Is any culture original?

In Zora Neale Hurston’s Characteristics of Negro Expression, I found the discussion of originality and imitation to be quite interesting in the context of the larger Transatlantic identity. The semester thus far we have struggled to define what Blackness is. I believe this is because there is not only one way to be Black. Blackness is an amalgamation of different experiences, cultures, circumstances, etc. that cannot be easily captured in a tangible way. In the case of early African-Americans, they were forced to shed practically all remnants of the cultures they came from, which led them to develop a new culture from their surroundings, which is all they had to go off of. They did not copy, but instead drew inspiration from the people and new cultures they were around. Hurston captures this phenomenon eloquently when she states, “While he lives and moves in the midst of a white civilization, everything that he touches is re-interpreted for his own use”(28). When we look at the grand scheme of things, we can see that everything is borrowed in some way from an earlier source, no matter how big or small. In that sense, we can think of everything as being both original and unoriginal at the same time. Culture is fluid, so the best thing we can really do is appreciate everyone’s innovations. To say that the Negro is “lacking in originality”(28) is another ignorant and hypocritical White supremacist tactic used to devalue and dehumanize Black people who managed to not only survive but thrive in the midst of their treacherous circumstances.
In a related fashion, I also really liked how Hurston reclaimed the term mimicry as a positive. It is not something done mindlessly but takes effort and intelligence. It also reminds me of the History, Memory, and Performance reading and the ideas of surrogation, displaced transmission, and the ephemeral nature of performance. Every time something is performed it is new; no two performances are exactly the same. With this in mind, I can ascertain that all mimicry has a form of originality.

2 Replies to “Is any culture original?”

  1. I really like your discussion of how we have struggled to define “blackness” due to how the definition of “blackness” is subjective and individualized. I also really like how you tied in Hurston’s discussion of mimicry and how she utilizes the term in a positive way to describe how black people created their own culture(s) through the means of drawing inspirations from the others which they were surrounded by. Your post made me question other cultures which draw inspirations from their surrounding cultures and I have to say that I have yet to think of one that doesn’t.

  2. I really like the title of your post. I think you bring up great points regarding the originality (or lack thereof) of all cultures. I agree with you on the fluidity of culture. I feel like culture is constantly evolving, especially since people migrate more now than they did back then. We see this in the US a lot. Many ethnic groups have “americanized” their cultures in some ways, whether that’s through food, speech, or entertainment. I think there are very few cultures that are 100% original, if any. Otherwise, we are building off each other like you said.

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