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Race and Culture in Columbus

Home Forums General Columbus Discussion Race and Culture in Columbus

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  • #98412
    Chris Sunami
    Chris Sunami
    Participant

    When I was in 9th grade, our teachers assigned us a project called “the African-European Connection”, with a combined look at both African and European history. I was fascinated by the African history, shocked to learn about all the civilizations and advanced cultures that flourished there in the past, and angered to realize I had never heard any of this info before. Meanwhile I found the European history a complete snoozefest. I was very surprised to find that a close friend, who was white, had the opposite reaction, loving the European history, and being bored by studying Africa. It was my first real look at how we all naturally gravitate to the history and culture we feel is relevant to ourselves.

    In general, I feel Columbus is exceptionally well-integrated. But that’s not true when it comes to the city’s cultural scene. I was thinking about it recently when I was looking at the staff pictures for Columbus Alive. Even the marginal diversity they used to have is gone, every single person on staff now is young and white.

    There’s definitely two entirely separate artistic communities in Columbus, one nearly all white, the other almost all black. There are a few black artists who have been integrated into otherwise white arts organizations. And there is a small handful of white members of the arts community who make the effort to stay culturally connected even across racial lines. But the vast majority of white Columbus seemingly doesn’t even know the (large, active, talented and densely interconnected) local black arts community exists.

    I was thinking about it once again because of the African Village Festival. When I was there today, I saw representatives of every aspect of local black arts and culture community there –including dancers, singers, musicians, visual artists, sculptors, poets, craftspeople, etcetera. And I saw the same few white people you see at every black cultural event, either because they have a special personal interest in black culture, or because they are genuinely interested in culture across racial lines.

    But I didn’t see a single young white resident of the neighborhood. I didn’t see anyone I know from Columbus Underground. I didn’t see any of the artists I know from the “mainstream” arts community. As always, I wondered why. Do people think you have to be black to attend? Do they feel scared or intimidated to come? Do they feel unwelcome? Or is just not interesting to them? Do they not find it relevant?

    I don’t know the answer. It’s the same every year, and every year it bothers me.

    Maybe the easiest answer is that it’s just that people aren’t hearing about it. But just the fact that (nearly) every black artist knows about it, and (almost) no white artists do, speaks volumes about the segregation of our local arts communities.

    #548716

    roy
    Participant

    There are subtle and not so subtle cues that events like ‘African Festival’ aren’t intended for those not of African descent. It’s not the only instance of racial separatism and isn’t awful or bad, I just figure this group of artists want to associate with others like them and use language and other signals to make that clear.

    #548717

    arualpalm
    Participant

    I can understand where ChrisSunami is coming from. And I feel bad.

    On the other hand, I can see where Roy is coming from as well.

    Oddly, plenty of white and black people attend the “Asian Festival.” Why is this?

    #548718

    bman
    Participant

    arualpalm said:
    I can understand where ChrisSunami is coming from. And I feel bad.

    On the other hand, I can see where Roy is coming from as well.

    Oddly, plenty of white and black people attend the “Asian Festival.” Why is this?

    Because everyone loves a good Kung Pao!

    #548719
    Walker Evans
    Walker Evans
    Keymaster

    ChrisSunami said:
    Do people think you have to be black to attend? Do they feel scared or intimidated to come? Do they feel unwelcome? Or is just not interesting to them? Do they not find it relevant?

    The answer probably varies a lot from person to person and event to event.

    #548720

    MHJ
    Participant

    roy said:
    There are subtle and not so subtle cues that events like ‘African Festival’ aren’t intended for those not of African descent. It’s not the only instance of racial separatism and isn’t awful or bad, I just figure this group of artists want to associate with others like them and use language and other signals to make that clear.

    Wait….what? As someone mentioned up above, the Asian Festival and the Latino Festival both have a specific ethnic focus, but that’s not seen as exclusionary — yet the word “African” is? That doesn’t make any sense.

    What I will say is that I’m African-American and I don’t recall ever hearing of this festival before I saw this post! I think that one issue is, truthfully, the location. Bryden Road is close to downtown, but it’s out of the way if you’re not familiar with Old Towne East. The Asian Festival and the Latino Festival both happen downtown. Perhaps if this festival was able to move to the Scioto Mile or Columbus Commons, it would see more participation from the broader community.

    #548721
    rus
    rus
    Participant

    ChrisSunami said:
    But just the fact that (nearly) every black artist knows about it, and (almost) no white artists do, speaks volumes about the segregation of our local arts communities.

    Just for the sake of argument, because that’s fun, if you think the communities are segregated do you see that segregation as imposed from outside the communities or from within the communities themselves?

    #548722
    Chris Sunami
    Chris Sunami
    Participant

    rus said:
    Just for the sake of argument, because that’s fun, if you think the communities are segregated do you see that segregation as imposed from outside the communities or from within the communities themselves?

    I think both. There’s definitely an insular quality to the Columbus black arts community. If you’re in it, you’re in it, and if you’re not, you’re not. As alluded to earlier, it’s not even necessarily that visible to the larger black community.

    Roy said:
    There are subtle and not so subtle cues that events like ‘African Festival’ aren’t intended for those not of African descent. It’s not the only instance of racial separatism and isn’t awful or bad, I just figure this group of artists want to associate with others like them and use language and other signals to make that clear.

    You may be right. But what are these cues are you perceiving, and what do you think makes the difference between that and, say, the Asian Festival, or Ocktoberfest, or the Irish Festival, the Greek Festival, etc.?

    I do think it’s true that it’s 100% not black culture packaged for white consumption. It would probably be a disorienting experience for many people. But in certain ways I feel that it’s a responsibility of the newer white residents of that particular neighborhood to at least make the attempt to experience the culture of the people who were there before them in its more pure forms.

