Black community, African people gathered together, a set of male and female characters wearing different clothes and hairstyles.
Cover Image © Nadia Snopek

My Black Perspective #1: Black in America

The last few years have brought more attention to being a Black person in America than any event before it in my lifetime. To be clear, this tops key moments like the Rodney King beating and the resulting LA Riots, the entertainment dominance of Oprah Winfrey & Tyler Perry, and the presidential election of Barack Obama.

But… Why?

In my opinion, Black People are garnering more attention in America these days due to social norms changing just enough to allow a few important factors to come into play all at once:

  • Black People are being heard like they never have before.
  • Black People are being seen as they never have been before.
  • Black People are stepping it up across the board.
  • Black People are a test of America’s soul.
  • Hashtags, man… Hashtags.

Let’s kick off this month-long series by touching the tip of each of those monumental icebergs.

In a World of Trends, Black Voices Matter

Like everyone on the planet, Social Media has been a game-changer for being Black in America. You can share whatever stories you want now more easily with like minds. News outlets have a huge swamp of news sources to pull from each day by merely turning on their various social feeds. Stars rise and fall based on meme culture faster than they ever would have before (more on that near the end).

In a society that moves on bits of information presented primarily in the form of trends (Social Media or not), Black Culture kind of has an edge on some groups – and I honestly don’t know why – haha! I don’t know who to thank for this one, but it’s always been a well-acknowledged fact in my circles that Black America has been one of America-at-Large’s vital tastemakers for quite some time.

A diverse group of young female characters doing a hamstring stretch, a gym group workout scene, sport outfit.

My guess, and this is before me, has to be that we have Hip-Hop to thank for that positioning. Something about it being the CNN for black people (at least it used to be) is only half accurate in my eyes when you consider that Black People weren’t the only ones listening to it. Once that door was opened, other messages and music styles from pop-culture got mixed into the fray and touched more ears in meaningful ways than they otherwise would have. That was when black voices started to shift from being something for pure entertainment value and transcending a moment, to something that people were listening to and being emotionally-shaped by in large numbers. Please realize I’m not saying Blues, Jazz, R&B, Soul, etc. didn’t have their fair amount of listeners. I am saying Hip-Hop was a tidal wave compared to the others in their respective time of prominence, as “being Black” rose in acceptance in America. The timing just worked out better for the genre.

And with that open door came a number of chances to influence like never before. More people wanted to dress like the rappers that they saw. Others began to mimic how they spoke. As rap music videos exposed more of a fabricated image, certain cars grew in prestige. The flash and bling era brought in a collective lust for jewelry and other accessories being presented in a certain way. Also, good or bad, it shaped a whole generation’s perception of female beauty more than people would ever proudly admit. And keep in mind that this was slowly making its way over from just being a “Black-” or “Poor People thing” to being something mainstream that flowed through the American Pop Culture zeitgeist.

I go on that bit of a long ramble to say that the rise created many wealthy influential Black Entrepreneurs before “being an influencer” was officially a thing. And while that generation didn’t go on to be the people you saw dominating Social Media as we know it, they did train the generation who did. America and the rest of the world were suddenly exposed to a number of kids who took their Hip-Hop-infused pop culture mannerisms online, and the rest is history in terms of its influence (even if Black creators don’t always initially get credit).

Black People have a number of certain eyeballs now whether people like it or not.

What Do I Look Like to You?

While I didn’t live in the ’50s – ’80s like that, I imagine seeing a Black Person back then – for many – was like how some people treat seeing a homeless person now. A lot of people will just try to act as though they aren’t there unless that presence bothers them. I don’t quite know how to explain this one, but there’s a certain “wishing away” that I’ve seen people do with homeless people. They acknowledge a person’s body is there, but they almost just kind of wish that they weren’t (whether that’s motivated from a place of concern or annoyance). I feel like Black America was probably tolerated like THAT at a certain point in our country’s history.

And then, once people were actually seen as actual members of society (just go with this for a second) – you were looked at a certain way based on some narrative of stereotype. This was especially true for people who hadn’t ever been exposed to a Black body before.

They saw thieves, junkies, overly aggressive and sexualized men, ignorant people, untrustworthy and unsavory types, charity cases, potential threats — and the list goes on. Just “elements of the community” that many people would have rather NOT been there… like a large presence of homeless people.

PS: I’m basing my thoughts above on things that I’ve heard from older Black People I’ve spoken to who lived through those times. I’m not just pulling this out of my ass – LOL!

A set of young black male characters wearing different outfits: sport, casual and business.

Whether or not those perceptions have changed is mainly in the eye of the beholder, but I can say that I don’t personally feel like I’m seen as any of those things by most people I come across now. When I am out in the world, I feel like I’m “just a guy” in most places. At work – I feel like a well-regarded coworker and not a “quota hire”. I can walk into buildings I have lived in without people questioning my presence and “belonging” as a resident. I don’t feel like I’m being surveilled when I go out shopping in nice stores. I know I’m fortunate to genuinely feel this way because everybody doesn’t.

