How to Bring Cultural Context into a Community

How do we, if we do not have any Black people around us, bring cultural context into a community?

With increasing regularity, I find myself being asked by communities all over the world.

There are so many people who want to do better and simply don’t know-how. This piece is about starting that process, what communities to look to, and the ways that your personal actions can start to greatly affect your community.

To me, if you are within the US, you have no excuses.

Go outside of your comfort zone. Go to that neighborhood labeled “the bad neighborhood”. It’s code for Black. You live here, if you don’t know where to start may I suggest this page for other questions that you probably have.

Moving on…

This article is more skewed to the countries outside of the United States. I have yet to be outside of my home country so, please forgive my ignorance and assumptions. All I have to go on is what some folks are telling me, either that their communities really care but don’t know how to move forward or that their scene outside the US don’t care. So this is going to be very generalized.

The biggest concern I hear from people outside the US is that there are no African-American people where they live and so they are confused as to what to do. The second is because you don’t have the same past of slavery as Americans do, and it brings up some feelings.

I’ll say it, you aren’t who I’m talking about when I say white people, and honestly, my guess is that is the same for other African-Americans. White people is shorthand for White AMERICANS. The ones we have the history with. I’m not saying your country doesn’t have work to do on how you treat your minorities (and you should work at that) but because you don’t live here you have a different outlook on Blues and our history.

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For me, there are two things that are really important to note

First, no matter how fun the dance is, it came from a culture other than your own and deserves respect. Second, because you don’t have the emotional baggage, you can look at this as though you were learning about any culture you aren’t apart of. When I think about learning about a different culture several ideas come to mind:

  • Learn their values
  • Learn their traditions
  • Learn their language
  • Talk to people who know about that culture
  • Take classes with a person native to that culture. (Better than getting it second hand)
  • Read books on the culture
  • Watch videos about the culture
  • Be humble about what I don’t know
  • If it’s my focus, learn their dance
  • Eventually, immersion in the culture is necessary to really get it

It would be rude not to do these things. Of course, you aren’t tied to the complex American issues that are race relations; to expect you to be is expecting too much. Instead, I’d just love for the culture to be as much your passion as the dance is. Without people from that culture, it’s hard to create the feel of an African-American space. BUT that doesn’t mean you can’t understand from an intellectual point and integrate those values into context for your community.

Some ideas to bring into your personal lives:

  • When visiting the US, visit African-American spaces
  • Look to the B-Boy community and how they do things
  • Hire Black teachers and musicians (even across oceans) or have them skype in if it’s too far
  • Read books, and I don’t mean just academic books but also Black fiction
  • Watch Black film and TV
  • Watch documentaries
  • Watch classic Black films (movies like The Color Purple)
  • Listen to Black music and comedians

Reading (translations can be made if there is interest) can provide you with context for your community. Here is an older work within the blues community that also provides a lot of suggestions! Check out the Korean blues scene and see how they do things.

Understand African American values and incorporate them into your life on and off the dance floor. Respecting the culture that the dance is from will deeply affect your dancing. The experience will deepen and the dance will make more sense.

In our current global community not knowing about the culture of the dance you say you love isn’t a lack of access. Focusing on getting to know the lives of people unlike yourself, and not assuming that we have much in common with you, or our white counterparts will go a long way. It’s easy to think that what you think is important or offensive is the same. Or else to believe what White media tells you about the Black experience here. Hope to see you on the dance floor sometime!

This post was updated in 2021 for SEO and clarity.

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