What is "The Culture," Anyway?

By Jaylin Paschal

After seeing the phrase "For the culture" flood timelines in tweets and captions, it would be of value to explore what exactly we mean by "the culture" and whether or not the constant repetition of the phrase has in any way diluted its meaning. Has "the culture" became a phrase that's trendy, but virtually inconsequential, like "on fleek?" Is it an empty buzzword-type phrase guaranteed to bring in likes and retweets? And if so, does that matter? We know what the Migos mean, right? And we knew "the culture" was what Kanye was referencing when he told us to "listen to the kids," right?

I personally use "the culture" as fluidly and flexibly as I want. Seeing Joefreshgoods in a durag, beside Elaine Welteroth? "For the culture." Seeing an elderly black couple in matching kelly green Adidas tracksuits? "For the culture." Seeing Cardi B and Offset holding hands? "For the culture." It doesn't really mean anything, while at the same time meaning everything. It's both broad and very, very succinct. "The culture," for me is a tremendously exclusive realm to which nearly anyone can belong. And for me, "the culture" means black culture. Not to say that I won't claim Anna Wintour's precision-based bob isn't "for the culture," or that Raf Simmons' entire existence isn't "for the culture." But nine times out of ten, I'm talking about black people contributing our style, dance, art, music, etc. to the global melting pot of ideas; nine times out of ten I'm talking about black people existing unapologetically in the way that we are so naturally and fundamentally artistic. There is no culture to reference without us.

Excerpt from my august 2016 piece "For the culture"

Black culture, in all of its facets and nooks and crannies, is a gorgeous, multidimensional entity we have a responsibility to nurture and cultivate. Tyler Perry films and Spike Lee films. Kamasi Washington's The Epic and Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. Ice Cube the gangsta rap pioneer and Ice Cube the rated-PG actor. Dashikis and Coogi. Yelling "Kobe" and wearing Jordan's. Graffiti artists and Kehinde Wiley. The Harlem Renaissance and the Chicago drill-rap scene. It's Gordon Parks and Devin Allen. It's Good Times and The Fresh Prince. Richard Prior and Dave Chapelle. Questlove's afro and Q Tip's lyrics. Beaded braids and long locs. Break dancing and milly rocking. All of it. It's ours.

But that's just my personal interpretation. What is "the culture" actually? Can it even be defined? Is defining it even an endeavor we should take on; something we should aspire to achieve? Is "the culture" the most digestible alongside Virgil Abloh's idea of "zeitgeist?" With constant changes in the way we live, what's trendy, etc., is "the culture" just an idea that we make up as we go along? And anything we do "for" it is to characterize what it means to be young in the first quarter of the 21st century.

Jaylin PaschalComment