In my mind and writings the meaning of “culture” goes beyond the manifestations of a people in art, music and literature, as the word is often used today. Those things are the expressions or results of the “culture” of which I think and write. For me the more relevant definition of culture is the collection of behaviors, priorities, values and social expectations and norms that help a people survive and thrive in a specific environment. For me culture is simply how a people thrive in a specific place, and time and under specific circumstances, the ways that allow a people to prosper. Culture must be informed by experience and history, but to be useful all culture must be relevant to the here and now.
Take “soul food” for instance, high fat, high carb delicacies made from scraps is simply inappropriate culture for people who no longer do hard physical work from “can't see to can't see” and now watch television for sport... a bad habit but not culture by my definition. Clinging to the past does not always serve us well. Perhaps that is the role of leaders, to move people toward appropriate “culture” and away from self defeating bad habits no matter how nostalgic the embrace.
Having said that, as a member of a racial group that is 12% of a population in a society that is based on majority rule I ponder a culture that will work for black Americans in this place and time. Those who decry Racism, as I do, must acknowledge that it is something that we must cope with, that the 100 meter sprint for many others is and will continue to be a 100 meter hurdle for too many of us... and as painful and unjust as it may be, the truth is that that we have neither the media nor military power to control the culture of others... as was/is done to us. Racism became part of Western culture because it allows one group of humans to take land, lives and resources from those considered less human, with the blessings of a just and merciful God... as long as you save their souls as you pillage.
We have made legal progress and have more options, with some control over our time, we get to earn money and still can vote, albeit with more difficulty everyday. So how do we shape a culture based on these realities? An undeniable premise is that the only way any people or family can thrive is by providing options for their children. To me this means that since Racism will not soon go away because it provides advantages to other people's children, that we must produce children to run hurdles as fast as others run sprints. Unfair, yes, but our reality, the reality any present day culture for black Americans must embrace. We must suck it up and do what we have to do and we all have roles to play... but each in its season.
This essay was prompted by what I consider to be a confused sense of responsibility in a socially conscious young warrior that seems to be prevalent among many well meaning and socially committed young black men of parenting age. This brother was lamenting the fact that providing for his kids was using up so much of his time that he couldn't do the things he felt he needed to do for the community.
Wow! His misplaced shame and confused sense of purpose made me respond (out of order as elders sometimes get to do), “Right now you are doing the numvber one work for a young man, being a mule for your children, pulling that weight with all your effort so they can have what they need to be blessings in our community instead of problems. That is what a young father is to do for community, be an advantage for his children. Your time to lead will come and will i large part be based on the respect you earned as a man who made things happen for his children.”
This encounter has me suggesting that men supporting their children is the first priority of any viable black American culture, that nothing can come before a man's children. Young men need to know that they are uplifting the community when they are creating options for their children. So, in the Silverback Society mentoring movement we are very careful to only engage men who can afford to spend an hour each week working with other men's children, and we never infringe on family time with after school or weekend activities. Yes, we need some fathers to do the work, but that is why we only ask one hour a week, but never after school or on weekends or in the summer, no commitment that will deprive their own children of time or resources.
So to all my friends who are young soldiers, please focus on being successful at your craft, on your job, in your business or profession because your children must be able to run hurdles and the truth is that your ability to lead later will depend on being a notable success at something in the world.
In the Silverback Society we teach that there are three levels of manhood, and to be happy within yourself you must accept that they must be reached in this order:
Independence – You no longer need your parents resources to live.
Responsibility – You are willing and able to take care of the responsibilities you create.
Chiefhood – You are able to take on responsibility for the village.
I also submit for your consideration that if black people in America are to overcome the ravages of slavery, Jim Crow and man-less welfare checks, part of our culture as black men must be, that once we complete raising our children, we then accept our standing as chiefs in the village, being there for the (sometimes virtual) widows and orphans in the village, a role that is both consistent with our African roots and the present day needs of place, time and circumstance. If you think about it, what they call “mid life crisis” is nothing more than a potential chief not understanding that his need to feel significant and respected is normal but rooted in this important aspect of all human culture, becoming an elder in and for community a successful man's true destiny and crowning glory... not a red convertible. Let us not follow others into the abyss. If we don't do something different, nothing will change.
The Silverback Society's annual “Gathering of The Silverbacks” will be on October 16th at 6:pm at Le Musee de F.P.C, 2336 Esplanade Ave. Level Two men who can afford to invest an hour a week without depriving children and Level 3 men who are proud of what they have done with their lives are invited to come and meet experienced Mentors and learn more about our volunteer movement. We only want men who can can pass a background check and can afford to invest an hour a week to do this work, during the day on a weekday for five and one half months (20 session). (No sessions during holidays)