From Kente Cloth to UGK

I personally like to think I hit the cultural trifecta. I’m Black, Southern, and hood. Now, you probably thought I was going to drop some cultural identifiers along the lines of Nigerian, Dominican, or some other highly regarded culture of pigmented people…well you thought wrong. The three labels I am most proud of are those I listed. The most shunned and ill-regarded cultural identifiers with some of the greatest influence on American and popular culture.

Before jumping in let’s establish some terminology. Now, when I use the term Black I am speaking of Black Americans and Black American culture. No diss to the other scattered brothers and sisters of the diaspora but I want to make it clear that blackness is not just the hue of our skin, it is our cultural foundation. Dark people from other countries distance themselves from this blackness for several reasons but I’m not going to get into that today. The separation of dark people across the world is more than geographic, it is psychological, so for that reason I want to be very clear about the people of which I am speaking.

Now being Black is a grace all it’s on, no matter socioeconomic status or geography, blackness is a connection we as a people feel inherently. It is a connection which we can’t describe in words. No matter if you’re from Brooklyn, Compton, or New Orleans, you can pick up a conversation with another Black person from anywhere in the country. We speak our own language (AAVE) with its own distinct dialects. We pick up each other’s lingo and it transforms the language, which is why AAVE is so beautiful. Unlike any other language, our tongue shifts with the culture. Words can be added or omitted as generations past. They can be revived and reformed. The uniqueness of the Black language is that it is rooted in the creativity of its people and influenced by languages of others who have at some point forced our tongue. It comes natural to us and fluency cannot be learned from an app, a book, or even immersion in a community because it’s an instinctive way of communicating amongst ourselves in a society where we have been forced to assimilate. Like my mama used to say, you either got it or you don’t and most of the people using our “hip” slang, don’t.

I am particularly blessed to not only be Black but Southern. The South gets a bad rep for being “slow” but the South has had some of the greatest influence on Black American culture. Anyone who knows me knows of my pride for Southern hip-hop and speech. The smooth draws and copula deletions only add to the beauty of the raw and unfiltered lyrics of Southern hip-hop. UGK (#LONGLIVEPIMP), Juvenile, Outkast, 8ball & MJG, Master P, Big K.R.I.T., Lil Wayne, T.I., Jeezy, Gucci, I could go on for days. There is no denying that while Southern hip-hop didn’t take off until the 90’s with its dope beats and catchy hooks, it has had a major impact on music and the world. I dare you to name a more legendary pairing than UGK (besides Outkast, everybody loves Outkast). For anybody who claims today’s Southern hip-hop is trash has never listened to a K.R.I.T. album, appreciated a Takeoff verse, or realize J. Cole is from North Carolina. The fact that we are so connected to the tattered roots our ancestors laid when kidnapped and brought here, makes the South rich in tradition. The blackness here is still very much attached to what our ancestors created. From our traditions, customs, and beliefs to our way of speaking, dancing, and raising our children, we are so much a reflection of all they endured. Which is not always good, but it ain’t all bad either.

Lastly, I am a most proud of this element of my personality. I am hood. You can call it ratchet, ghetto, whatever but I am proud of it. I’ll be clear, the hood is not a nurturing place. The fact that people fetishize ghetto girls and hood boys always rubs me the wrong way. I’m not going to look back in adoration for my humble beginnings because there’s nothing beautiful about the hood besides the people and they’re the ones that seem to always get forgotten. “Round-the-way” girls get cut no slack in the Black community or American society but all that trendy shit Elle and Vogue pedal to you would have never seen the light of day without them. Colored hair, big earrings, elaborate nail designs are all ghetto girl basics. All that influence comes amidst so much struggle. The environment so many of us grown up in doesn’t afford us the privilege of experiencing anything but survival. This environment can damage someone beyond repair and leave them with the kind of scars they don’t talk about because they take them back to times they prayed to forget. It’s not a likely place to grow but that’s what make the people there so much more remarkable. The joyous songs, beautiful art, and all those compelling works of ghetto children are proof of their astounding resilience. They find the words they never knew to describe the hell of what they’ve lived through and if they can’t find them, they’ll create them. Hood lingo and culture is so highly influential, but the people are so often overlooked. That is why I am so proud to be from the gutter because even though its crowded with little room to grow, it gives you some shit the rest of the world just can’t touch.

So, in conclusion, I won’t be trading in my bamboo earrings or gold slugs to seem more deserving of respect. My ancestors were stripped of all they knew and instead of feeling pity or adopting the cultures of others, they created a beautiful culture from the remnants of what they were left. I am beyond proud to claim my blackness, without tribal prints or monarchy attached. I may not know how to do the gwarra gwarra or how to tie a Gele, but that doesn’t mean my culture is invalid. So, no matter what the world may lead you to believe being Black & American are more than enough.

Stay Black. Stay Proud. Wherever you’re from.

CultureKeigan Ross