What I’m saying is that America is beginning to come around to the idea that Black People are human, too. I know, there’s definitely still progress to be made on that front – but I think everyone has to admit that a Black man walking down the street now doesn’t have it anywhere near as hard as a Black man taking a stroll in a white business district in the 1950s or ’60s.

We aren’t automatically seen as a “bad thing” in a lot of places now. This is fairly new.

Black Success Is Becoming More Common

While Black wealth in America is in its infancy (and nearly non-existent) – the number of rich Black People in America is higher than its ever been. I will let Chris Rock briefly explain the difference between being wealthy and being rich…

I will talk about more of these things at length in posts this month, but there are more educated Black Americans than ever before. This is leading to the creation of more Black millionaires as a result, and there are even Black billionaires now. I am happy to see a number of athletes and entertainers using their platform for community building, too.

This is all fairly new for Black America, and I’m proud of all of it.

This is a key point in wealth creation that Black America has seen before, only this time I’m hoping that the rest of America doesn’t mind us keeping it. (So many thoughts going through my head about that link)

A multi-generational black family standing in front of the building, real estate property.

Qualifying that with: I think it would be harder to take away now.

Black People & The Soul of America

America has long claimed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. And for some, it always has been. But, as a Black person – I respectfully say that’s not true for everyone here. And I’m not the only one who would say that.

You just have to casually be familiar with Black America’s history of seeking civil rights to see how the platitudes of American idealism can ring hollow.

The big change now though is that America is willing to take an honest look in the mirror at times right now and lower its head in the face of hypocrisy. Sure, no one knows how to fix it just yet – or try to sincerely right any wrongs of the past, but at least some section of America (that, dare I say, is growing) seems to want to make things as right as they can be.

While white guilt is a thing, I think there’s also the realization that no one (most of us anyway) is literally blaming white people now for the past injustices that their ancestors pushed on Black People in America. But, there’s still the desire to try to fix it.

So long as the stain of the hurt caused by past racial relations and social norms exists in America, some people will never like the reflection that they see when they look in the mirror (as a country). On the opposite side of that, you have people who have just “accepted the bruises as part of their appearance” so to speak, and they’d like to move on.

I am not offering an opinion on this matter here and now, but I’m acknowledging that it exists.

A camping scene, a diverse group of characters making barbecue at the mountain lakeshore, a spruce forest in the background.

The relationship America has with its Black citizens reflects on the core creeds of our nation, and a lot of people are open to that philosophy now. In the past – this was unheard of. Black People were treated with the same level of respect on this issue as a child in a house. America was the parent, and Black People should be grateful for everything that America provided in terms of safe housing.

The problem with that analogy is that it fails to recognize that the child helped build the home in this case. And I don’t mean a little thing like, “They painted the wall.” I mean they literally built the home while the parents just sat back and watched – telling them where to install the framing for the windows and how high to construct the chimney. Think about that. And this isn’t a case where it’s a contractor that you hired to do the home (so they have no say in what goes on in your home) – this was forced labor.

Again, think about that before you pull any cards about Black People needing to be grateful to America and let the past go.

Thank God for Hashtags

The last thing that I think is really coming to the forefront of the mixture right now is the ability to popularize and organize thoughts and emotions, concentrated on a single turn of phrase.

Whether they are in celebration of #BlackExcellence or #BlackGirlMagic – or in bereavement and anger in the forms of #ICantBreathe or #BlackLivesMatter – our current meme culture (told you I’d circle back around to that), and trained short attention spans, cause the masses to gravitate to hashtags as rallying cries.

And since these things happen in public forums, it’s a lot harder in America to hide when those things go viral. Suddenly everyone can be in on the happy moments and the sad moments without filters. The middle man has been removed and America gets to SEE things firsthand… All thanks to a little #.

Conference video call, remote project management, quarantine, working from home, black community.

Can you imagine if Social Media was a thing during the Civil Rights Movement? If America could have seen the impact of certain legislation and police crackdowns in Black communities during the ’80s on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube — would things have been handled differently? Would there be fewer black people in jail? Would America have put the issue of reparations to bed by now? The world will never know, but I’m happy that this meme culture tool is being put to good use to build empathy and change hearts.

Again, this is all new.

Without each of these elements at play (at a minimum) right now, I’m not sure that America would be anymore attuned to caring about Black realities. And I know that there’s WAAAAAAY more happening right now that’s brought a lot into focus, but those were just a few central contributors in my view.

I am looking forward to writing more about these topics this month related to my ideas and experiences of being Black in America. I hope that people chime in and share their stories, whether you’re black or not. Expanding some thoughts and conversations on these topics is crucial.

Happy Black History Month 2021.

Peace, and thanks for reading.


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Image Credits:
All Images © Nadia Snopek (Shutterstock)

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