Black People Need to Break Up With White Culture

by Thea Monyee´ 

This conversation is long overdue. If I could sit down with black and white culture, I’d tell them, “Black culture, white culture does not want you, does not love you, and will not change for you. If and when white culture makes changes, it will be rooted in a movement from within its own culture, not yours.”

Perhaps we could have brought it up while being kidnapped, brutalized, and stripped of cultural definition, but it is safe to assume that white culture would not have been “open” to such a discussion at that time. There have been past attempts to go our separate ways and detangle our economic interests led by leaders such as Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad, but between the characterization of these leaders as radicals and domestic terrorism woven through America’s social and political systems, the idea of leaving this relationship remained a silly notion for the young, the angry, and the very, very black.

We are not talking about physical segregation. We are talking about psychological liberation.
Our relationship with white culture, developed through the trauma of slavery and Jim Crow, is rooted in forced dependency, a necessity to ensure long term slavery and to maintain white culture’s defining belief in domination and superiority. This psychological tactic continues to compel black culture to seek validation from white culture, present day. Even when black culture is protesting the very system white culture has created to oppress other cultures, black people can be found on news panels justifying the outrage of black protesters, as though they need permission from white culture to express their hurt. The ongoing myth that black culture is “made in America” prevents black culture from defining itself through the lens of African culture from which it has descended. So long as our relationship with white culture continues in this manner we will not only be defined by this myth, we will help to perpetuate it.

If I were White and born after 1965, I would not want to claim the legacy of the slave master. I would use the myth of a post-racial society, my vote for Barack Obama, and my solitary non-white friend as evidence that I could not be racist. I would choose to unconsciously, subconsciously, or even consciously hide behind my privilege to avoid the burden of accountability. Black culture can relate to the instinct to disassociate from the past. Slavery sucked. But without the benefit of privilege to shield us from historical realities, we chose to embrace slavery in America as a part of our heritage that represents resilience and strength. Here is where we reach an impasse. How can our relationship with white culture be fulfilling and productive if white culture refuses to learn, examine, and embrace its history?

The clear answer is that it cannot.

White fraternities’ racist chants will continue to transform into discussions about the n-word in rap lyrics; the murders of unarmed black men will continue to be justified by “their refusal to cooperate”; and black celebrities will continue to sit in silence out of fear of being accused of playing the “race card.” Black culture will continue to absorb responsibility for white culture’s unclaimed actions, and white culture will continue to expect nothing less.

In healthy social dynamics, one culture is allowed to develop its individuality, and maintain that individuality when in relationship with other cultures. However, when multiple forms of abuse are present in any relationship, such as the one between white culture and black culture, one sees itself reflected singularly through the eyes of the other, making the perspective of the abuser the only valid one. This is evident in the historical and present examples of black movements enduring for years, but peaking when they are joined by white allies. Cornrows considered “ghetto” until worn by Kristen Stewart. Full lips viewed as ugly unless cosmetically applied to Kylie Jenner. Hip-Hop eroding American values, unless twerked to by Miley Cyrus or Iggy Azelea. And most recently bantu knots being a fashion no no until they are renamed and styled by Marc Jacobs.

We are beautiful, but black culture will struggle to fully experience and accept this beauty while viewing itself in relation to white culture. It is time for black culture to transition from the singular perspective of white culture and answer a fundamental question: Who are we without white culture?

Imagine walking into a job or classroom with white co-workers or students, without the internalized pressure of representing an entire race; auditioning for a role without caring about being viewed as a stereotype; or getting dressed in the morning without the looming presence of white perception. Collectively, black culture responds, reacts, and refines itself to avoid the negative consequences designed and enforced by white culture, a strategy that keeps black culture tethered to white culture. Each response and reaction expels energy from the healing and development of black culture and propels energy into preserving a severely damaged dynamic with white culture.

So ask yourself: What will I do with all the time and energy I no longer feel obligated to give to white culture? Will you heal? Will you excel? Will you begin to allow your children to inherit your rich history, without the pain? Will you question and explore what lies beyond your skin? Will you raise your hands in gratitude, not in fear? Will you smile? Will you expand? Will you live without limitations?

All of these things are possible if we decide that we deserve to be in relationships with cultures and people that respect and admire our traditions, value our contributions to society, and believe that our lives matter.

Thea Monyee´ is a wife, a mother, and an HBO Def Poet. She is the owner of Canvas Center for Creative Wellness in Los Angeles, and executive director of the Mrs. & the Mistress, stage play. She is the author of Murmurs of a MadWoman: An Unconventional Memoir. Currently she is the Coordinator for the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at Cal State Los Angeles.

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