I have chosen to write on a subject that is far too large to tackle in a single column, so therefore I will be spreading out this topic over my next few articles. For the purpose for this column, I will use the term “black” to reference the descendants of those who came to America via trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Close your eyes for a moment, and think about what culture means to you. What are the aspects of culture? What does culture look like? What is the history of your culture? Were you taught about this culture in school growing up? Now open your eyes. What if I were to tell you that here in America there has been a continuous attempt to eradicate culture, would you believe me? I am not referring solely to the cultures of Native Americans, but also Latino and black cultures. This installation will focus on arguably the most noticeable attempt of cultural deterioration since the inception of this nation — that of black culture.
As students of the University of Pennsylvania, we have been privileged enough to attend one of the best and most diverse universities in the country. However, within this so-called diversity there is a miniscule 7 percent of undergraduates that identify as African-American/black. Among this 7 percent, there are as many cultures and diaspora as there are blades of grass under the sun.
These diaspora and cultures are not just black Americans, but come from all over Africa, the Caribbean and South America. With all of these strong and vibrant cultures around us, it becomes hard for those not educated in their people’s history to be proud of their ancestors or heritage.
Unfortunately in the United States, this is the problem that many black Americans face. This is due to generations upon generations of white America trying to erase the narrative of black history.
I am not Caribbean-American. I have no traceable African roots; all I know is that my predecessors probably resided somewhere in West Africa. My ancestors were some of the first slaves to come over on the slave ships. I am what is today called “just black” or JB for short. I have long grappled with this term. “Just black” — what exactly does this mean?
My biggest issue with this term is the first word. There is nothing “just” about my heritage. Like the Egyptian people who made homes for themselves on the banks of the Nile and erected monuments that still stand tall and proud, or the Ethiopians who put their lives on the line to fight imperialistic rule, my culture and heritage are rich with accomplishment and rebellion. There is nothing “just” about being a black American. To quote James Brown, the godfather of soul and another “just black” brother like myself: “I’m black and I’m proud!”
Now for some context. When separate was not deemed equal through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, integration caused many underfunded schools to shut down. Unfortunately a vast majority of these schools were previously all black schools with all black teachers.
There is a phrase that says, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” One of the unspoken casualties of integration is the generation of black teachers, ranging in subjects from history to biology, who were lost after most were deemed unqualified by the American government to teach. The effects of this were that a huge portion of black history and accolades were lost along with them.
Black students were forced into white schools that were able to stay open due to government funding. In principle this is a good thing, because as Brown v. Board of Education held true, separate does not mean equal. The issue with this was that unless the homes or neighborhoods of these black students had someone who knew the accomplishments and advancements black people played for the country that, they did not learn of the power they held and of the nation that was built off of the backs of their ancestors.
Instead they were taught by mostly racist, white teachers of the glories of white people and white America. These teachers tried to teach them to be subservient to their white counterparts. They were told their place and to never try to change the status quo. Many of these teachers would use scare tactics or public humiliation to break the pride and strength that they saw within their black students. In many cases these tactics continue to be practiced, there are just more subtleties that come with them now.
To this day, schools across the nation limit the teachings of black history and culture, confining their altered truths to the shortest month of the year — February, or black history month, as if white history and black history are two completely separate entities when in reality black history is American history. The nation wouldn’t be what it is today without the blood, sweat and tears of black Americans.
TITUS ADKINS is a College junior from New York, studying philosophy. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Titus Touch” appears every other Thursday.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.