Decolonize The Mind: Is Black Culture Selling Us Out?

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I want us to explore the con­cept of “Black” iden­tity in a frame­work of social con­structs that relates to the world around us and the impact it has on our self-esteem.

We are born into a struc­tur­al soci­ety, we recog­nise that we need to find ourselves in a world filled with end­less clas­si­fic­a­tions and when we identi­fy ourselves sim­il­ar to clas­si­fic­a­tions, it is called iden­ti­fic­a­tion in iden­tity the­ory. By going through the iden­ti­fic­a­tion pro­cess, an iden­tity is born. For example, we can label our self a coun­try, gender, reli­gion, polit­ic­al stance, etc.

Our iden­tity comes from relat­ing to the world around us. How­ever, our world is a stage filled with oppres­sion and mise­du­ca­tion of our full his­tory. Our con­cept of self comes from the social groups we identi­fy ourselves strongly with which is called the in-group and we tend to be biased to the pos­it­ive char­ac­ter­ist­ics of that group such as status or power and be neg­at­ively biased towards the out-group, see­ing them with undesir­able char­ac­ter­ist­ics we do not want to be asso­ci­ated with. Con­sequently, who we identi­fy ourselves will feed our self-esteem.

In soci­ety, we are nor­m­al­ised to a way of liv­ing and way of being. This is the cog­nit­ive pro­cess called deper­son­al­isa­tion, where we see ourselves as an embod­i­ment of mean­ings and norms (val­ues) of social clas­si­fic­a­tions, we see our real­ity as the “in-group” sees it. It is the mem­ber­ship of the in-group that sets norms for our beha­vi­our, appear­ance, rituals, and labelling.

It is the deper­son­al­isa­tion that allows us to com­ply to the social con­structs’ ideas, cus­toms and beha­viours, social ste­reo­typ­ing, eth­no­cen­trism, unity, coöper­a­tion, altru­ism, and emo­tion­al one­ness. And in turn, when a per­son deper­son­al­ises them­selves in a cul­ture, we seek val­id­a­tion of belong­ing by act­ing accord­ing to the cul­ture we belong to.

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We do this to fit in the social set­ting we are in. Our iden­tity in a social con­struct bene­fits us greatly as it elev­ates our self-esteem which motiv­ates us to learn more about ourselves, reduce uncer­tainty in a life of chaos, and to exper­i­ence val­id­a­tion of being authen­tic to self, mas­tery of self and act­ing accord­ing to the social norms in that social clas­si­fic­a­tion. For example, I may say I call myself team nat­ur­al as it is seen to be more authen­tic­ally Black with a woke-con­scious­ness. And I might see those with pro­cessed hair as con­fused, sold out and ignor­ant of who they truly are as an Afric­an. Can you see how being team nat­ur­al feeds my sense of worth and motiv­ates me to have a stable sense of self?

Deper­son­al­isa­tion is usu­ally activ­ated in cul­tur­al con­texts. Cul­tur­al Iden­tity is an indi­vidu­al feel­ing that they belong to a group with its own dis­tinct cul­ture that unites indi­vidu­als as “at one­ness”. It is part of an individual’s self-con­cep­tion and self-per­cep­tion which includes nation­al­ity, eth­ni­city, reli­gion, social class and social groups.

Let us look at “Black Cul­ture” in the west­ern mod­ern world. Black cul­ture is a form­a­tion of ideas, cus­toms, and social beha­vi­our of Afric­an des­cent people that is a life­style made out of assump­tions per­tain­ing to being Black. It’s a flu­id and mul­ti-layered. Often hard to describe.

I would say “Black” is mar­keted by cor­por­a­tions as a life­style that is made up of the White’s assump­tions about Black iden­tity and usu­ally it is based on their pre­ju­dice stem­ming from slavery. Black cul­ture is exploited to make money from the Black com­munit­ies and our cre­at­ive ener­gies. It is the Black com­munity that buys into this so-called iden­tity as actu­al cul­tur­al exper­i­ences which deval­ues us and reduces us to just great at sports, fath­er­less, promis­cu­ous, and chick­en eat­ers.

Our cul­tur­al iden­tity used to come from the Black com­munity such as the Har­lem Renais­sance, New Orleans Jazz, from churches, Carib­bean and Afric­an influ­ences, Black pan­ther party, Pan-Afric­an move­ments, and so much more. That brought a sense of “one­ness” but not nowadays though because white and Black media has demon­ised the Afric­an man and woman so much we no longer want to be iden­ti­fied as the same as the neg­at­ive char­ac­ter­ist­ics! Hence we have frag­ment­a­tion called “Black” sub-cul­tures where we are fus­ing and some­times (mis)appropriating oth­er cul­ture.

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I see the Afric­an youth sip­ping the European’s cool-aid, being told their cul­tur­al iden­tity through catchy songs, shows, celebrit­ies, fash­ion gurus and main­stream media. This is import­ant to pon­der on because it is rel­ev­ant, it is affect­ing the future gen­er­a­tions born into a soci­ety that has social categories/classifications that will try and put on them which may be hurt­ful to their iden­tity form­a­tion.

There is a say­ing in my house: ”If you don’t teach your­self who you are then the world will tell you who you are.” Could be it even con­ceiv­able that the “Black” cul­ture that is appro­pri­ated for com­mer­ce we are con­sum­ing and uphold­ing are actu­ally choke hold­ing us to keep us in an iden­tity crisis and dys­func­tion­al­ity?

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Dionne Williams
Dion­ne Wil­li­ams is a psy­cho­lo­gist, writer, co founder of ‘Afrwecan’ black men­tal health char­ity and act­iv­ist for Racial equal­ity.
Dionne Williams

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Dionne Williams
Dionne Williams is a psychologist, writer, co founder of 'Afrwecan' black mental health charity and activist for Racial equality.