Who Taught You The Meaning of African American Culture?
A few years ago, my mentor challenged me to define African American culture. Most of what I came up with was so particular to me and my family that I couldn't call it African American, per se. The only things that I could point to that seemed universally African American were admittedly vague, like speaking Ebonics, making soul food and creating jazz. But that's not culture.
Culture is to people what water is to fish. Culture is your way of life, how you cook, clean, raise children, settle disputes, get married, buy a car... it is the collection of experiences that create shared values. Culture is the expression and protection of collective identity.
Without culture, we cannot exist. Like the air we breathe and the water we drink, we depend upon the culture for life itself, Despite that fact, African Americans have become completely ignorant of where our culture comes from, how it gets to us and how we're truly supposed to sustain it. No wonder we're suffering from a severe identity crisis!
Unintended Consequences of Integration
One of the greatest consequences of integration is the mental barrier that prevents African Americans from seeing themselves through their own cultural lens. Stated another way, the overwhelming majority of contemporary African Americans see themselves as failed attempts at being White. In this regard, breaking the mental barriers that hold you back will transform every aspect of your life. More precisely, while there is very real evidence of a glass ceiling for Black people, almost all of us have bumped into glass ceilings that only exist in our minds.
The most successful African American advisors and mentors have developed methods to get around those mental barriers. We have discovered the secret to feeling at ease in the mainstream without losing our ethnic and cultural identities. We are not intimidated by other people's race, income, privilege or pedigree. We know the value we bring to every circumstance and situation. Most importantly, understand the relationship between identity and peak performance.
Glass ceilings most certainly limit your ability to thrive. But, they also function like a mental thermostat that constantly keeps you within your comfort zone. Take into consideration some of the greatest moments of African American achievement in the past hundred years. All of our peak performers had to reset their mental thermostats and expand their comfort zones. By their actions, they also changed the perception of what was possible. Your willingness to push yourself beyond your mental barriers will have a direct impact on the results you achieve.
One Degree Difference
Think about a person who builds a campfire and hangs a pot over the fire. The fire is burning at 211 degrees, but it's not boiling. Think what happens when you go from 211 degrees to 212. Now you have steam and with steam you can move a train. A whole new world opens up at 212 degrees that is unavailable at 211. Think of how many people came before you and got to 211 degrees and never knew how close they were!
What's Your Personal Brand?
Starbucks doesn't sell coffee; they're in the business of creating an experience. Similarly, Nike does not sell athletic apparel; they are in the business of empowering the underdog. As the global economy shifts towards globalization - and automation - what you have historically known as products, services and job titles have now been reduced to mere commodities. Consequently, it's essential that you can distinguish what you do from a simple commodity that can be easily replaced with another. If what you offer is the same as everyone else, you'll be undervalued, underpaid and underrated.
One way to discover what value to add is by clarifying your identity. Who are you, really? No matter what industry you're in, and no matter what your title is, what you really sell is you, because the product is you! What separates you from the competition is you, and the experience you provide the people you serve.
Once you are clear on your identity, you are ready to think about how to differentiate yourself. This is the basis of your personal brand. Not until you have clarified your identity can you determine the what you want to communicate and make sure what you present remains consistent with your culture, core values and sense of integrity. Until you understand what makes you unique, it is difficult to know who you are in the marketplace and create value for what you do.
The Price of Upward Mobility
Despite our undeniable success, many upwardly mobile African Americans are in excruciating pain. I'm talking about Black people who have played by the rules; attended the best universities, climbed the corporate ladder and been responsible parents. For all intents and purposes, we have so much to celebrate. Still, something is seriously WRONG.
Why are middle class Blacks angry?
Of course, we must take note of the seemingly endless complications of "doing ANYTHING while Black", police brutality, and media assassination. As serious as these issues are, I think these are really symptoms that can be traced to a single problem: BLACK IDENTITY CRISIS. We are a group of racial misfits who can't agree on something as innocuous as a racial designation... When you evaluate middle class Black values, we are clearly unable to strike a balance between our frequent denouncements of whites and their desire to be white (i.e., assimilate). If you doubt the veracity of my claim, go and ask 20 African Americans to define our culture - not in terms of food, music and art - but in terms of our values, customs and traditions. You will quickly see the fact that most Americans of African descent have become estranged from their heritage to the point that they cannot easily recall what it means to be Black. 
