Passing Messages in Black Communities: Part One-Matters of Survival

Black youth have been taught how to maneuver in mainstream society through “racial socialization” in black parenting. Coard and Sellers (2005) define racial socialization as “the process by which messages are transmitted/communicated inter- and intra-generationally regarding the significance and meaning of race and ethnicity.”

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This initial series of blogs provide a framework for future brief heartfelt posts written by a black clergywoman about social justice issues in postmodernity. From my heart to yours-DV’s Heart2Heart™.

Black folk in this nation have passed messages in the most secretive and discreet manners throughout generations for our own survival. During the enslavement of our foremothers and forefathers, certain things were not done or talked about in the public sphere around slave owners, or white supremacists in general. Speaking about forbidden subjects could result in severe punishments. Enslaved African parents socialized their black babies as they aged about how to interact with white folk outside of the confounds of their slave quarters. One wrong statement to the wrong white person and black youth might have lost their lives like adults. With the constant rise of social media and social networks usage in postmodernity, sharing information has taken on a whole new outlook with regards to black communities, while some things remain the same.

Let us first consider many enslaved Africans devised secret messages in their communities to counteract their forced silence and suppressed freedom of expression in worship. Covert meetings in  slave communities outwitted slave owners and overseers and empowered those held in captivity as they established invisible institutions to meet their own spiritual and psychological needs (Costen, 1993, pp. 36-38). Some of the enslaved resisted slave patrol enforcement of Slave Codes (rules of conduct for the enslaved meant to protect boundaries set by white supremacists) by establishing ways to inform one another of secret meetings or ways to escape enslavement all together. Messages integral to the survival and hope of black folk commonplace in black parenting take the form of racial socialization.

Black youth have been taught how to  maneuver in  mainstream  society through “racial socialization” in black parenting. Coard and Sellers (2005) define racial socialization as “the process by which messages are transmitted/communicated inter- and intra-generationally regarding the significance and meaning of race and ethnicity.” They further write, “racial socialization involves teaching children values and norms associated with race and ethnicity, and problem-solving skills that enable children to be flexible in their approach to race-related situations without losing a core sense of self” (p. 266). Racial socialization alone, however, apparently cannot save youth from insidious and ever changing racial attacks on their young black bodies. Unfortunately, their homes and same streets black youth play on often become a resting place for their lifeless bodies after being struck down by bad policing (i.e. in the shooting deaths of Aiyana Jones-#SayHerName, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice).

Racial socialization becomes problematic in white culture when values, norms and problem-solving passed on to black youth do not assimilate to popular white supremacist stereotypes. On the one hand, avoidance of internalizing negative stereotypes in the black psyche is at times difficult to conquer as it affects “social, psychological, emotional, and theological outlooks” (Townes, 2014, 481). On the other hand, greater measures in white culture may be used to perpetuate systemic and systematic racial oppression. The struggle against internalization of negative black stereotypes is real. Popular culture still uses various methods in attempts to control the psyche of black folk, especially via new media technology.

Mass media production companies and select social media users often attempt to maintain negative stereotypes of black folk to justify unwritten rules embedded in white culture.  On a daily basis, in this nation, negative images of black folk are visible for the womalcolm x_newspapersrld to see. Even peaceful protests of violence against black bodies are distorted, causing an uproar among white culturalists about black resistance of assaults on blackness like with police brutality and contamination of water. Black protesters are often called “thugs,” and “animals” or other derogatory terms in media, seemingly to avert attention away from the systems and institutions that necessitate black resistance in the first place. Unfortunately, black folk use the same, or similar language, to describe the images and media blurbs they see of people who look like them “acting out” (behaving outside of blackness superimposed by assimilation to white culture) in public.

Police brutality and other forms of abuses on black bodies by the powers that be are not only resisted in everyday life, black folk now have an equal opportunity, in some regards, to counteract negativity by using new media technology ourselves. Few media outlets are owned by people of color, yet black individuals and groups or grassroots organizations may use new media technology to thwart racist language and physical attacks. Black resistance of misuses and abuses of governmental power against black bodies has gained leverage by linking new media technology strategies to core mobile protests. There is hope!

In 2016, black folk are able to share information about race relations and unfair treatment while gaining solidarity with countries across the globe in a matter of seconds. For example, in resemblance of the civil rights era, people of various countries, nationalities and ethnicities have shown support in their own protests against police brutality in this country. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other popular social media platforms allow people worldwide to join in the fight against public and private abuses of power on our black bodies. Whether we share secret messages to resist the violence against our communities and collective psyche, or broadcast it via new media technology, black folk are still trying to overcome penalties for written and unwritten codes of conduct established by white culture many generations ago. WE shall overcome!

Copyright © 2016 by DV’s Heart2Heart™. All Rights Reserved.

  1. Melva Wilson Costen, African American Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 1993.
  2. Emilie M. Townes, “Cultural Boundaries and African American Theology,” found in The Oxford Handbook of African American Theology, edited by Katie G. Cannon and Anthony B. Pinn (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 2014.
  3. Stephanie I. Coard and Robert M. Sellers, “African American Families as a Context for Racial Socialization,” found in African American Family Life: Ecological and Cultural Diversity, edited by Vonnie C. McLoyd, Nancy E. Hill and Kenneth A. Dodge (New York: The Guilford Press), 2005.

3 thoughts on “Passing Messages in Black Communities: Part One-Matters of Survival”

  1. I really appreciated this posting. As a Young Adult I am constantly conflicted with the commercialized Messages in which black people were meant to perceive it one way; however, it was so quickly engulfed in social media and mainstream television and radio that the message is lost before it is even heard. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome! I’ve heard professional young adults talk about feeling hopeless because of the racially motivated shootings and traffic stops by police over the summer. The media coverage and videos can leave one conflicted. I want to encourage you all. There is hope! We have to address these matters as a community for our own survival like in times past. Be encouraged. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

    2. well said and I completely agree. Ten year ago social media was not as powerful so the underlying issues were met with the proper message. Now it is so easy for lines to be blurred, panic to be spread, and anger to be inflamed. Hopefully your Blog will help educate and dissipate some of that tension.

      Liked by 1 person

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