Why has the celebration of Black History Month become such a debate? At last check, Canada also has a month to celebrate Asian Heritage (May) and Hispanic Heritage (September/October). If there is a ruckus about celebrating those months, I haven’t heard it. Why all the fuss?
For me, Black History Month is about celebrating the noteworthy accomplishments of Black Canadians in order to provide our children and youth with a sense of belonging in the wider Canadian context.
On a day-to-day basis, this sense of belonging is lacking in our community. In recent years and months the effects of this exclusion is becoming all too clear.
Just to be clear, hip-hop culture is not Black culture. A look at mainstream media coverage might lead you to think hip-hop culture defines who we are as a people, but that would be a mistake. A more accurate and modern approach to determining what a unified black culture looks like is offered in a theory called TRIOS.
What is TRIOS? TRIOS: Time, Rhythm, Improvisation, Orature and Spirituality, is a theory developed by psychologist James Jones at the University of Delaware. TRIOS acknowledges the many Black communities within the Black community, but cuts through the clutter of difference and offers the clarity of unity.
TRIOS focuses on three elements within the Black community:
- Our relative experiences in and outside the system of slavery and our cumulative experiences over the years in relation to factors such as skin colour, gender, educational opportunities and employment opportunities have created a shared cultural experience.
- Because we continue to exist and try to succeed in a society that once “victimized and dehumanized” us, Blacks have developed the capacity to exist in a hostile environment.
- Because we exist within a society that has “victimized and dehumanized” us, our actions are aimed at reclaiming and reasserting our “human-ness.”
Through these collective experiences Blacks have developed a universal culture independent of social, geographic or demographic background. Jones says, “TRIOS provides the degree of flexibility, creativity and innovation that helps one adapt to changing and unpredictable circumstances.” In essence, TRIOS has allowed Blacks to evolve as individuals while simultaneously developing a collective culture.
The first element of TRIOS is Time. Cultures experience “time” in two distinct ways explains Jones. Some cultures treat time as a commodity while other cultures exist in fluidity with time. Those cultures originating from Africa embody the latter concept of time.
According to Jones, slavery introduced the conscious notion of time into our culture. He notes, “One of the most conspicuous losses of freedom impelled by slavery was the loss of [time] freedom.”
The time value of African culture, however, has not completely disappeared. Through the years, cultural behaviours characterized by sayings such as “Any time is Trinidad time,” and “Black people time,” have emerged as our way of reclaiming the time value lost in slavery.
The second element of TRIOS is Rhythm. What Jones refers to as rhythm is the symmetry that occurs between like-minded individuals. Communication without words. Not in every aspect of our lives, but on a select number of deep seated values and principles. It is the way we know to treat our elders or to never call anyone’s parents by their first name. These behaviours may be unconscious, but according to Jones, they are not accidental. Taken in unison, these behaviours form a pattern or rhythm that is distinct onto itself.
The third element of TRIOS is Improvisation. In this context, improvisation means style.
Black men in particular exemplify this principle. From skinny, belted suits with jackets nipped at the waist worn in the ’50s to the introduction of bling in the first part of this century, black men are unique in their degree of pre-occupation with style.
In the broader context, our collective sense of style is not about what we wear or how we walk. According to Jones, our collective sense of style is not a whimsical expression. Instead, it is the way we have chosen to present ourselves to the world and remain distinct in a society that would assimilate us.
The fourth element of TRIOS is Oral Expression. Orature is the expression of self, life, values and experiences through words, drumming, storytelling, praise singing and naming.
During slavery, oration was used as coded speech to “hide collective action from slave owners.” Today this principle is exemplified in speech such as Ubonics — a “slang” version Ebony-phonics, also knows as Ebonics — and rap.
Jones states, “Rap is a contemporary extension of this evolutionary process. Rap is more than a style of singing and rhyming. It is an expression of reality and assertion for selfâe¦[that] bonds individuals together in concerted reality, and also distances oneself and one’s group from others.”
Even if one is not a fan of rap or a supporter of Ubonics — the expression of commonness through words, and in our private space — informal speech is the manifestation of this principle.
The fifth and last element of TRIOS is Spirituality. Slaves depended on spirituality and the belief in the after-life to help ease the pain of their lives on earth.
Today “spirituality liberates one from the expectation of personal responsibility in a world that denies the full range of options and opportunities,” says Jones. Although much progress has been made, equality is still elusive. Blacks of all makes, sizes and colours are all too aware that achieving our full potential is still not entirely within our control.
Spirituality and the belief in a higher force help us believe in a future where that will be possible.
In summary, TRIOS offers us the building blocks from which to create a unified black culture. It offers us the knowledge that underneath the superficial layers of difference lie five unique elements that create a united black culture — a culture that originated in pre-colonial Africa, survived centuries of slavery, and is alive and thriving today. Through our shared experience of time, rhythm, improvisation, oration, and spirituality our divergent communities become one culture.