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.
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.