The confidence of repetition in black culture

Standard conceptualizations of culture account for both tradition and, seemingly inevitably, progression as a function of passing time. In his analysis, however, Snead establishes white/European culture and black culture in a condition of opposites: whereas an impulse to transform imbibes white culture, a comfort with repetition characterizes black culture. Although ethnocentric observers like Hegel might conflate a penchant for repetition with “backwardness,” I think that, juxtaposed with white cultural flightiness, black repetition indicates soundness in identity  (Snead 63).

General invocations of white culture often exist in vague, yet deeply held, sentiments—like those expressed by white folks whose historical miseducation enables them to cherish, albeit inappropriately, Confederate iconography.

As Snead writes, “‘Coming-to-terms’ may mean denial or acceptance, repression or highlighting, but in any case transformation is culture’s response to its own apprehension of repetition,” (59). This white impulse to move quickly leaves little room for self-reflection; indeed, I think you can definitively argue a link between the white obsession with transformation and white historical illiteracy, illuminated, for instance, by contestation over slavery being the cause of the Civil War.

The juxtaposition of white transformation and black repetition similarly lends itself to metaphors aligning white culture with a nervous, apprehensive pre-teen attempting to navigate and test potential identities, while positing black culture as an assured upperclassmen, confident and steadfast in core principles (can you tell I just saw Eighth Grade? Haha sorry). Perhaps, within the framework of American culture(s), the white-transformation, black-repetition distinction comes from the fact that the definition of ‘whiteness’ and the privileges that it carries has a much more fluid existence than the definition of ‘blackness.’ Over US history, whiteness has expanded and constricted both to encompass and expel, for instance, Irish, Italian, and  different subgroups of Asian and Latinx folks, as convenient or expedient; the most consistent definition of whiteness has been in opposition to blackness. Whiteness has maintained such fluid boundaries that the privilege it carries can be extended or taken away almost on a whim; in America, however, blackness carries with it a history as a label imposed for the purpose of subjugation. By this standard, anyone who fall into the constructed category of black (i.e. anyone who does not have white passing ability) finds themselves forever barred from the privileges inherent in whiteness.

I think that Black Panther touches on this peculiarity of blackness vs. whiteness in America during discussions on the distinct experiences of blackness in Wakanda, contrasted with the experiences of blackness in the United States. Understanding the unsettled nature of white culture demands an understanding of how blackness unifies. In America, white folks, to the extent that they personally value culture, typically identify with ethnic or religious groups, like their particular family’s Serbian heritage or Catholic background, for instance. To be white in America affords the privilege of, largely, not having to think about whiteness as an identity, as “white culture” simply exists synonymously with the dominant, hegemonic culture around which most institutions function. For black Americans with roots in, for instance, Sierra Lenore or the Caribbean, however, those distinctive cultural heritage coexist within a larger cultural community of non-white American attempting to work through a system generally built without them in mind. Thus, albeit through a history of oppression, the black identity exists more firmly and broadly than any catchall white identity, thereby allowing the users of this label to settle into their culture, know their history, and embrace a sense of repetition rooted in knowing themselves.

One Reply to “The confidence of repetition in black culture”

  1. A lot of great context and history here, Izzy; there are references points (e.g. about Irish exclusion from “whiteness”) others may not have, which is one reason for this blog (though do share in class, too).

    Since there’s a lot of productive reflection here, I want to push you on two ideas. Firstly, you’re tapping into a binary between white/progress and black/repetition that Snead is setting up but will both reinforce and undermine as the essay goes on. Such complexities surface both in the inconsistencies of Hegel (he portrays Africans as both like God and sub-human…) and in the ways many Afrofuturist texts contend with the desire to radically alter Afro-diasporic situations/identities without obliterating/erasing the past that led to them. Keep an eye out for these complexities as we push forward.

    Also, evident in your earlier points is a multiplicity of cultural markers, the many ways we can present our identities, plural. That drops out a little right at the end of the post. Black Panther plays with a number of Black identities plural, and we’ll also keep an eye on this aspect of Afrofuturism.

    Great first post!

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