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Religion & Culture | Sex and the death of black culture Why there is an urgent need for self-reflection

Published:Sunday | September 8, 2019 | 12:21 AMGlenville Ashby/Contributor
The degradation of Trinidad and Tobago carnival.
The late Dr Frances Cress Welsing.
Singer Beyoncé
Glenville Ashby

The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition defines culture as shared patterns of behaviours and interactions, cognitive constructs and understanding that are learned by socialisation.

According to Cristina De Rossi, an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London, “Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things.”

In my upcoming book, Conflict of Identity – From the Slave Trade to Present Day, I outlined three culture-based areas of activity that have been at the forefront of the black experience. They are sex, family, and religion.

In this column, I will explore the dynamics of sex as it relates to music and dance.

Today, more than any other time in our history, sex is a fixture in black music, dance, and language. It transcends the institution of the family; its once sacred quality debased by exhibitionism and voyeurism.


It was the late psychiatrist Dr Frances Cress Welsing who expressed her dismay and disappointment at singer Beyoncé over her raunchy performance at the 2013 Super Bowl.

Dr Welsing said that she “cringed” after watching the singer. Given the brutal objectification of black women during slavery, she demanded more exemplary standards from our adults.

Regarding the performance in question, the following are some of the complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission: “[Beyonce] basically humped the air, simulating sex for 13 minutes. Completely inappropriate as family entertainment.”

One father, “deeply concerned about wholesome entertainment options for my family,” drew issue with “her prostitute/dominatrix portrayal” and “hefting cleavage”. He concluded, “The half-time show has gone beyond entertainment to wallow in the dregs of carnality.”

Another angry viewer commented, “She opened her legs multiple times right in the cameras so we could see her crotch in tight leather undergarments,” while another added, “This is not right.” (https://www.eonline.com/de/news/398186/beyonce-s-raunchy-super-bowl-perf...)

Dr Welsing also commented on the dignity and stoicism of blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. In the face of violence, they walked hand in hand, undaunted and resilient against the backdrop of the refrain, “Say it loud, I am black and proud.” She viewed this era as the most uplifting and productive cultural displays by black people. In the 1970s, black music reached new heights with the likes of Aretha Franklin. Her anthemic song, Respect, is sorely needed today.

Decades after the Civil Rights Movement, we have witnessed the degradation of black music, dance, fashion and language. Misogyny, misandry, sex and violence characterize hip-hop culture in the United States and should never be part of our cultural nomenclature.

We must ask ourselves, are we benefiting from our present cultural expression? That our women are called bitches and whores in songs celebrated by our youths speaks to the depth of our misguidance. And that the N-Word, the most vile and spiteful verbal expression, is on the tongues of our youth, as if it were just another word, is indicative of a deep-seated psychological problem besetting our communities.

In the Caribbean, sexual overtones characterise Trinidad and Tobago carnival, at one time an explosion of creativity and innovation in design. Artistry has given way to pedestrian work that rely on sexual ‘showcasing.’ For the most part, carnival has become a mass parade of feathers and bikinis. Calypso, at one time a pedagogical tool for teaching history, politics and sociology, has struggled for air, replaced by unmelodious songs with meaningless, ‘whine and grind’ lyrics. Meanwhile, folklore and indigenous narratives are fast fading from memory.


So what happened between 1964 and 2019 – from the Civil Rights Era to present day? Moreover, why is lewdness, profanities, and sex so embedded in black culture? A fitting response requires deep reflection.

Black Wall Street of 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, could offer some clues.

Black Wall Street was one of several black towns in the United States that prospered through sheer grit, industry, discipline and purposefulness.

At the turn of the 20th century, musical artistry and fashion characterised Harlem, New York. Blacks created new musical genres that defined American music.

Interestingly, Trinidad’s poorest neighbourhoods gave the world the steelpan, the only musical invention of the 20th century.

Clearly, in business and art, we excelled in conditions that were uncompromisingly hostile.

So, the question persists: What has happened to our culture between 1964 and 2019?

As a young man, I enjoyed the music of Burning Spear, learning much about Marcus Garvey through their plausive lyrics. In one song, Winston Rodney, the group’s frontman, belted, “Black people only know dem selves when dey backs against the wall.”

At the apogee of black innovation, we relied on our own strength. Handouts were not an option. Still, we persevered. Our backs were surely against the wall and we, although collectively poor by some standards, were triumphant.


With the illusion of equality and integration, and the adoption of liberal values, we dropped the ball, uprooting our ‘cornerstone’ in the process; our traditional and conservative values sacrificed at the altar of individualism and materialism. Our new anthem became, ‘Get rich or die trying’, the title of the debut album by hip-hop artiste 50 Cent.

With a tenuous family structure, we could no longer withstand the social and economic challenges we began facing, such as the unending warehousing of blacks (creating inner cities), the criminalisation of marijuana and mass incarceration of the black male, and the proliferation of hard drugs in black communities in the 1980s that led to the destruction of an entire generation.

Interestingly, similar developments were taking place in black communities throughout the Americas.

So how did we respond? Fractured and scrambling for meaning, we regressed, fixating on sex, sold on everything sexual, not unlike the child carving out his identity and relevance in the phallic stage of his development.

Surely, when Beyoncé “opened her legs right in the cameras” we celebrated, but not everyone. Dr Welsing well understood the psychopathology at play. She cringed. We should have, also.


 Dr Glenville Ashby is an award-winning author. His upcoming book ‘Conflict of Identity: From the Slave Trade to Present Day – One’s Man’s Healing in Benin’ will be released in October 2019. Email feedback to editorial@gleanerjm.com and glenvilleashby@gmail.com, or tweet @glenvilleashby