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Growing up I never had to ask my parents what race they were, I knew they were both black. Not mixed with anything, just black based off the fact that their parents were just black. Now I know somewhere down the line there is Caucasian and Indian in my family, but to claim cultures I know absolutely nothing about would make me a hypocrite. I use black and African American interchangeably but when it comes down to it, I don’t have a right to claim African American when I don’t know what part of Africa my family came from. I know that my ancestors were kidnapped by slave traders and then sold to wealthy merchants and plantation owners, (my ancestors on my dad side were bought by Finnish people hence the name Ollison, I’m not sure about my mom side of the family) but I would have to do something like ancestry.com or 23 & me to find out the detailed history. Although I know a little bit about who I am, I don’t know who I am on a deeper level.
As I did research to find out more information about black culture I ran across a CNN write up about Justin Simien (the man behind the hit Netflix Series Dear White People) and what he learned about black culture. Justin said, “Black culture is the sum of cultural contributions to the mainstream by the black subculture while “Black Culture” is a lifestyle standard made of assumptions about black identity, often used successfully by marketers, studio heads, fashion brands and music labels to make money” (Simien, 2014) which caught my attention. When thinking of black culture, you either think of the negative things or you think of the success stories that are used against black people struggling because if Oprah Winfrey can make it why can’t you? Black culture is our music, our food, the way we talk, our hair, our dancing, and so much more. It’s our own unique way of expressing who we are like no one else can but “black culture” over powers that, so we are basketball players and famous singers, we are the faces attached to welfare and poor people. We are the ones eating chicken and watermelon, we are the ones who are thugs, gangsters, and loud. We are used by the system as puppets for them to make money off but when we can’t be of use to them we are the most vindictive, dangerous, most evil people ever.
When thinking of the men in my country there is a noticeable absence of them which is due to a huge amount of them being in prison. For some it was wrong place wrong time, for some they did bad things to survive, and for some they just were young and dumb. “The expectation wasn’t necessarily that we would go to prison,” Betts said. “But we lived in a climate and an environment in which these things were happening every day and nobody was confronting what it meant. (Lee & Stasio, 2015). Black men are incarcerated at a higher rate than black women, white men and white women. This leads to less male figures to look up to, children growing up with only a mother, the men coming out of jail unable to get back on their feet due to their record, and the stigma that men are not trying and are just being lazy because if Obama and Lebron James can do it then there is no excuse for black men in our culture. Everyone does not get a success story, everyone does not get a happy ending, everyone does not get to represent the “good part” of our community. We are human, we are neither magicians nor miracle workers.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is America’s first national museum dedicated to the full breadth of the black experience. This museum is so important because for over 150 years after the abolishing of slavery we had no huge museum representation of all the great things that black people have done for this country. Mullen reports, “The museum’s task is very simple … to use history and culture to make a better America, to give America an opportunity to close the chasm between its stated ideals and the reality of life, it is an attempt to say, this history and this culture have profoundly shaped our notions of freedom, of citizenship, of who we are as Americans” (Mullen, 2016). Black are not fighting just to celebrate our skin tone, we are fighting for representation, we are fighting for respect, we are fighting to be looked at as a force to be wrecking with. We are underdogs and we are fighting to show that we are an important part to the functioning and forming of America.
I was trying to think of a tradition my family do and I was puzzled for a while but then my dad told me of something all the men were taught. My dad grew up down south where you had a farm, crops, and raised your own food. There were no close grocery stores, no spraying harsh chemicals on the food to preserve it, and no processed and artificial foods/flavors. You woke up early, fed the cows, hogs, chickens, horses if you had them, etc. You cleaned their stalls, collected the eggs from chickens, milked the cows, and cleaned their stalls. All so you would understand the tradition of killing a hog every year. You would get a hog in October, then raise it for a full year and the following October you would kill it for everything it is worth. You would get bacon, sausage, ham, lard, chitterlings, souse meat, hog maws, and so much more from the hog. This stuff could be used for the rest of the year until you can raise another hog to that standard for the following year. It was best to do it in October because it was cold and it no flies or insects were out to mess with the food. The women did more of the house work and making of things like butter and jam, so as tradition all the men of the family learned these ways down south.
My great grandfather, my grandfather, my dad, and my brothers on my dad side all learned this. I feel this is an important part of my family history because this was commonly done before grocery stores, the processing of food, the spraying of harsh chemicals, and the artificial flavoring of our dear food. Even though I have never killed a hog myself this is something that has been explained to me and taught me how much different the world is now. Machines do everything and half of the food we eat have slime, chemicals, and other harmful things in it but we are so used to this unnatural food that we cannot tell how much damage it is doing to our bodies.
Now when it came to my mom and her side of the family their tradition was religious, we would go to watch service every New Year’s Eve into New Year’s Day. You had to fast from when you woke up until the next day as a way of entering the new year with a cleansed soul (that part my church does but I don’t believe all churches do this). This provides the opportunity for Christians to review the year that has passed and make confession, and then prepare for the year ahead by praying and resolving. We have a few songs sung by the choir and then we normally have a play of a church story done for fun. Following the play is a few words from the bishop and then you pray into the new year. After it is officially a new year you stay in the church until it is quiet and seems safe to go out and drive and you go home. This is something that I have been able to do every almost every year since I was a little girl.
I have not personally gone through being whipped or tortured, I have not personally been spit at or hosed down and attacked by dogs, I have not personally picked cotton and watched my brothers and sisters be beat in front of me and been forced to watch. That does not mean that I am not black and that I don’t understand the struggle of being black in America. I wear braids and use black hair care products that only work for my culture’s texture, I dance and sing to the rhythm and soul of some of the greats. I have seen black face first hand, I have been followed around in a mall while looking for clothes, I have been questioned for no reason at all, I have been shown and had people express loud and clear that my kind is not wanted here. I have been called loud and ghetto. I have been bullied and criticized for my skin color and I have been told that I would never make it just because of being black. All this is to say that I am all of the good of being black, I accept the bad that goes along with being black but I am not the stereotypes of what you think black is. I am not a ball player, I am not a singer and I am not loud. I am not ghetto, I do not label everything racist, and I am not overly sensitive. I am not a killer, I am not a gold digger, and I am not slow. I am not a failure and I never will be, I am strong, I do love music, I am my hair because my hair alone has history that others will never understand, and I am an underdog that will prove everyone wrong.
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