    I’m not against gentrification per se, but when the people coming in show zero interest in the pre-existing culture of the neighborhood –when they don’t even seem to realize it exists –that becomes problematic to me.

    Walker said:
    The answer probably varies a lot from person to person and event to event.

    I’m sure, but there’s definitely some overall pattern at work here. I’m not accusing anyone, just trying to gain some understanding.

    #548724
    rus
    rus
    Participant

    ChrisSunami said:
    I think both. There’s definitely an insular quality to the Columbus black arts community. If you’re in it, you’re in it, and if you’re not, you’re not. As alluded to earlier, it’s not even necessarily that visible to the larger black community.

    Your example illustrates self segregation. If you think it’s both, then who/what is imposing segregation from outside the community?

    #548725
    Chris Sunami
    Chris Sunami
    Participant

    rus said:
    Your example illustrates self segregation. If you think it’s both, then who/what is imposing segregation from outside the community?

    That’s really the whole question, isn’t it? Indifference? Fear? Subconscious prejudices? It certainly isn’t due to a lack of talent in the local black arts community.

    I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that the mainstream culture is the default, by definition. If you’re immersed in that culture, you don’t even notice anything is missing.

    It’s kind of like the fact that whenever I’m in majority white environments (which is most of the time), people take it for granted that I know the names of all the Beatles, can quote “Casablanca” and sing along to “The Day the Music Died”. Nobody ever says “wow, you’ve really taken the time to immerse yourself in our culture, maybe I should take the time to learn a little bit about yours.”

    #548726
    Walker Evans
    Walker Evans
    Keymaster

    ChrisSunami said:
    I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that the mainstream culture is the default, by definition. If you’re immersed in that culture, you don’t even notice anything is missing.

    Good point. Which explains more broadly why people of all races and cultures seem to gravitate more toward television, movies, pop music and video games and less toward gallery exhibitions, art festivals and any other smaller/niche/community-centric events. What else is missing when you’ve got American Idol to watch? ;)

    #548728
    rus
    rus
    Participant

    ChrisSunami said:
    That’s really the whole question, isn’t it? Indifference? Fear? Subconscious prejudices? It certainly isn’t due to a lack of talent in the local black arts community.

    Perhaps what the local black arts community produces doesn’t appeal to a wider audience?

    Call it a self segregating community producing product designed to appeal to that community, perhaps. At least, I see that in other communities.

    ChrisSunami said:
    people take it for granted that I know the names of all the Beatles, can quote “Casablanca” and sing along to “The Day the Music Died”.

    If that’s the test of whiteness, I’d be one for three.

    #548729

    GeeDee
    Participant

    I was thinking about it recently when I was looking at the staff pictures for Columbus Alive. Even the marginal diversity they used to have is gone, every single person on staff now is young and white.

    Well, now their staff matches their target demographic.

    And Alive did manage to feature an African-American in it’s latest people to watch issue. I was quite surprised. I was left to assume Alive was unaware of other races in central Ohio.

    #548730

    InnerCore
    Participant

    I think you may be reading more into this than what is actually there. Growing up black in Columbus I would say that my culture IS mainstream culture. Pretty much the same as most white people with the difference of listening to different music and maybe eating slightly different foods.

    And I don’t see white people as any different in this regard. For example my wife is Italian, as in she moved here from Italy. But I have white friends whose ancestors are Italian. They don’t do anything remotely close to a real Italian and from a culture perspective they grew up pretty much similar to most black people in Columbus than actual Italians.

    Now as far as the festivals go as it’s already been pointed out these are basically just Americanized versions. It’s like Taco bell. And sure we’ve been to the Greek festival, Italian Festival, etc. and never been to the African American festival. It’s not due to some sort of subconscious racism. We mainly go to the other festivals for the food. So if we knew we were going to get some awesome southern food then we’d probably go. And if you took the food out of the Greek festival and made it basically a Greek art festival then in a couple of years basically nobody but a few local Greeks would go to that.

    When we lived in DC we used to go to the Jamaican Festival. There would be people of all races there. Sure there was Art and things about their culture but 99% of the people were there for the food and music.

    #548731
    Chris Sunami
    Chris Sunami
    Participant

    Walker said:
    Good point. Which explains more broadly why people of all races and cultures seem to gravitate more toward television, movies, pop music and video games and less toward gallery exhibitions, art festivals and any other smaller/niche/community-centric events. What else is missing when you’ve got American Idol to watch? ;)

    Yes, maybe it’s more productive to see it as part of a larger problem that isn’t specifically racial.

    rus said:
    Perhaps what the local black arts community produces doesn’t appeal to a wider audience?

    Call it a self segregating community producing product designed to appeal to that community, perhaps. At least, I see that in other communities.

    At the risk of actually agreeing with you on something, there’s a lot of sense to that. But it’s a catch-22 for the black artist. There’s a list of things that mainstream culture has traditionally embraced from black artists:

    1) Things that seem “primitive”, “raw” or “untaught.”
    2) Gangsta culture and music
    3) Narratives of suffering
    4) Narratives where saintly black people sacrificially promote the interests of white people.
    5) Narratives where saintly white people magnanimously elevate a chosen black person or persons out of a narrative of suffering.

    If you’re black, and what you’re interested in isn’t on that list, fuhgettaboutit! At least in terms of mainstream acceptance.

    [i]Inner Core:[/i]

    I think you may be reading more into this than what is actually there. Growing up black in Columbus I would say that my culture IS mainstream culture.

    Yes, I think that is an option for younger black people these days. You can be completely integrated into mainstream culture regardless of skin color. But that’s not necessarily everyone’s goal.

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