“The Unseen African American Culture”- Maddie Hunt

I attended the program, “The Black Present and Presence” and the speakers highlighted the importance of understanding black culture and learning how to interact with communities that are unfamiliar to you. Professor Miller started off the program by introducing our speakers and discussing the acknowledgment and enjoyment of racial differences. The main topics she covered were how African Americans have their culture taken with little to no recognition. Aspects of this are a form of hand communication being the dap as well as how African Americans have played a role in how their nails are worn. The next speaker was V. Dozier who is an education librarian and assistant professor at the University of San Diego within our Copley Library. She discusses creating community in digital spaces and emphasizes the importance of Black Twitter and the close-knit community that comes along with it. The final speaker was Khalia Li who has served in higher education for nearly fifteen years in the areas of student affairs and academic affairs. She is nearing Ph.D. degree completion and she is going to receive a Ph.D. in leadership studies at the University of San Diego. Her presentation was called “Done and Undone” during which she read us her paper from 2009 that touches on her hair journey throughout her life. This program stood out to me the most out of all the other ones that I have attended this semester because of how personal and moving it was and it helped broaden my understanding of African American history.

Professor Miller begins the presentation by bringing in a quote from Bell Hooks’s book, “Black Looks Racing Representation.” The quote summarizes that people have found acknowledgment and enjoyment in racial differences. However, Hooks highlights that “Consuming the other or consuming black culture doesn’t necessarily mean seeing black people as human or seeing black people as active members or contributors to our society or to our culture doesn’t necessarily lend to black equality.” This quote stuck out to me because a main point that was discussed during this presentation was that whatever African American people embody, it is only seen as acceptable on non-African American people. Black culture is everywhere around us and African Americans are not receiving the recognition that they deserve. During the black power generation in the 1970s, African Americans developed the dap as a hand communication and raising your fist in the air, which showed community and strength within one another. Another example she touched on was African Americans from St. Louis to Harlem started the trend of wearing Nike air force ones in their everyday lives. The last example is that African American women played an ongoing role in how nails are worn. Traditionally black women have worn long and colorful nails, however, when this custom was taken by others the styles black women had worn for a long time were frowned upon as ghetto. This is important because African Americans are not only failing to receive credit for trends that they start but are being considered more desirable on white bodies. This is shown as their culture is being taken away from them and it is unfair.

Dozier made an impact on myself and the rest of the audience because she pointed out a topic that I never knew about. She discusses how African Americans have been erased from digital spaces and humans always create community wherever they go. Community is so important to black people because it allows people to have a safe place to go, where they feel comfortable and loved. “Insisting on inclusion in the black community, black lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders asserted their black identity” (e-book page 996). This quote highlights the importance of community and how people are continuing to fight for inclusion. The speaker talks about Catherine Steele’s book, “Digital Black Feminism” and it discusses what black women do in these digital spaces and how their community has shifted into a digital space. This allows for them to feel free to post, share, and connect with anyone in the community. A Twitter post that she put on her slideshow said, “They want our rhythm, but they don’t want our blues.” This relates to Professor Miller’s presentation because she spoke about how Kylie Jenner loves to take their nail culture but doesn’t necessarily want the issues that came along with it. This shows that African Americans are being ignored for the trends that they started and have been treated unequally for far too long. I was very shocked when she spoke about the incident in Jennifer Buck’s book, “Bad and Boujee.” She wrote a racist piece about things that she was not qualified to speak on. It is crucial to know your place and know how to interact with spaces that are not yours. Three black female theologians used their voice through social media platforms and put a stop to it by using the power of their voice. They responded by saying not only did you write it, but you didn’t cite us. The book “Freedom On My Mind” states “Most African Americans celebrated black power for the pride it instilled and for engendering intolerance of stereotypical representations of blackness” (e-book page 932). This quote shows how black people had hope and pride and fought through the stereotypes together as a united community. Black Twitter has one another’s back by amplifying their voices and speaking out about what was wrong because if you put out a call, people will respond. Black Twitter is so important because a Twitter thread is used as a tool to amplify their voices and without it, the engagement of Twitter drastically decreases. Black Twitter uplifts the black community because it creates a safe space for people to feel welcome and to speak out about injustices. 

The final speaker is Khalia Li who dives into her life to share a personal experience with us. She shares her paper that she wrote in 2009 called “My Nappy Roots” from her course, dynamics of race, gender, and culture. As a kid, she was very proud of her long, thick hair, but she longed for “good hair.” In the African American community, good hair was considered less coarse, silky, and smooth, and bad hair was characterized as afro style. Khalia describes herself as a member of the nappy hair culture. She states, “Many people outside the black community either don’t know about this concept or don’t understand it. This makes this issue very difficult to talk about.” This proves that people should not try to relate to something where they don’t belong by Khalia discussing how she felt excluded because her hair looked different from other people’s. In the journal article,” I Am Not My Hair: African American Women and Their Struggles With Embracing Natural Hair,” the writer, Randle, states, “In the 1500s the slave ships came in from Europe. The first thing that was done to slaves once they were caught was to cut their hair off. That was only the process of wiping out our culture and identity to break their spirit to make it easier to control us.” This is another example that shows how their culture has been taken away from them and how hair is a huge part of a woman’s appearance. Khalia plays a video of Professor Melissa Harris-Perry who discusses the different techniques and hairstyles of black people. She speaks about perms, straight styles that can be achieved from hot combs, weaves and their 2 categories called synthetic hair and human hair, and braids that can take up to eight hours. Professor Harris-Perry says, “Nappy is a term we use among ourselves to reclaim pride in something that was once used as a weapon against us.” I find this quote very inspiring and powerful because this relates to the journal article quote and how slaves had no choice in whether they got to keep their hair or not. Even though hair is an important part of their culture, it was just another thing that was ripped away from them. 

The main themes throughout this program were community, pride, and strength in oneself. This is shown through Black Twitter being used to amplify black voices and using your strength to love yourself no matter your differences. Another theme is fighting for change and for the recognition that African Americans deserve. It is important to spread the culture and educate other people about the history behind the culture they like to imitate. After taking this class, my eyes are opened to a new perspective. I believe it is important to learn about these topics and understand other perspectives, so history never repeats itself. I am very happy I attended this program because I got to hear these personal stories from two amazing women and learn more about African American history.

 

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