Black culture is loved by everyone in the world. Historically its been the most creative and the most stolen. One may ask what do I mean by Black Culture? When a person refers to something as black culture we’re usually referring to the art forms and the way of life that was born by black people. These things for blacks have historically been born out of deprivation and necessity. For example, “Soul Food” was made from the scraps that black slaves were given by their masters. These slaves utilized the scraps they had to make something that would be cherished and passed down for centuries to come. Another example of black culture born out of deprivation would be the art forms of gospel and hip-hop. Early gospel is derived from old negro spirituals sung on the plantation. Slaves put passion into singing and praising god because life was hell and all they had to look forward to was the afterlife. That emotion, that pain is what you receive when you hear gospel music. Hip-hop on the other hand was birthed from poor ghetto kids of the mid 70’s and early 80’s. On the cusp of Reaganomics Reaganomics defined; when the poor was getting poorer and the rich was getting richer these kids with nothing found solace in creating the Hip-Hop movement. This art form also served as something that kept the youth from being criminals in these arduous environments.
Black culture manifests itself in society in many other ways. This includes language, art, fashion and much more. In regards to language Ebonics which at its literal level simply means black speech, is a significant part of black culture. This alteration in English owes part of its formation to the African diaspora. It also has ties to the lack of education blacks received in America which caused them to change words to their liking. In regards to Art, graffiti as well as art depicting the black struggle resonate with African-Americans. Fashion-wise, black culture helped to cultivate numerous trends that are followed worldwide. Trends like braids, Afros, the growth of sneaker culture, Streetwear, etc. have all had a cultural impact on the planet.
Culture for Profit
When an art form generated from black culture is first introduced it’s usually first met with restraint then taken away from the architects of the culture once the corporate world starts to see it’s marketability. For example, Rock and Roll was seen as more profitable if it was sung by an Elvis Presley rather than a Chuck Berry. Hip-hop music was said to be noise and for a long time it was thought to be a fad and not real music. In 1989, Rap acts had to boycott the Grammys because the award for best rapper wouldn’t be shown on television; a complete slap in the face to the genre 1989 Grammys Boycott. When executives were able to see hip-hop’s marketability to white audiences they took control of it and changed the overall essence of what the movement was supposed to represent. They utilized hip-hop as a marketing tool and absolutely maximized its popularity. In 2004, Forbes Magazine stated that hip-hop generated approximately 10 billion dollars per year. Hip-hop has thrown its hat in every sector of the entertainment industry. Rather it be in the mediums of film (Boyz N The Hood, Straight outta Compton, Creed), television (Martin, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Living Single etc.), theatre (Holla if ya hear me, Hamilton) or radio (Hot 97, Breakfast club, Power 106), hip-hop has seen financial success in it. During the era of rapper inspired clothing lines, hip-hop apparel was estimated to be a 2 billion dollar market. hip-hop in itself helped to cultivate what the 75 billion dollar streetwear industry is today.
In film it’s a bit different. Black culture had a tumultuous history in film. At first film was used to mock black culture and create narratives to the masses of what “the negro” is like. They type casted blacks and utilized stereotypes to build the narrative of blacks as lazy, violent, criminal, stupid, and just all the things you do not want to be. Black actors would be type casted for many years to come after the genesis of motion pictures. A few early actors broke through in respectable roles and made their name by being absolutely prolific on-screen i.e.: Sidney Poitier. As time went on the amount of black actors on-screen was still minimal but the ones that were seen the most and given legit opportunities were very profitable. For example, Eddie Murphy and his run in the 80’s where his most profitable film generated approximately 234,760,478 million dollars at the box office. Will Smith in the 90’s where his most profitable film made 548,609,500 million dollars at the box office. It is not to say that there weren’t actors of color that had a great career during those times, it is to say that as far as the black superstar there usually isn’t more than one or two occupying the same space at the same time. The ones that do become superstars shatter records. It is similar to how right now it’s Kevin Hart’s time. In a lot of films of the past 20 years you could see parts of black culture within it. A lot of movies have rap music on their scores. The movies that are made with majority black casts are not given the same exposure as its counterparts but they do tend to receive cult following statuses.
It’s obvious that black culture is synonymous with American culture. So much of the pain and struggle of black voices have translated into beautiful works of art and that art has changed America. The only problem is black culture is still not really recognized in regards to getting the accolades and opportunities that are deserved. For example the #Oscarssowhite debacle that just occurred as well as the lack of jobs for black actors in Hollywood. Despite all of the great things that blacks have added to American film and culture, they’re still being ostracized from film and not even being nominated for the most coveted award you could receive as an actor; an Oscar. Same could be said for the Grammys. The Grammys clearly does not care about hip-hop. It seems as if a lot of times they try to get it out-the-way. The list of great Rap albums that haven’t received Grammys is unacceptable. It seems as if they won’t even take the time to do their due diligence in regards to understanding hip-hop. Although black culture has changed American Culture from an artistic standpoint, black culture is still not seen as being of equal value to mainstream pop culture. It seems that black culture is only important when corporate executives can modify it and receive an outstanding ROI. They take black pain and turn it into profit. Black culture has been profitable but more for corporate entities and less for the black people it represents. Despite the financial success of black culture, black pain remains.
One must ask why we constantly need their validation. We are always enraged when they leave us out of the Grammy’s or The Oscars. I understand we want to receive the accolades we deserve, but if you look at it historically black culture has never received the praise it’s deserved. Black art forms have only been utilized for profit. Why do we seek acceptance from the entities that have exploited us, ostracized us, and won’t recognize our true value. Maybe if we recognize our true value we could reap the rewards from our own culture.
We don’t need their accolades to value our artistry.
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