What passes for Black culture today is the result of centuries of social engineering and malicious propaganda by those who live in fear of an African re-awakening. The images of Black culture are often perceived as savage, ignorant, prone to violence, criminals of all kinds, etc. Even so, Black culture is usurped by marketers, studio heads, fashion brands, and music labels. There are many such aberrations of Black culture. For example, materialism, criminal behavior, and the objectification of women predominate many people’s perception of Black culture. After so many generations of indiscriminate imitation it’s difficult to discern fact from fiction. As Black people, we are prone to accepting and perpetuating these popular notions of Black culture.
Black culture isn’t debatable. Our ancestors taught us what it means to be Black. They established the essential elements of our culture thousands of years ago by answering the questions — What does it mean to be “Black?” What constitutes the African personality? And what is contained in the African mind?
Culture represents the beliefs that a group of people holds in common, and it is reinforced by indiscriminately imitating the behavior of the masses. People generally mimic what they see, especially children. Thus, proper cultural expressions should shape beliefs and behaviors for the upliftment and survival of the group.
People must be “cultured.” Absent culture, individuals would fully exhibit wild, intractable behavior; they would fall prey to their passions. Individual desires would prevail over the needs of the group, leading to anarchy, incivility and chaos. Culture is needed to properly direct these passions and urges. For instance, men and women have a natural urge to procreate, but sexual desires must be regulated through societal norms. If not, family units are threatened and society spirals into uncontrolled lust.
The western mind is agnostic – they profess their “belief” in God but have doubts via their faith-based religions. This is substantiated by separation of church and state, educational system (science without God), judicial system (capital punishment), etc. Christians, for example, believe that God punishes the sinner, we’re all born into sin, man needs to be saved, God is in the heavens, and we must pray to God for help and for our salvation.
However, the African concept of God takes the notion that “we are made in the likeness of God” as a framework for religion, spirituality, and culture. Thus, we are endowed with God’s power, not to the same degree, but in the same manner. This overarching perspective of life can be seen in nearly all traditional African cultures.
Culture is used as a stabilizing force to maintain order in society. Order in Western society is based on fear and punishment and is maintained through force, i.e., police, laws, judicial system, prisons, etc. However, Western society is increasingly disorderly as evidenced by mass shootings, overcrowded prisons, increased crime rates, etc. On the other hand, order in traditional Africa is maintained through tradition, individual responsibility, group and peer pressure, family pride, and on living in accordance with divine law.
Most importantly, Black culture is rooted in godliness. In Ancient Egypt and throughout other older African societies, the king reigned as both a secular leader and chief priest. This dual function exists today as many prominent Black leaders were also religious leaders – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Minister Malcolm X, Bishop Tutu, etc.
Culture can also be defined as how a group of people views themselves in relation to the Supreme Being. Throughout all African cultures is the knowledge and practice that man has the attributes of God. In an African context, God serves all humanity without distinction. This is contrasted with the “White” god Jehovah, who serves only the “chosen people” or those who have been “saved.”
Since African culture is rooted in its religion, we can make the following inferences to further clarify the core structural elements of Black culture:
- Black culture recognizes that man must ultimately strive to manifest the highest expression of Being which uses God as the archetype of how man should live an earthly existence
- African culture serves as a means for establishing and maintaining unity among people and nature
- Traditional African culture is based on the will of God and is governed ultimately by priests and priestesses who have mastered an oracular system and can communicate directly with God
- Black culture provides a foundation for creating and sustaining a long-lasting social structure through tradition
- Black culture is based on living in accordance with divine law which promotes high moral values and principles
- Black culture supports a sense of justice, not only for everyone in the community, but for everything in and around it
- Black culture allows for the proper expression of freedom by balancing individual responsibility and self-worth with the needs of the community
- Black culture reinforces the correct images that allow for harmony to exist; art, architecture, music, dance, etc. are used to reinforce the positive attributes of man and his/her purpose in the world
- Black culture creates the appropriate belief system, especially among the youth, through stories, myths, legends, beliefs, and ideas
- Black culture supports a strong devotion to maintaining the key cultural elements of society through education and remembering our past
- Black culture is like the soil wherein man blossoms into physical reality as he labors to express his spiritual qualities to demonstrate the proof of God’s existence.
These principles of Black culture universally manifest in similar ways. A few examples include:
Religion and Spirituality
Traditional African concepts of reality and destiny are deeply rooted in the spirit world. The activities and actions of spirit beings govern all physical, mental, social, and spiritual phenomena. The African spirit world can be summarized as follows:
1) The world is full of spirits
2) reality is the spirit world, not earthly existence
3) there’s no separation between physical and spiritual worlds
4) the spirits are classified into hierarchical systems
5) the spirit of man doesn’t die, hence the concept of reincarnation; we join the spirit world after death
6) spirit possession provides empirical proof of spirits and ancestors
7) the spirit is malleable; negative thoughts and behaviors can be changed
8) the spirit is a healer and can be healed
9) we ritualize to develop our spirits!
Concept of Family and Community
The most powerful principle of social organization is the concept of “family” derived from blood-relationship, which is characterized by kinship affinity, loyalties and obligations of relatives. This regulates social behavior and attitudes and orders social interaction through groupings of families we call, “community.” The community sets normative patterns to maintain this harmony. The African believes that his life is intertwined with his/her community.
Concept of Time
African people recognize there is no past and future – only the now. We can only reside in the present. Evidence of how we relate to time is ancestral communication. We don’t die; instead, we travel to another plane of existence, and we can communicate with the “dead.” Likewise, we seek to live forever so we are not forgotten by our future family, i.e., so they, too, can invoke us for wisdom and guidance.
If there is no past or future, then why be in a hurry? This helps explain why Black people universally seem to be late to arrive at events. Westerners behave as though there’s only one life. For them, the focus is on what is anticipated to come in the future. For Africans, time flows from the present back into the past. Again, this is seen in ancestral communication, respect for elders, and maintaining tradition.
EXAMPLE: A Western mindset would get angry about a paid transaction and a promised timely delivery not realized. The African would be surprised by such anger. Agreements are expressions of friendship. If say I can afford to buy what you’re selling, and you say you can build a boat for me, then our transaction results in a friendship. If one of us doesn’t deliver in a timely manner, we accept it because that’s what friends do. When I fail to bring the money for the wood, the boatbuilder will not be upset. He’ll wait. When the boatbuilder doesn’t complete the job in a timely manner because he had to use part of my money to pay the doctor of his child, I will not be upset. Instead, I’ll wait because we seek to remain as friends.
Concept of Rhythm
African people are masters of musical expression. We live in accordance with the rhythms of nature. We sing, we dance, we drum! It’s in our DNA – literally. The rhythm in our bodies is regulated by melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland.
Treatment of Women
Westerners rely heavily on physical strength which men are more naturally endowed, so the weaker sex is considered second class citizens. Africans, however, developed matrilineal societies to ensure fairness. Matrilineality traces kinship through their mother’s lineage which includes inheriting property. We also find African women of antiquity in prominent positions including the rulers of nations.
We may have suspended some of our practices due to White conquest, but the notion of God at the forefront of everything we do is largely unchanged for thousands of years. The advent of technology and social media are both problems and solutions. The future of Africa and the people of the Diaspora is predicated on turning our backs on Western prevailing influences and reviving our cultural norms.