A recent friend of mine sent me this YouTube video of a white filmmaker named Michael explaining why white pride does not exist because there is no such thing as white culture. Michael argues that there is only white ethnic culture (e.g. German, Italian, Polish etc.), but there is no overall white culture. However, in his view, there is such a thing as a universal black culture because black people have collectively suffered under racism, systematic oppression and universal slavery.
To some extent, I agree with Michael’s well-articulated answer (he’s definitely allowed to spud me). However, for me, where he loses me is when he says a black culture exists because of black people's collective suffering. When he said this, I had to wince uncomfortably. I get where he is coming from, and I understand its well-intentioned, but equating black culture with black suffering is not only very harmful, it's a typical narrative driven by white people. Unfortunately, it's one which black people have dangerously convinced themselves to be true.
Let me break it down.
Slavery is not black culture. It’s black history.
In America, slavery will always be the needle that stitches the African American identity. As everyone knows, the ancestors of African Americans were kidnapped, gagged and chained. Ripped away from the African continent, these African slaves toiled and served under white masters for over hundreds of years. Almost 300 years after Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery, its legacy and long-lasting and damaging ramifications are still deep-rooted in America.
But is this black history or black culture? The dictionary definition of culture is:
“the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.”
If we take the above description of culture as gospel, what are we implying if we believe that black people's enslavement is part of black culture? African Americans' subjugation and the systematic racism that hinder their progression cannot come under black culture. The slave trade was an entire ecosystem created by white people to profit from the bodies of African men, women and children. It's an unfortunate part of African American and black history, but it is not black culture.
Whenever I see a white person say or imply that slavery is black culture, I can’t lie, I do get triggered, and I am not a fan of that word. Slavery is black history, but it doesn’t make it black culture. For example, the Nazis and the Holocaust atrocity are part of German history. Still, I am sure if you asked most Germans today, they wouldn’t associate such horrific acts of human brutality with German culture.
In the same way, we should not be slapping slavery under the black culture label. I see many well-meaning white people and even some black people do this. Do you want to know why it has me worried?
Because if we do this, black culture becomes one focused too much on black people's suffering under white Europeans rather than a celebration of black people’s art, music, African history, clothing, various African ethnicities, and the fantastic food. Of course, the history of slavery will always influence black culture, but it's not representative black culture.
Black people did not create the transatlantic slave trade, and most did not profit from it. It was designed, enforced and exploited by white Europeans. Black people have made the best music on earth, delicious food, the best clothing style, and some of the world's best entertainers and sportsmen. That is black culture. Black people in America and worldwide should celebrate that as our culture and not our dark history written by white Europeans. Slavery and colonialism might unite black people under a shared history but it does not define black culture.