The meaning of the word ‘Black’ has become distorted and warped. Black identity and cultural identities have become darkened and seen only through the grey lens of their negative connotations. In order to reclaim and get an authentic definition of what it means to be Black, we have to map out this vital word’s history. When defining Black, we get three main points: An adjective – The darkest colour seen by the human eye, the opposite of white; A verb: – To cause something to darken or inhibit progression; A noun – Relating to people of African ancestry.
Today, Black is seen as an emotion primarily associated with anger, fear and violence, as opposed to power, strength and authority. Black is seen as a character trait and generalized as a behaviour instead of as a fundamental basis of cultural and ancestral traditions. Black skin is seen first and the content of the character is seen second, often coloured through stereotypical deductions. Although the Latin flagrare (“to blaze, glow, burn”), and Ancient Greek phlegein (“to burn, scorch”) derived the word Black as a result of the discovery fire, continuing to associate it as the wasteful, unneeded result of ‘fire’ twists our perception of Black identity. Perhaps these origins are instead testament to the passion and resilience within Black identity – A fire which illuminates. Take the figures of Olaudah Equiano, Madam C. J Walker and W.E.B. Du Bois, all fuelled by injustices within their society, refusing to be extinguished as a result of it.
This turns us to our vital question: what does it mean to be Black? Strip away the stains of wickedness and evil; the socially constructed and misinformed concept of ‘Blackness’; the media’s manipulation towards violence and anger, and it is that there we find light.
Being Black is History; precisely, the history of humanity. The complexities of our civilizations, the melody in our music, the awe of our art started in the mind of the first archaic dark-skinned homo-sapien. Throughout history, the originality and innovation of traditional African customs have leaked into all aspects of our now regarded ‘Western-society.’ From the Dondo and Bendri Drums, to emancipatory hymns sung in days of captivity, gradually morphing into the groovy Afrobeats blasting out of your radios; the added variety and intimacy of our spoken language; to development of our social thought, domestic and international politics: the influence of Black history is clear.
Being Black is culture; culture which dances and sings. It is existing as part of a greater whole, in an already enriched whirlpool of identities and icons. Despite the adversities faced, systematic obstacles used and intentional difficulties laid, Black culture always bursts through. Black culture is a multi-faceted and fluid concept, evident in a myriad of ways: in politics, economics, language, music, hairstyles, fashion, dance, religion, cuisine, and worldview. It constantly reaffirms and works as a rock to conquer and stabilize identity, through it’s cultural omni-presence in a variable world. It invites every member to a never-ending celebration of it’s rich impact and humble origins.
Being Black is Community; It ranges from a subtle nod or a sigh of mutual acknowledgement, to having a familiar face in unfamiliar spaces. There is an unseen current that flows through the entire cultural circuit, that connects us together. To say that Black people are rooted purely by the colour of skin would be limiting, as there is no fixed meaning of being Black. And, it is this that is the beautiful truth in the bold assertion of Black Identity; its vastness and infinity. It’s ability to be constantly carved, remoulded, reshaped and now redefined.
Simply put, being Black stretches further than the surfaces of our skin. It is a wonderful web of historical, cultural and communal roots weaved deep within our minds. These roots provide the foundation and support when achieving mastery and Black excellence. They also grow richer and increasingly abundant as our cultural communities navigate the ever-changing world. In order to have these roots, it leaves us with a simple conclusion: being Black is owning a seed.
Written by Joy Adeogun
English Literature Undergraduate, University of Cambridge
Joyce A. Joyce. “Semantic Development of the Word Black: A History from Indo-European to the Present.” Journal of Black Studies 11, no. 3 (1981): 307-12. Accessed February 1, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2784182.
Black | Origin and meaning of black by Online Etymology Dictionary. (n.d.). Https://www.Etymonline.Com/Word/Black. Retrieved 1 February 2021, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/black
Davis, John A. “The Influence of Africans on American Culture.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 354 (1964): 75-83. Accessed February 13, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1035320.