In an article for the spiritual site Elev8.com, writer Shenequa Golding wondered if African American culture is having an identity crisis. After failing to hear about the 43rd Annual African American Day Parade in Harlem, she questioned if our culture as a whole is losing its way.
Although she conceded that perhaps poor marketing or her own ignorance could possibly explain why she was unaware of the long-running celebration, which has included folks like Denzel Washington, Al Sharpton, former New York City mayor David Dinkins, and Shirley Chisholm, she wondered why African American culture in New York City doesn’t seem as thriving and prevalent as other cultures.
As vibrant and exciting as New York City is, it’s also a hodgepodge for every and any cultural background to come, reside and gain their part of the American dream. But while New York’s culture has become everyone’s culture, some believe Black culture in New York isn’t as strong as West Indian culture or Puerto Rican culture, which draws throngs of people every year for their parade and is highly publicized. Or is it?
This parade has been in existence for more than 40 years and we didn’t know about it.But the question is why? It’s not because we’re not “black enough” we represent a healthy and vibrant mix of opinions, ideals, and thoughts.
Maybe us choosing not to know is the reason. I could’ve easily done a Google search for last minute free summer activities to partake in and learned all about it. However, I like my other co-workers were well aware of the season premiere of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. (Grimaces)
She goes on to ask, “What is it about the African-American identity that isn’t as strong or unifying as other identities, or are we just late to the party?”
My answer? She’s late to the party.
First of all, using a parade to measure the vitality of a culture is a bit shortsighted. But unlike the cultures of others from the diaspora who have immigrated to the U.S., African American culture is inextricably tied to, and has indelibly shaped, American culture as a whole.
While Golding and others may marvel at the colorful displays and steel drum bands at the West Indian Day parade, or gawk at the throngs of Boriquas dancing to salsa on floats during the Puerto Rican Day parade, she may be ignoring the fact that American black culture presents itself in various ways throughout our lives. From the music we listen to (no matter what genre) and how we interact, to the food we eat and how we worship, black American culture has become part of the dominant American culture so much so that it often times doesn’t feel “othered.”
Moreover, the sheer size of this country and the fact that black folks live in every state and express their take on our culture in various ways makes it difficult to compare to an island nation with a fraction of the population.
African Americans have been have been in this country for hundreds of years. Our history is rich and storied and our culture manifests in every facet of society. If anyone is having an “identity crisis,” it is the people who have equated black American culture with “urban” foolishness such as violence and gangs. The rest of us know where we came from and are proud of our people.
*Photo via Harlem World