Leah Thomas recently published an article on Thought Catalog titled “On Being Not Black Enough.” Her insights into African-American culture and the pressure to be black is an interesting concept. In the past, foreigners who emigrated to America felt a pressure to become Americanized. While they still held onto their cultural traditions, they pressured themselves to blend in and become an American.
Most American ancestors willingly emigrated to America. Others such as Native Americans, were pushed off their lands and became Americans through default. Mexicans lost their land through border conquests and became Americans through how Eva Longoria put it, “The border moved, my family didn’t.” But Africans were the only group intentionally brought over to be slaves. They were the only group whose culture, traditions, and languages were intentionally denied to them.
While many groups emigrated to America to escape persecution, tyranny, or outright death (Jewish people escaping the Holocaust), those of African origins were brought to America to be persecuted, experience tyranny, and whose deaths were disregarded as unimportant. While the Statue of Liberty called for giving America “your tired, your hungry, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Those of African origins were coerced to be tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Throughout history the distinction has been downplayed, forgotten, or outright ignored.
America is known for being the melting pot of culture. Foreigners have a long history of bringing their culture and traditions to America. Through the Irish we are all invited to be Irish on St. Patty’s day. We are encouraged to kiss an Irish, drink Guinness, and sing Irish drinking songs. Through the Mexicans we have Tex-mex food, Tequila, Corona, Pinatas, and Cinco de Mayo. Through the Italians we have wine, pizza, spaghetti, and Frank Sinatra.
But what about African-Americans? While they were denied their culture through enslavement, there is no denying the contributions of culture African-Americans have given to America. I will proclaim it now, Black people are the culture creators in America. They have created culture movements in America through art, music, entertainment, literature, language, and activism. While others are remembering their heritages, Black people are creating their heritages. They have also been creating the heritage of America itself.
They have given America Blues, Jazz, Soul, Rock n’ Roll, Rap, and Hip Hop. Early comedians such as Moms Mabley and Ben Carter established many of our formats of comedy. Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron proved what good sportsmanship was in America’s favorite past time. Street artists in inner cities turned grafitti into American modern art. Black people made swing dancing, tap dancing, and the charleston the most popular dance movements in America.
While the Constitution guaranteed us rights, Black people earned their rights. While the Star Spangled Banner was sung about the land of the free and home of the brave, Black people were teaching us about freedom through their bravery. While Uncle Sam may have wanted you during World War II, Black people were showing Uncle Sam he needed them through the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen. While Americans have the right to assembly, Martin Luther King was showing us how to assemble. While Americans have the freedom of speech, Black people have been telling it like it is.
I never had to prove I was white enough. It isn’t something I have ever thought about. While I don’t understand the complexities of light skin verse dark skin debate. What it means to be Black. Nor the struggles of Black people throughout America. I can say Black people of African origin classified as African-Americans have created the American culture.