As we embark upon the end of the year celebrations, the idea of culture is highlighted, though in a subtle way. A number of cultural groups celebrate the holidays according to their own traditions. We are embarking upon a period that exposes differences in the human family.
African Americans have a unique culture that is readily identified whenever and wherever it is encountered. But what is Black culture?
An unattributed online article defines “Black Culture” as a lifestyle standard made of assumptions about Black identity, often used successfully by marketers, studio heads, fashion brands and music labels to make money. It can be the ‘cool factor’ that makes kids line up for hours to spend their last dime on brand new Michael Jordan sneakers.
Another article entitled “What Exactly is Black Culture,” published in Melanoid Nation, says culture is defined as, “a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, and so forth.” Another definition is “a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization.”
It is usually thought that Black culture has been compromised due to years of exploitation and oppression. This is partially true, but not wholly, since a people express who they are regardless of external influences.
The art that Black people create has unique characteristics. It is evident in our creation of blues, jazz, hip hop, gospel music, along with other musical modalities.
Visual art, theater, literature and other artistic traditions also have characteristically Black flavors. The challenge with Black culture, as dominant as it has been in America, is that there is a component that can be influenced by external factors. In other words, if people are not careful, culture can become toxic and can have a negative influence on behavior.
Arguably, this is what is happening with hip hop. Wikipedia has published a list of rappers and hip hop musicians murdered since 1987, and two studies in the mid-2010s found that murder was the cause of 51.5 percent of hip hop musicians’ deaths! At least 61 hip hop musicians have lost their lives in violence since 1987.
The studies revealed that the average age of death is between 25-30 years of age, and that hip hop has a higher rate of homicide than any other genres of music, ranging from five to 32 times higher.
Something is definitely wrong! A lot of African American apologists have been known to ignore the connection between a certain brand of hip hop music and violent crime. They attribute the penchant for toxic music to artists just creating what they see or experience.
The problem with this is two-fold. For one, many of the hip hop musicians have not experienced what they rap about; they create what they do because this is the kind of music that the music industry captains sanction. It is a well-known fact that it is easier to get a record deal if an artist chooses to embrace violence, murder, misogyny, and other negative aspects of Black culture.
The other problem is that many people have an appetite for sensationalism and decadence.
How can this trend be fought? The answer is in behavior, specifically economic. Complicating this is the fact that many of these producers of toxic music are African American!!! If African Americans would refuse to embrace the aspects of our culture that lead to our downfall, the dollars would follow what is produced. We must also embrace higher minded thinking.
So, ultimately, we can say that some aspects of Black American culture have been weaponized. This is not to say, however, that all Black culture has become poisonous.
There is a renaissance of sorts in other areas of African American culture that does not get the attention that it warrants. There are Black poets and playwrights who are doing phenomenal work; there are visual artists who are charting new territories; and there are musicians who are writing and performing really great music, but the toxic rappers get the most attention.
As long as our communities opt to give greater attention to the toxic aspect of our culture, our communities will continue to experience untimely deaths and destruction. A Luta Continua.