Thoughts on the Black Community and American Culture


The consensus of modern thought would suggest that slavery, along with its spheres of influence, is behind us. This is an easy conception for some to concede to given that so much has changed in America since the days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Having witnessed the extinguishing of Jim Crow law, segregation, and the institution of slavery itself, along with the birth of affirmative action, civil rights, and the first black president, it might certainly seem that Dr. King’s dream has been realized. However, experience as a youth of the black community has taught me otherwise.

While black people in America are free from the bonds of slavery in every physical sense, the institution’s figurative chains extend far beyond the Civil Rights Movement and still shackle our community today. Many of the ugly realities that prevail in the black community are direct results of slavery. Statistics revealing the declining rate of marriages, increasing numbers of single and teenage mothers, incarcerations, fewer high school graduates and college enrollees reflect the progressive effects of slavery on the black community.

These unfortunate trends have often been explained away simply as the drawbacks of growing up in the inner city that so much of the black community is exposed to. More tactless varieties of thought identify the social disparity as proof of a fundamental difference between those of African decent and the prevailing culture. The latter leaves residue of the dated concept on which the American institution of slavery was founded; the idea that black people are somehow inherently subhuman and incapable of  adhering to the social standards of white culture. What provides an honest explanation for the dissention between the black community and the prevailing American culture is a fracture at the foundational level of the black identity. This fracture lies beneath the layers of many generations.

The brutal atrocities suffered by those captured into slavery, ripped from the authenticity of their ethnic environment, removed from their societies, the contexts of their languages, beliefs, customs and experiences worked to crucially damage the wholeness and integrity of black culture. By uprooting and dehumanizing its victims, the institution of American slavery destroyed the ethnic and ethical grounding necessary for their health and prosperity. The effects of living as slaves for several generations on the mentality of the black race in America are incalculable. Centuries of enduring the withholding of academic development, threats to familial bonds, perpetual secondary status, and the denial of human dignity created a mental and emotional deficiency that directly diminished the communal ability to maintain the preferred standard of living.

By its nature, American slavery denied its victims access to the belief in and understanding of the ideals of integrity, dignity, success, matrimony, academia and citizenship. By breaking, and perpetually hindering healthy family units in the black community through the erosion of its essential humanity, slavery ensured that these ideals would remain, at best, on the fringes of black ethics. The black community is in no way predisposed to the sad realities that plague it, but are instead heirs to a degeneration of the family values necessary to inspire otherwise.

This op-ed was originally written for American Political Thought and Practice.