Conquest to Black Joy: Partying through American History

By Adriana Doctor

Black People are diverse and experience leisure in various ways. Historical oppression has influenced the way, black people in America socialised. Their culture has been the largest contributor to popular culture worldwide, even more so in America. Music, dance, fashion, and party life are dependent on the history of Black America. In my research, I interviewed five black people living in America. This panel consists of 4 students and a professor. They each belonged to different ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, and socio-economic classes. The only similarity they shared was that they all were black and had attended at least one social event. 

NBC News published an article titled “Black stereotype college parties spark outrage” to shed light on white college students”. It read  “The University of Colorado’s Ski and Snowboard Club advertised a “gangsta party” in September, with fliers featuring rappers and fake bullet holes. The theme was dropped after complaints, but some students, who didn’t get the message, showed up in gangsta garb, hoping to win prizes” The article goes on to mention different opinions from both black and white students about the party, that this party perpetrated the “worst stereotypes of the black community” (NBC 2007). Various accounts of black students mentioned that popular culture is so heavily influenced by Black culture that well-off white young people adopt black culture as popular culture and negatively, consciously or unconsciously, mock black people. Wrongly the students who initiated this party had preconceived notions, that black people, experience leisure based on the ways that they have portrayed through hip-hop music and so this pants an image of black people only enjoying party culture or their free time in “gangster, apparel and hip-hop music. This brings the question, do all black people party the same and if so is this how? What are common traits in black culture and how has it manifested in popular culture we enjoy today?

Black folks are often painted as a monolith. Due to slavery and colonialism many black people all over the world share common historical experiences. Though they may have shared traits, this idea fails to recognize black people as individuals with their interests, singular belief systems, and personalities. It is a harmful stereotype that confines a large group of people and prevents social progress for them. Interestingly, the research I conducted revealed that not all black people enjoy rap and streetwear. Four out of the Five people I  interviewed said they enjoyed music that their friends do not like: indie, r&b, and soft pop music. The first question I asked was “On a Friday night where can I find you?”;  ”At home” was the most common response, so I probed with “You’re looking to socialize where might I find you?”  The responses lightened up reading  “At a nightclub”, “Going to dinner”, “Intimate gathering” and even “ A  theme party”. At these events, they reported listening to Punk music, R&B, and Indie pop which they expressed were genres they enjoyed in their free time. This proves that black youth are pursuing their interests rather than following a cookie-cutter idea of who they are expected to be. On the other hand, a few shared that they attended dancehall and afrobeat music which they also enjoyed in their free time, so though those genres are commonly enjoyed in party spaces they are still pursuing their genuine passions. 

Throughout the interviews, there were two people whose responses perfectly revealed the shared cognitive space yet differing opinions of the culture. One person I interviewed said “Black rhythm isn’t talked about enough. They were seen as ghetto. There aren’t a lot of black clubs in my PWI but when I do go to a party, they play throwbacks from the 90s. To be honest I prefer going to those parties than the night clubs, that my rugby team, and I go to”. They went on to say there is a higher likelihood of them dancing at a black party, than the queer nightclub with white folk, talking in booths and drinking mocktails. Another mentioned a contradictory view on social dances.  “I hate grinding. White girl dancing is amusing and funny, but it’s nothing I’ll ever do, then again I don’t even dance at parties. I just sit back and watch for real “. Two black people have very different views on social dances. Though they disagreed on how they would carry themselves in a specific party space they later agreed that pop culture is influenced by black culture regarding music, dance, and fashion. The unanimous opinion on black culture being a safe space that they would prefer proves that it is not a  medium to temporarily indulge in as it is significant in so many people’s lives at large and has united black people despite their ethnic differences. Their responses further solidify the idea that black people enjoy different things and at times dislike parts of their own culture, but ultimately respect it as home. 

Black people are individuals who have distinct pleasures from the assumed collective, but due to historical oppression, they still find solace in the community. People in predominantly white spaces tend to congregate with other black people. I asked the question “When have you ever seen someone be ostracized at a party?”  “One interviewee said “Yeah I just feel like we’d vibe better, as they understand me better because we’re experiencing similar things”.   Most of the interviewees also responded to the questions asking about a decade they enjoyed responded saying the 90s to the 2020s. “I just love the Y2K fashion”, “The music made more sense back then” and “There were no phones so we were forced to connect”. The common desire to connect is something I found among all the people I spoke to. They preferred intimate, mellow parties because they gave them a chance to talk to people and enjoy others’ company. One person even claimed that Black parties are just calmer than those hosted by white people. This shows the unexpected values of black youth, who desire, connection and conversation as opposed to the popular consensus, that black people only want to dance and move in space, rather than to find meaningful connections. This is not to invalidate black people who do enjoy, dancing and enjoying the popular culture that many impose upon us because, at the end of the day, black people are not one thing. Some black people enjoy quiet, intimate spaces, where they can have a conversation with another person, and some black people enjoy, vibrant dance halls, where they can disconnect and enjoy their leisure. 

In an assessment of the way black people think of themselves in social spaces, I asked the question “If you could go back to any decade to party where would you go?”. Expectedly responses were “I wouldn’t because hello segregation”,  “I’d stay in the 2010s because I don’t wanna get hate crimed”, and “The 90s because black people were thriving at that time”.  They were aware of the implications of being black in American history which the next question would set in motion for the present tense. “How do you think black history in the US has affected the way that we party today? “. The common responses were music, dance, culture, and drug use. Many of the responses hinted at ways that black culture currently influences the popular culture observed in America, but not so much the history of the people. Only two people responded by saying that parties are still very segregated today. One person commented on the class differences that are observed in parties, that the upper-class party in lavish ways, and often reject those of the lower class, so the lower class then creates a subculture for themselves because of this rejection. They provided examples “Dancehall comes from the term “dance hall” which was a place for the lower class. They created a place for themselves to party, which was also a way to unite the community. Hip-hop music and R&B are genres that were molded by the journey from slavery to freedom, which paved  its way to mainstream media.”  Another mentioned the racial divide in party culture today, saying that white people party completely differently from black people, who often create their own spaces because of the previous aggregation that occurred in American history, for example, Jim Crow laws. This person went on to say that black people actually reject the White party culture and so they’ve created a very mellow and safe space for them to freely express themselves and enjoy their leisure time. Though only a few gave an appropriate response it revealed that black people were aware of their history and how it plays a part in their daily lives.

Black people in America were once persecuted for their culture and now it has become the root of a booming party life among the youth. The lifestyle that lower-income black folk built to survive morphed into a trend that upper-class white children celebrate. Minstrel shows were thought to be a thing of the past but unnoticed by many, white adolescents have prolonged their destructive nature. They have been trying to paint black people as one-dimensional people who lack depth and individuality. This concept has been proven false based on the interviews conducted with various black people who encounter life differently. They expressed differing opinions, interests, and party experiences. They mostly agreed that black culture plays a key role in the way we party and that racial segregation persists in 21st-century social spaces. It is about time black people are treated as individuals rather than fit in a negative cliché of how they are to behave; it denies their humanity and is overall an embarrassing view to hold in 2022.