“Integration in the past has been understood as assimilation into a white society on white terms; a condition that implies the superiority of the white society. School integration meant sending Black children to attend White schools, almost never the other way around. Today, a growing number of African Americans seek a goal more complex than integration into a white society; upwardly mobil Blacks increasingly aspire to the creation of a pluralist society in which African Americans may retain their identities as a distinct ethnic group… 
The African Problem
Beyond integration, another significant reason why Blacks have struggled with identity is our tenuous relationship with Africa. At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, we didn’t want anybody telling us anything about Africa, much less calling us Africans. In hating Africa and in hating the Africans, we ended up hating ourselves, without even realizing it. Because you can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree. You can’t hate your origin and not end up hating yourself. You can’t hate Africa and not hate yourself.” 
Nonetheless. the term African is a term that connects African Americans to a global community of people of African descent that are connected by a common history and a common experience. Whether you are Jamaican, Guyanese, Trinidadian, Ghanaian, Nigerian, or Kenyan you have felt the sting of British colonialism. Haitians, Martiniquans, Senegalese, and Guineans have all felt the sting of French colonialism. Brazilians, Angolans, and Mozambicans have all suffered through Portuguese colonialism. And just about every group of African people in the world has experienced American racism in one form or another. 
The African problem is one that America has always grappled with, as a nation. The claim that the Founders sought to create a multiracial democracy that welcomed immigrants from all over the world might make inspiring Fourth of July oratory, but it isn’t true. The first U.S. naturalization act of 1790 limited citizenship to immigrants who were “free white persons,” excluding Africans, Asians and others. America’s white only-naturalization policy lasted until after World War II... Some American nativists argued that of the three supposed strains of the white “race,” only “Nordic” immigrants were compatible with the existing American community.
Today, there are FIVE official categories used by the U.S. Census: African-Americans, non-Hispanic whites, Latinos (or Hispanics), native Americans and Asian and Pacific Islanders. These categories were settled upon by the federal government in the 1970s, and all except African-American, with its historical basis in America’s white supremacist caste system, are arbitrary to the point of absurdity. For example, Arab-Americans and Norwegian-Americans are lumped together as “non-Hispanic whites” while Americans of Indian and Japanese descent find themselves part of an “Asian and Pacific Islander” community. What is more, according to the Census, Hispanics may be of any race. 
Internalized White Supremacism
When Black people strongly identify with their cultural heritage, there is an increase in their self-esteem, self-efficacy, and motivation to improve. This phenomenon is important to the academic and professional development of Black middle professionals. Black professionals in every industry are often challenged with adjustment difficulties that are not experienced by their White counterparts (Gardner, Barrett, & Pearson, 2014).
According to Owens, Lacey, Rawls, and Holbert-Quince (2010), Black students pursuing postsecondary education struggle with the contradiction of the college environment and their cultures. Black students also face a lack of social support and discomfort with the social climate of the school. These students lack a sense of belonging and experience alienation, resistance, and a different dominant culture (Gardner et al., 2014; Heaven, 2015; Owens et al., 2010; Rush, 2012).
The experience of navigating back and forth between the dominant culture and one’s own culture on a daily basis, or living a bicultural existence, can be stressful (Gardner et al., 2014). Along with adjustment issues, upwardly mobile Blacks often feel the need for support and institutional connectedness (Owens et al., 2010). Upwardly mobile Blacks indicate discrimination, negative racial climate, marginalization, and a lack of Black peers and faculty as barriers while in doctoral programs at predominantly White institutions (PWIs; Henfield et al., 2011).
Developing a positive self-identity and self-awareness positively contributes to the Black professionals'’ progress and self efficacy (Hurd et al., 2012). Further, being exposed to any negative race-related interactions increases the negative feelings of Blacks, leading them to struggle with their abilities and perceived limitations of their counterparts (Gullan, Hoffman, & Leff, 2011). Lacking a solid foundation of self-identity leaves them susceptible to feeling more unsure of themselves, isolated, and disengaged.
Spending vast amounts of time processing and enduring others’ actions, including microaggressions, and then trying to modify their behavior to prove they are equal, can impair the upwardly mobile Black professional’s self-confidence, hence, diminishing their will to continue their plight for success (Harper, 2007; Hurd et al., 2012).
Solórzano, Ceja, and Yosso (2000) defined microaggressions as subtle insults directed towards others, particularly minorities of any sort, that may be verbal or nonverbal. Though subtle and often uninvestigated, Solórzano et al. (2000) purported that microaggressions are pervasive forms of racism that verify Black inferiority. For example, if a White female clutches her purse as a Black male passes by, it may silently insinuate that Black men are criminals. Whether intentional or not, microaggressions communicate negative messages from those harboring negative biases. Sue (2010) contended that minorities frequently experience microaggressions in their day-to-day interactions with others and often feel like untrustworthy, second-class citizens.
