C is for Culture

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

Attempting to destroy African culture was one of the most important tools used to oppress us. During slavery it was tried to beat our culture out of us, to destroy our heritage by branding us with the names of the master. Post enslavement and across Africa our native tongues were replaced by those of Europeans and the schools still pour knowledge of white supremacy into the minds of the youth. Our literature, art, music have been ridiculed, demonised, banned and appropriated. Carnival is a testament to how culture is central to the spirit of resistance. Across the Caribbean and South America, whilst being enslaved we chose to celebrate in ways that directly connected us back to our African roots. In the UK after white racists rioted against the Black presence in Notting Hill in 1958, activist Claudia Jones explained that they organised cultural events to both raise money for the Black youth caught up in the conflict by the police and to ‘wash the taste’ of racism out of the community’s mind. These events led to the creation of Notting Hill Carnival, which has become the biggest street festival in Europe.

Across the Diaspora culture has been crucial in reclaiming our humanity. Negritude exploded onto the scene in the 1930s after the work of Martinican poet Aimé Césaire transformed the consciousness of the Francophone colonies. Revolutionary Franz Fanon describes the impact of finding pride in Africa so profound that ‘before Césaire the [Francophone] West Indian was a white man’. Rastafari, Black Arts Movements and Afrocentric ideas have all attempted to rebuild cultural links to Africa. On the continent Negritude was just as important and retaining traditional cultures and languages remains an ongoing struggle. From Mariam Makeba, to Fela Kuti, to Nina Simone, to Burning Spear, to Public Enemy and everyone I have missed and in between music, art, theatre, literature, dance have all been essential to the ability to ‘think Black’.  

But as Nagueyalti Warren warns us ‘culture is crucial to revolution, but it is not revolution’. All too often we have settled for trying to make ourselves whole through cultural salvation. Whether that be through spirituality, ritual or embracing a so called Afrocentric way of life. There is nothing wrong with any of these but culture is not the answer and can end up turning into what Patricia Hill Collins calls a ‘civic religion’. Instead of asking the Lord to save us, we try to save our souls by living “correctly”. This cultural nationalism has also often defined living right in ways that uphold sexism and homophobia, with a specific fetish for the right kind of Black family to nurture us to freedom. The idea we can turn back the clock and find some authentic culture from centuries old traditions in Africa is a mirage that tells us more about us and our problems in the present, than it does about either our pasts or futures. The only way to build revolutionary culture is through the process of revolution. Culture will always have a major part to play but is a tool to fight for liberation and not a solution.

Resources:

Horace Campbell Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney

Aimé Césaire Discourse on Colonialism

Patricia Hill Collins From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism

Claudia Jones Beyond Containment

Black Arts Movement US

Caribbean Artists Movement

Pan African Cultural Festival, 1969

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