be celebrated; but black girls were told that was being too sexual. You see what I’m saying? If we had already embraced our culture, we wouldn’t care what mainstream media had to say about it because we would understand it as our culture. I understand the brainwashing so I’m not demonizing anybody as wrong; but look at us now! We are creating our own narratives via social media, we literally have something called a Black Twitter in the midst of Twitter, we have our own section, because the power of Black media is so powerful that once we started telling our own narratives in our own way people realized how influential we really are. Don’t let black Twitter get to an issue because Black Twitter will have the final say on any world issue. We just have to love ourselves to understand that we are the culture even when it was sold back to us as something else; is still ours.
There’s no need to be inclusive when telling our own stories, we have a history of having our stories told to us; and having our culture robbed of us; so now that we want to tell our stories, in our own way, and build corporations that represent us, we have the right to without being told by mainstream media that we aren’t being inclusive. The latest example is of the Black woman who started the feminine hygienic company; and successfully went from selling online to being sold in Target stores, was told that her ad wasn’t inclusive because she mentioned black girls and not all girls. That is her story to tell, because she is a Black woman, so the media had no right to be up in arms. We have to support these corporations while they’re here because the world will do anything to take it down, then when they take it down, they copy it and sell it back to us without including us either.
So that’s it for culture Tuesdays, realize where we’ve come from in terms of upholding and maintaining our culture, and all that it has been through; then moving forward, let us do everything in an unapologetic way so that we continue to push our cultures forth through everything we do; whether it be inventions or music or crafts or corporations; whatever we do let’s do it understanding that we are representing our culture; and it can’t be taken away from us.