According to Arroyo and Zigler (1995), in order for upwardly mobile Blacks to become successful, they feel forced to dissociate themselves from their culture of origin and adopt behavior and attitudes of the mainstream culture resulting in their increased feelings of guilt, depression, and identity confusion.
The Power of African American Cultural Identity
Strong self-identification is associated with determination and academic success (Cokley et al., 2012). Hurd et al. (2012) stated, researchers have found an association between higher racial centrality and more positive performance among African-Americans... indicating that seeing race as a central part of one’s identity may contribute positively to one’s academic performance” (p. 1197). 
Henfield et al. (2011) identified four themes that Black doctoral-level students in counselor education programs expressed that helped them overcome difficulties in their program. Black doctoral-level students at predominately White institutions (PWIs) in counselor education programs perceived that the following elements assisted them with their professional development:
Mentorship, Identity and Upward Mobility
Through their investigation of Black administrators at PWIs, Gardner et al. (2014) revealed mentoring as an effective method to both facilitate retention of Black students and promote professional growth and development of Black professionals (Haizlip, 2012). Peer and faculty mentoring has positive influences on the experiences of doctoral students in counselor education programs, specifically Black students (Hinkle, Iarussi, Schermer, & Yensel, 2014) According to Henfield et al. (2011), after decades of activism, social policy, and social justice, nearly half of the Black students in doctoral programs at PWIs surveyed continue to report experiencing feelings of isolation, marginalization, and lack of a substantial racial peer group during their graduate education.
Mentoring allows upwardly mobile Blacks to conceptualize their possible success. It may also provide an avenue to help alleviate isolation for both the student and professional. An illustration is in the case of Constance, a Black doctoral-level student in a counselor education program presented by Henfield et al. (2011). Constance shared her belief with the following words:
“I believe that for a minority student, involvement with persons from similar backgrounds aid[s] in the process of getting through the everyday bureaucracies associated with being a minority at a predominantly White institution” (p. 236).
Learn more about mentorship opportunities for upwardly mobile African Americans:
So, as I return to my consultant roots, I'm revisiting the best practices in mentoring, coaching and counseling. It's great because this time around, I'm noticing some things that weren't so clear to me fifteen years ago.
For example, to be a great consultant, you've got to be a master of conversation. I don't mean small talk. When I say conversation, I am talking about demonstrating leadership through communication.
When I would sit down with smart, influential executives, my job was not to make them happy, but to help them grow. I had to tell them what changes needed to be made in themselves and in their organizations in order to improve outcomes. It was not just about shoveling data. They already had the best data. Instead, it was all about conversation.
So, how does the young Black consultant in African robes, with the name nobody can pronounce, advise the regional manager on how to run his business? One thing I always drew upon was conviction. I believe in what I say. That is, I believe that what I am advising you will be to your benefit. Even if I need to refer you to another specialist, I will tell you that without hesitation. It's because of my conviction.
When I speak, I do so from experience, which is my my mantra is "LIVE THE MEDICINE". I'm excited about returning to the consultancy model, this time leveraging my own books, courses and learning materials in an effort to serve my tribe at a deeper level than ever before!
Learn more: ObafemiO.com
My mother tried to warn me... "Son, the most dangerous and feared person in the world is a well-spoken Black man." She was absolutely right. I'll never forget the time, when I was in graduate school. It was an introductory counseling class, taught by a liberal white man. After listening to him repeatedly make blanket statements and generalizations about the human experience, I started to raise questions and engage in conversations that openly, but respectfully challenged his assumptions.
One day, he mentioned something about overcoming cultural superstition in mental health. Naturally, I pointed out the fact that what one group calls science is superstition to another. A Canadian student chimed in, "What wold you say to a farmer in Ethiopia, whose crops are failing due to drought but refuses to leave the place because he BELIEVES that it has something to do with the gods or his ancestors?" He and the professor both looked at me with absolute certainty that I would agree with their position... I did not!
I responded, "Ethiopians are among the oldest people on the planet, with an ancient civilization. I would encourage him to continue with his rituals - which have evidently worked for tens of thousands of years. But I would also encourage him to investigate what has happened more recently to now interrupt the success his people have had for so many generations... The problem may not be spiritual, or psychological at all. It might be colonial! He might need to keep his goods and keep his land, but get rid of the Europeans." They promptly changed the subject.
