The Political Culture of Black Power Movements

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Political scientist Cedric Robinson suggests that by the nineteenth century there were two alternative political cultures that were on making a rise to the forefront. Cedric discusses these cultures in his writing “Black Movements in America”. The first cultural alternative wants to claim “privilege political and social identities jealousy reserved for non-blacks”, leading to “assimilationist black political culture that appropriated the values and objectives of a dominant American creed.”. The definition of cultural assimilation is the process whereby a minority group gradually adapts to the customs and attitudes of the prevailing culture and customs. In present day it’s hard enough trying to be a minority group or immigrant in America, we are more than expected to become like our American counter parts. I can only imagine what it was like in the nineteenth century to blend in as a black person, nearly impossible, this is why assimilation was seen as a popular alternative political culture to resist enslavement. The word assimilation sis rooted in the Latin “simulare,” which means make similar. People that come from other places are expected to blend in and become more like their American counter parts. American culture has always been a mixed population racially, religiously, regionally. But what criteria do we judge an outsider to fit in a very diverse nation? To some assimilation is narrowed to considerations like achievement of fluency in the dominant language, educational, or even economical success. Others require a different deeper contribution including giving up your ties to your old country, whether through linguistic or cultural ones. The black political culture had to appropriate the values of the dominant American culture which I believed led to blacks just trying to fit in as a way to survive. The climate of that time was pretty much fit in or die and that was especially towards blacks. But what African Americans need to realize is that our culture can be used as a political weapon.

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African American culture was an important weapon in movements like the civil rights movement and black panther movement. This is where Robinsons second political culture, maroonage, comes in based on a desire to “form a historical identity that presumed a higher moral standard than that which seemed to bind their masters” producing an alternate political culture that promoted the rejection of white institutions, values, and norms that birthed separatism and racism. Once the civil rights movement opened the door for Black Power that political culture became the more dominant due to its more radical ideas. The focus of The Black Power movement accentuated the display of racial pride, economic empowerment, and creating more political and cultural institutions for their people in the America. Black power grew out of the Civil rights movement, by way of African American activists experimenting with methods of self-advocacy varying from political lobbying to armed struggle. The movement was a pivotal point for views of activist and pacifist elements of the Civil Rights Movement were not effective in changing race relations. Encouraged by a want for safety and independence not available inside redline neighborhoods, leaders and Black Power activists founded black-owned bookstores, food cooperatives, farms, media, printing presses, schools, clinics and ambulance services.

Although Black thinkers like the likes of Malcolm X and Robert F. Williams impacted the early stages of the movement, the views of the Black Panther Party are largely viewed as the foundation. The party was influenced by the ideologies of black nationalism, pan Africanism, as well as socialism and events that include the Cuban revolution and decolonization of Africa. At the movements strongest point though a lot of its militant leaders had been gunned down by police, causing a lot of activist to give up on the cause. Black Panthers wanted a focus on education as well they had a program and as part of that program they wanted education for their people that exposed truth about the corrupt American society. They strived for an education that told the true history of our people and role in present day society. This desire was copied among many other organizations and the shortage of the black education had already been touched by W.E.B Du Bois and more.

Although we have come a long way from what use to be, we still have a ways to go for the liberation of black equality. What we can take from the past options is that assimilation doesn’t really work. No matter how hard we try to fit in with the rest of society we are always still seen the same. Yes, we have made huge strides as a community but where I think Robinsons work fits in is the focus on the political culture of maroonage. We have overcome discrimination, not fully, but at a far greater rate than expected. One way to I see to use from the past and present of these cultures is the ideal of getting educated to fight for our liberation. This can start with first gaining an education. African Americans have made huge strides in high school education but still lag in college graduation rates. Our incomes have risen and poverty rates have dropped, but an enormous wealth gap still remains, along with persistently high unemployment rates. We have also seen a wave increase in political power whether it be our representation in government and our voter turnout rates. This is how we take control of and fight against the ideals of the values and norms of white Americans. While segregated schools and work spaces are a thing of the past blacks go home to a usually segregated and impoverished neighborhoods. This is where I feel that we can use maroonage to attack our neighborhoods in good way by developing our own neighborhoods and using education to build our own communities up with the rest of society.

And as we progress with education we can find ourselves elevating economically which is a big key to fighting the shackles of poverty. Growth has been the largely repressed story of racism and race relations throughout this past half-century. And thus as we continue to fight with the new political structures we make great accomplishments for our people. Now almost 50 percent of African Americans are considering themselves to be a part of the middle class. 42 percent are owning homes of their own, this figure rises to 75 percent when we turn our attention just towards black married couples. Black families with both parents are earning only 13 percent less than their white counter parts. Because these are facts seldom broadcasted in media, the black underclass continues to define black America in the view of much of the public. We need to change the stereotypes of blacks living in ghettos, in low income public housing projects. America sees Crime and a welfare check as our main source of income. These stereotypes cross racial lines and need to be broken to achieve liberation. African Americans are more likely than whites to exaggerate the extent to which African Americans are stuck in inner-city poverty. In a 1991 Gallup poll, about one-fifth of all whites, but almost half of black respondents, said that at least three out of four African Americans were impoverished urban residents. And yet, in reality, blacks who consider themselves to be middle class outnumber those with incomes below the poverty line by a extensive margin.

Yes fifty years ago you could say that most blacks were undeniably caught in poverty, while not residing in inner cities. In 1944, most blacks lived in the South and on the land as laborers and sharecroppers. Merely one in eight owned the land on which he worked. A insignificant 5 percent of black men nationally were engaged in nonmanual, white-collar work of any kind; the vast majority held ill-paid, insecure, manual jobs, jobs that few whites would take. Segregation in the South and discrimination in the North did create a sheltered market for some black businesses funeral homes, beauty parlors, and the like that served a black community barred from patronizing “white” establishments. If we can start to use the tools and some ideologies of the past as a political and cultural weapon, taking things from black movements past and present we can start liberation. Creating a better education for the black community opens the door for economic success, which then leads to us opening our own businesses in our residencies creating jobs for our people and this all causes a domino effect knocking down stereotypes and having effective liberation.

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