What is Black Culture? The Value of Community

On May 21st a group of black Muslims tried to blow up two Mosques and shoot down planes at Stuart Air force base. Their actions were abominable, but as a member of the black community and of Caribbean heritage, I was doubly shocked. I thought “oh gawd, they are black” and then “oh gawd, one is West Indian!” Most African Americans had a similar reaction, while non-blacks would not feel a sense of connectedness with these would be terrorists. African Americans often see the actions of another member the black community as if was a reflection on their life. Take a look at any award show where a black person assumes the podium and more often than not they will give a shout out to God, family and the community.

European descended cultures value the individual above all else,  while African descended cultures value the community and the individual. For most Americans, this is the land where one is to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps. The self made man who individually accumulates wealth is an American icon on the level of Donald Trump and Ted Turner. The man who makes his own way, recognizes that he stands on the shoulders of slaves and others who did not have his opportunities and gives back to those coming after him is an African American icon like Martin Luther King and Barack Obama. Non-blacks often misconstrue this interconnectedness. It is often used to deny the tremendous diversity within the black community.

When Hillary Clinton stated “It takes a village to raise a child” she was met with puzzlement and disdain. The quote makes perfect sense if you come from an African descended culture. The black independent film like Akeelah and the Bee is a perfect illustration of this African proverb. As child I knew that if an adult neighbor saw me doing something wrong, my parents would know about it before I got home. I was taught to that my actions reflect not only myself and my family, but my community. I was taught about Jamaican and African American heroes in addition to the historical figures I learned about in school. My mother would tell me that no matter where I lived I would always have roots in Jamaica. What gives me this sense of connectedness for my mother’s homeland and to African Americans even though I am an immigrant?

Africans brought in the concept of ethnic groups to American shores. Ethnic groups are what the western colonizers call “tribes.” Before Africa was carved up like a cake by Europe, ethnic group identity was one of most salient characteristics of these societies. In many African traditions an individual belongs to a nuclear family, extended family and ethnic group in addition to being a citizen of a nation. African descended ethnic groups are exceptionally proud of their history and culture. In the British Caribbean, this morphed into nationalism. In the United States, this became the basis for the concept of the African American community. The idea that slaves are connected to each other provided a structure that coushioned the constant attacks against the nuclear slave family. A connection to one’s ancestors gave slaves a tie to their homelands and the strength to survive for those to come. It is why, even today we call each other brother and sister. This sense of a community was enhanced by segregationist policies of the United States. This cultural value is diametrically opposed to the European American value of rugged individualism. The African American sense of community has been dealt an immeasurable blow since disaster of crack cocaine. Although the idea of community is waning among blacks, it is still an very important value.

Some who know little of black culture may see this concept of African American community as racist. Just because we have an identity other than American does not mean we are anti-white. Being proud to your membership in a community is not equal to the many anti-black terrorist attacks that mar American history. Perhaps African Americans should be seen as an ethnic group, like their ancestors. Then our sense of community would be seen as centuries old practice not an aberration of American culture.

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