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Perspective: How oppression creates culture

Portrait of Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Cecil Payne, Miles Davis, and Ray Brown, Downbeat, New York, N.Y.
William Gottlieb
U.S. Library of Congress
Portrait of Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Cecil Payne, Miles Davis, and Ray Brown, Downbeat, New York, N.Y.

It was late one night, and I was up with my roommates and some friends. We were laughing and having a good time. Somehow, the lighthearted conversation turned somewhat serious when we got on the topic of culture.

Our friend made an extremely bold claim by saying some ethnic groups do not have their own original culture and they stole their “culture” from oppressed groups. While I now think that this claim is ridiculous, it did make me think how oppression really changed culture for numerous ethnic groups.

African Americans are a great example because we have been oppressed for so long. During that time, there have been many great eras that continue to influence the world today. Slaves sang spirituals to pass the time in the fields. Currently, spirituals are still widely sung in churches and by choirs. The Harlem Renaissance is another great cultural era that had many musical and literary advancements. Today could even be seen as a great cultural era because rap/hip-hop has dominated the mainstream.

These cultural changes have come as a direct or indirect response to oppression we have felt during these eras. First, it was slavery. Then, during the Harlem Renaissance, it was Jim Crow laws and segregation. Now, it’s systematic racism still playing a role in society.

I urge you to take a deep dive into your cultural roots to see how oppression has caused your culture to change. No matter how large of a role oppression plays in your cultural background, it has shaped the way your culture is today.

Jabari Cox is a student at Northern Illinois University, pursuing his Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and a minor in Spanish. He was born and raised on the small Caribbean island of St. Croix. Jabari has a love for God, music, computers, and other world cultures.