There is culture and then there is Culture. The word itself is derived from a Latin root for growing and tending land. After further research of dictionaries and Google, one thing became clear: culture is hard to define, and that whatever it’s like now, it will change.
Recently, I have begun to say jokingly that if you live in South Florida, there are really only two cultures: Jamaican and Cuban. Just pick one, and dance.
The dominance of one of these two culturally rich groups was underscored this past week by the celebration of the Miami Carnival. It brought to the party people from many adjacent Caribbean groups, as well as many so-called native blacks, i.e., those whose ancestry is a result of the peculiar American slave trade franchise.
We have our culture too, but I envy the folk who parade and wear masks. For years, I have dreamed of going to Trinidad for Carnival; and high on my bucket list is to attend the Carnival in Brazil- but in Bahia, African style!
I have always enjoyed the occasions where the Junkanoo band entertained at events I’ve attended where I never missed the chance to march behind them. My mother’s family roots are in Eleuthera, Bahamas, and I like the Island food, music and traditions.
But, I am also slightly amused when black people place such vast amounts of energy, time, and money into celebrating what is claimed as unique to their home places. I understand that the celebrations (Carnival, Junkanoo, Mardi Gras, etc.) are carved from experiences that are based on a combination of geographical history (Leeward Islands, Greater and Lesser Antilles, Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, the South American continent, and all the other places those ships landed); religion (Catholic, Protestant, Santeria, Voodoo, Candoble, et. al); language (Spanish, Portuguese, French, English); local food production and preparation (there are so many variations of peas/beans and rice), but which almost always, reflect many, many parts rooted in Africa.
Africa? As one source states, “the continent of Africa is essential to all cultures. ” Yes, that is where most modern geneticists have determined all mankind is from. “Your mamma name Lucy.” Yeah? So is yours,” may soon become the new playground taunt and/or claim.
Culture. Just what are we all celebrating anyway? And is it always something we want/need to preserve?
Let us pause for a minute and consider this: if all peoples, including Europeans, are descendants of Lucy, and there is no scientific basis for race, what are we recognizing when we acknowledge these sub- cultures?
Take this past week. Social media has been calling for us to substitute the American holiday, Columbus Day, with Indigenous American or Native American Day, primarily because of the ‘crimes’ that Columbus committed against the people he found in the new territories claimed for the Spanish crown; not to mention that his discovery opened the area for the West Atlantic slave trade.
For these, and other misdeeds, Columbus has become persona non grata. Down with Christopher Columbus, up with the natives.
But wait, upon closer examination, Native Americans have also been traced to Africa; having crossed the Bering Straits after trekking across the European continent! What? Africans in America before Columbus? That assertion has long been established as fact.
Actually, when taken all the way back to the ultimate logical conclusion, there really is little need to celebrate any of the cultural expressions of ‘home’ if everyone comes out of Africa- the one place that is the least heralded and celebrated.
But can you imagine not having a St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City or dying the river green in Boston?
Where to begin?
It must begin with an acknowledgment. An affirmation. A homage to the origins of human beings and to the course of events over time and space that have shaped us into our culturally celebrated traditions.
I believe that the evolution of humans is still underway. Scientists are now predicting that there will be a totally new species of hominid, marked by larger brains and longer life spans. That’s all of mankind- not one dominant ethnic or culturally marked group. We are all moving closer to urban centers, where we will live on less land, compete for precious space and other natural resources, and consume designer nutrition-yes, a meal in a pill.
In the long term, it will matter even less where your boat landed or if you maintain a tradition of rice and peas or peas and rice.
Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org