Black Culture and Black Consciousness in Transition Essay
Black Culture and Black Consciousness in Transition
French Marxist thinker, Louis Althusser, established a crucial theory which illuminates how and why ‘myths’ and ‘ideologies’ are constructed throughout time and history. In his celebrated essay, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” Althusser makes a convincing argument in concerns with ‘ideology’ and its influence on individuals or ‘subject’ which are created through specialized institutions (i.e. religious, educational, political, and family, trade union, communication, et al.). Althusser aptly declares that, “Ideology is a ‘representation’ of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (Althusser, 1994). In addition, Althusser wants to clarify the significance of ideologies imposed on individuals:
“Ideology is conceived as a pure illusion, a pure dream, i.e. as nothingness. All its reality is external to it. Ideology is thus thought as an imaginary construction whose status is exactly like the theoretical status of the dream among writers before Freud…There is a cause for the imaginary transposition of the real conditions of existence that cause is the existence of a small number of cynical men who base their domination and exploitation of the ‘people’ on a falsified representation of the world which they have imagined in order to enslave other minds by dominating their imaginations” (1496, 1499).
Now take Althusserian’s notion on the construction of ‘ideology’ and apply it to the myth of the ‘American dream.’ Within the socio-historical context of the American dream, the idea that people can start with little more than determination and cunning and leave a legacy of wealth and accomplishment is perhaps the most persistent hope for Americans. As an ideology constructed over history, the subjective/cultural/social construct of the ‘American dream’ shapes how many Americans see their successes or failures and, equally significant, demonstrates the many contours of U.S. society. For African-Americans (including women and ethnic groups), however, were not fully ‘assimilated’ into every aspect of American society, especially since the American dream ideology specifically referred or geared towards ‘white males,’ for several reasons.
If we look at American history, blacks (like women and other minorities) had dreams of obtaining equal rights and independence that was privileged to the ‘common man.’ The slaves were constantly being told to postpone or wait-for their freedom would come. Even the declaration of independence states “all men are created equal…endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights…among those life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but the slaves of this time were disappointed because this defining of ‘all men’ excluded blacks. In fact, it excluded pretty much everyone, except white men with land.
In this postponing of freedom, slavery, discrimination, racism, Jim Crow laws, sharecropping, riots and so on. Thus the ‘American dream,’ to quote from Langston Hughes, has been deferred. “Deferred” because blacks had to wait, delegate to others who could promote change. Since most minorities were not fully integrated into American life, some managed to ‘successfully’ pass by within the rigid structure of society. Case in point, Macon Dead and rapper Shawn Carter (aka Jay-Z) should be interpreted as accultrationist rather than assimilationist with respect to the American dream for several reasons.
First and foremost, the term acculturation carries three definitions: it is seen as the process of assimilating new ideas into an existing cognitive structure, all the knowledge and values shared by a society and, lastly, the adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture. Ultimately, acculturation is the obtainment of “culture” by an individual or a group of people. The latter two definitions, however, provide greater insight into Macon Dead’s characteristic as an acculturationist.
Living in an unjust capitalist system, resides in an era where most Americans failed to acknowledge the presence of blacks (and other minorities) by deliberately and blatantly pass frivolous laws and regulations. Macon Dead, as a patriarch/hard-nosed businessman, is defined as an individual of substance who has acquired property in which he rents to black underclass tenants. Consequently Macon Dead is described in the context of trying to emulate and ‘adopt’ similar behavior patterns from ‘white’ society considering America excluded blacks (and other minorities) in every conceivable way (i.e. socially, politically, cultural, etc). For instance, Morrison carefully describes Macon’s appreciation for materialistic possessions in another scene when the rest of his family takes an excursion on Not Doctor Street:
“These rides that the family took on Sunday afternoons had become rituals and much too important for Macon to enjoy. For him it was a way to satisfy himself that he was indeed a successful man…Macon Dead’s Packard rolled slowly down Not Doctor Street, through the rough part of town (later known as the Blood Bank because blood flowed so freely there), over the bypass downtown, and headed for the wealthy white neighborhoods. Some of the black people who saw the car passing by sighed with good-humored envy at the classiness, the dignity of it” (Morrison, 32).
This scene illustrates Macon’s ability to purchase a wealthy vehicle (i.e. Packard) which functions as a means of communicating, ‘achievement’ and ‘opulence’ to the public. Therefore in order to achieve this myth/ideology/concept of the ‘American dream,’ Macon Dead truly has to abandon himself and, equally significant, his ‘true’ identity by emulating the hated white people of America around that time. Macon Dead is less sympathetic to his own culture by taking a ‘white man’s role’ (i.e. dominant culture) as a cutthroat businessman which also solidifies his reputation as an ‘outsider’ within the black community.
In the contemporary context, Jay-Z is the postmodern version of what constitutes an acculturationist by virtue of the hip-hop aesthetics (whereas John Coltrane, Miles Davis or any black jazz musician can be defined as the modernist version of accultrationist). William Eric Perkins, author of ‘the rap attack,’ details the influence of hip-hop culture and its signification towards inner-city teens and America (in particular, African-American and Latino kids): “Rap music and hip hop culture’s ongoing bewildering love/hate relationship with American society requires a fresh evaluation of the role street culture plays in the continuing evolution of American popular culture” (Perkins, 1).
As Jay-Z was raised from the underprivileged neighborhoods of Brooklyn, especially at a time where hip-hop (as an urban phenomenon) reached its second wave of talented MC’s from the inner-city neighborhoods of South Bronx, Harlem, and throughout NYC (with the likes of LL Cool J, Kool Moe Doe, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B and Rakim, KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Ultramagnetic MC’s, to name a few), Jay-Z understood the integral relationship between hip-hop and street life by ‘adopting’ certain ‘behavior patterns’ within the musical genre.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 20 August 2017
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