Black musical artists have a powerful influence on black identity and image – The Daily Aztec
“Who taught you to hate the color of your skin?” Malcom X asked a majority black audience during a speech. “Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips?
Self-hatred runs deep in the black community. It’s obvious why, but if you’re not in the know, it’s simple: Black people have been taught for centuries that everything about them is “fake.”
To validate the white supremacist agenda during the enslavement and segregation of black Americans, they had to use a dichotomy. In the world of dichotomies there is always opposition – light and dark, good and evil, love and hate. For this argument, our dichotomy is white vs. black where whiteness is seen as “right and good” and blackness is seen as “wrong and wrong.”
As the saying goes, “people weren’t born to hate, they were taught to hate”. Using this line of logic, many black people fall victim to lies that condemn their value and uniqueness. The lies that were taught to our ancestors have made their way from generation to generation, into the minds of many of my peers. However, some people, past and present, have pushed against the grain and uplifted black culture through various mediums, including music.
Nina Simone’s 1970s song “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” is one of my favorite anthems. I could relate to Simone when she sang the lyrics “Oh, how I long to know the truth / There are times when I look back / And I’m haunted by my youth.”
Since kindergarten, I attended predominantly white institutions where I often felt out of place and forced to assimilate into the culture around me. Everything, down to the way I dressed and styled my hair throughout middle school and high school, was influenced by what I continually saw around me. I often cringe when I look at old photos because I clearly remember how difficult it was for me to accept myself as I was.
Songs like “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” are what helped me unlearn the anti-blackness propaganda I learned in mainstream society.
Hearing beyonce sings “I like my heir baby with baby hair and afros / I like my nigger nose with Jackson Five nostrils” in 2016 was the first time I looked at my natural features differently. Three years later, “Brown-Skinned Girl” was released, taking my self-esteem to a whole new level.
I can attribute a significant part of my self-image to black artists who exude the energy of “I’m black and I’m proud” in their lyrics. Seeing my favorite artists such as Masego, J. Cole, OSHUN and Kendrick Lamar create music that celebrates their culture was (and still is) a must.
Even though we as black people weren’t the only ones who were taught to hate the color of our skin, the texture of our hair, or the shape of our noses and lips, we can be the ones to teach ourselves to love them. In the process of unlearning, music from talented black artists can be a powerful tool in your journey.
Aaliyah Alexander is a junior studying journalism and international studies.