Later on, however, I experienced what I call an academic court marshall, wherein this same professor brought me before the department chair, the graduate coordinator and my advisor. The professor started off with his complaint about me: "He can't be taught! He thinks he has an answer for everything... I haven't heard ideas articulated like that since Frantz Fanon." I looked at my advisor, who had wisely instructed me to allow him to do all the talking. Once the ordeal was done, my advisor did told me, "Don't worry about it. To be honest, it's not your fault. You heard what he said, right? Reading about it isn't the same as coming face to face with it. As a department, we weren't ready for a student like you. THAT'S the problem. This won't be the last time you'll have an experience like this so you need to think about what you're going to do next, what you want your next move to be." He was telling me to make up my mind about moving up or moving on.
In his groundbreaking book, Rage of a Privileged Class, Ellis Cose goes into exceptional detail about African American professionals who have climbed the corporate ladder, only to discover even greater degrees of discrimination and alienation. "Blacks with a household income of $50,000... on average, appeared to be more alienated than poorer Blacks... But even many who admit the legitimacy of the complaints will be disinclined to care. For the problems of the Black middle class, they will argue, pale in comparison with those of the underclass, the group that truly deserves our attention. " (Page 7-8)
Case in point, the FBI's newly-created Black Identity Extremist designation. A 12-page report, prepared by the F.B.I. Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit in August 2016... announces the existence of the “Black Identity Extremist” movement and deems it a violent threat, asserting that Black activists’ grievances about racialized police violence and inequities in the criminal justice system have spurred retaliatory violence against law enforcement officers. It links incidents of violence by a handful of individual citizens like Michael Johnson, who shot 11 Dallas police officers in July 2016, to “B.I.E. ideology” and predicts that “perceptions of unjust treatment of African-Americans and the perceived unchallenged illegitimate actions of law enforcement will inspire premeditated attacks against law enforcement.”
This is fiction. Daryl Johnson, a former Department of Homeland Security intelligence agent, when asked by Foreign Policy in October why the F.B.I. would create the term “B.I.E.,” said, “I have no idea” and “I’m at a loss.” Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent and fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, said the “Black Identity Extremists” label simply represents an F.B.I. effort to define a movement where none exists. “Basically, it’s Black people who scare them,” he said. [New York Times November 2017]
Basically, it’s Black people who scare them. And who are the scariest Black people? Well-spoken Black men. Make no mistake about it; to be a well-spoken Black man in America is to exist in a state of prolonged crisis.
Bill George, professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School, has identified 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis. Leading in a crisis is often the greatest test of leadership. George observes:
“In Chinese, the character for the word crisis is made up of two symbols, danger and opportunity. That’s exactly what it represents for you as a leader. Although there is always the danger of failing, guiding people through a major problem is your best opportunity to develop your leadership. That’s why I recommend that young leaders get down on the playing field early in their careers rather than commenting from the press box.” (p. 4)
So, in the words of the Last Poets, Black People, What Y'all Gon' Do? Are you going to move up or move on? Learn more: MENTORSHIP.
Evolution is all about change! Your ability to anticipate changes and prepare accordingly is what will distinguish you from the rest. This is why all Yoruba kings of old retained babalawos, whose job it is to predict subtle changes in the environment and prepare the community thrive in the face of uncertainty.
In contemporary business and military organizations alike, it is the same. You cannot name a single corporation, army or nation that does not invest heavily in research that enables them to foretell the future based upon patterns and trends.
The message is clear: Leaders embrace change! No matter how powerful they are, wise leaders know that they cannot prevent changes. It is in their ability to accept the inevitability of change that effective leaders are able to guide and influence the way changes manifest.
So, why do you resist change? What is it that have convinced you that your denial will somehow stop changes from occurring?
What if you could actively predict changes and manage them with minimal anxiety? What if you could meet any change with total confidence? What if you could actually CREATE the changes that would give you competitive advantage?
Learn more: ObafemiO.com
Without accountability, the vast majority of people will only do what is necessary to get by. We need somebody to remind us to set goals and stay on task until to job is done. Not only that, the more freedom and access you have, the easier it is for you to slip into "cruise mode" and do the bare minimum.
But you know it's wrong, not morally-speaking, but in terms of your own integrity. At the deepest level of your consciousness, you KNOW that you have not come into the world to be average. You chose a divine mission and agreed to deliver upon the Ancestral Promise that was made many generations ago. Let's consider that Ifa says:
It is the particular errand they sent someone that one delivers
One must not refuse to do the work someone give you to do
One does not wake up in the morning
And refuse the errands of ones creator
These were Ifa’s declarations to Oyi
When going to heaven
He sent Ikin to Ado land
He sent Ope, the Palm tree, to Igeti the home of his father
He said they should go and help him take care of the place.
- Holy Odu OturaOgbe
The hero's journey represents the quest to discover and master your identity, which is synonymous with destiny. The process of becoming a hero then, is what we call Ijo L'aiye, the journey of life. Each segment of the journey is an invitation to show up more fully and demonstrate your ability to focus relentlessly and perform effortlessly. Can you be unwavering in your purpose? Can you be fearless in your love? Under any and all circumstances, can you stay totally committed to your spiritual identity? More importantly, do you know where to go to get support for your purpose, becoming fearless and increasing your focus?
Here are THREE DAIYLY QUESTIONS that will help you stay ready to move up or move on in every aspect of your life:
The ways in which you answer these questions will become the laws of your journey towards moving up or moving on. Every day, you either contribute to or detract from your success. As a mentor and personal consultant, I can offer you nine levels of support for moving up or moving on. Find out more: MENTORSHIP.
Rites of passage are one way in which a culture anticipates personal changes and prepares the individual to manage his transition with the least amount of strife.
Birth, puberty, marriage and death are inevitable. But if you're not prepared for those experiences, you will probably be overwhelmed by the changes they bring.
Traditionally, there are elders who act as mentors that facilitate rites of passage. Even in business, all successful professionals attest to the importance of having a mentor who supports their ability to move up or move on.
How about you? Who is your mentor? Who is actively coaching you on how to successfully transition from where you are to where you really want to be?
Don't leave your fulfillment to chance any longer. Follow the best practices of successful businesses and ancient cultures: Get a mentor today!
Learn more at ObafemiO.com
Change is synonymous with uncertainty. If you're like most people, uncertainty reminds you of all the things that could go wrong. Changes to your income or expenses, changes in your living conditions, changes in your relationship status all create lots of uncertainty and generate fear.
One of the most difficult things about change is that you lose the ability to decide what to do next. In truth, that's the number one question people ask me in the face of great uncertainty: "What am I supposed to do now?" And although there are many details involved with managing change, I want to share the first step in reducing your anxiety.
Step #1: “You must face reality.” Reality starts with yourself. Before you look anywhere for answers, you need to look yourself in the mirror and recognize your role in creating the problem. But you can't stop there.
Then, you must assemble your team and come to some agreement about the root causes. Note that your team is not a group of cheerleaders, enablers and yes men. Instead, your team is that group of people who will invest time, money and energy in helping you to improve, even if that means not getting your way.
If you're like most people I work with, you've got that one friend, who is the designated truth teller. Under any circumstances, you can depend on this person to tell it like it is. But in order to create enduring change without fear, it's not enough to have one person on your team who is a truth teller. Everyone on the team must be candid in sharing the entire truth, no matter how painful it is. How else can you solve problems if you don’t acknowledge their existence?
Your team has to recognize what's really going on before problems can be solved. Failure to involve the team will invariably lead to short-term fixes that merely address the symptoms of the problem and ensure that you'll be back in the same situation shortly.
Learn more at: ObafemiO.com
Change is the only constant... You would think that we would be used to managing change gracefully, but that's not the case at all. Instead, change usually creates lots of stress.
Imagine what it would be like if you could meet changes with a smile and sense of optimism. Imagine how your life would be if you felt ready to deal with changes without anxiety.
Many years ago, I did a little bit of martial arts. One very powerful lesson was learning to differentiate between fear and adrenaline. Fear creates anxiety. Adrenaline creates clarity.
A mentor works with you to slow down the action and methodically choose the adrenaline path. Gradually, raw, unbridled emotion gives way to rigid, mechanical reaction. Finally, natural, spontaneous responses, fueled by adrenaline, will emerge.
But mastering change is not natural. You have to learn to internalize it. The best way to do that is with a mentor or coach. The first step is the toughest and the greatest.
Learn more: ObafemiO.com
Stories - not money - makes the world go round. Ben Okri once said that the world is made up of stories, just like the ocean is made up of water. We have been swimming in stories since the beginning of time.
In fact, you cannot separate human identity from stories! Your lineage, your culture, your religion are all made up of endless compilations of stories.
Stories are especially important during times of transition. At the birth of a child or the loss of a home, the stories you tell will define the quality of your experience. When you finally decide to file for divorce or start your own business, your ability to recognize where you are in the story of your life will give you the sense of purpose you need to proceed with certainty. When you feel your entire reality shifting around you - and sometimes WITHIN you - it is your stories that provide the bridge to what is most meaningful and most enduring.
Learn more about how stories facilitate smooth transitions at ObafemiO.com
Live the Medicine
Obafemi Origunwa, MA
Thought leader, Ifa priest and author of four definitive books, Obafemi Origunwa inspires metamorphosis through living the medicine that will heal your life and heal the lives of the people you're destined to serve.