Black People Are A Gold Mine Of Innovation And Influence For Pop Culture

Highlighting the examples of black excellence and why we should be celebrated

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| February 02 2017,

7:16 pm

Black people have withstood countless limitations in pop culture since Jupiter Hammon, the first African-American to be a published author in the United States (1761) and even prior. Phillis Wheatley followed shortly after in 1773 when she became the first African-American woman to publish a book. In 1858, William Wells Brown was the first black playwright to have his works published. Also in 1878, John "Bud" Fowler became the first black man to play in organized professional baseball. These are only a few notches on a lengthy timeline of black firsts that sent shockwaves through pop culture highlighting our determination, skill, and influence in various fields. From entertainment to sports, our people have displayed their leadership and inspired others to do so as well.

Jumping forward to recent times, our black icons have had an even more unprecedented influence on pop culture. Take rock & roll/R&B legend Tina Turner, for instance. Her career spanned more than half a century and counting and has been known to influence other powerful female entertainers like Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson and Janelle Monae. Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, though painted in the media as rivals, dominated the fashion industry fearlessly. Before them, there was Beverly Johnson and Iman, and after came Jourdan Dunn, Lais Ribiero and more. 

When it comes to comedy, we can never talk about funny men without mentioning the OG, Richard Pryor. His comedic style which sharply addressed contemporary social issues were unfiltered. He took current events and laced his commentary on it with humor that was direct and raw. You simply can't talk about raw comedy without the incomparable Eddie Murphy. His adults-only stand-up show was only one shining example of a successful career which transcended into acting, writing and producing roles. Then, of course, there's the hilarious Dave Chappelle. Though his career first began in the early 90s, his canonized sketch comedy show Chappelle's Show, made him an icon in the black community. His comedic style borrowed from his predecessors and added in his own flare.  

In sports, we look to icons and legends like Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for their extraordinary impact on the game of basketball. Both Hall of Famers with over 10 claimed NBA championships combined. Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor are NFL legends, ranking in the top 10 of many lists crowning the greatest American football players of all time. Blazing a trail for female athletes are the Williams sisters, whose display of love and fierce competition makes for prime sports entertainment, period. Serena's win in the Australian Open final put her at 23 singles titles won to Venus' seven, but the sportsmanship displayed between the siblings added the emotion to the game that no one else but these powerful black women can offer. 

The list of influential black names stretches far, and while it says much about the esteemed individuals, it also speaks to the effects of black consumerism. The American economy is undoubtedly under the finger of the black consumer, contrary to popular belief. Our creativity as the pop culture seller spills over into our taste as the pop culture buyer. According to a report from University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, black buying power will top $1.4 trillion in 2020.

Being that a large portion of the black buyer demographics are millennials, it makes sense that we are the pop culture leaders and trendsetters. In a nutshell, it is a symbiotic relationship between the black consumer and the black icon. In many cases, the black consumer is the black icon. Social media is one very important aspect in this relationship. We now have artists and influencers who've distributed their content through social media and amassed a large amount of popularity and fame, then continue on to contribute to the black audience. People like Quinta Brunson, Jay Versace and The Read's Kid Fury and Crissle are all examples of this. 

Of course, we can’t look past the hoard of black millennials changing the game of television programming. Michaela Coel, the 29-year old singer-songwriter, actress, and writer is responsible for the hilarious British Comedy Chewing Gum. Donald Glover, also known as Childish Gambino, won two Golden Globes for his FX series Atlanta and we have Issa Rae. Issa Rae is another Golden Globe nominee that shook the world with her addictive HBO series Insecure. We're still shaking about Lawrence and Tasha.

Having your finger on the pulse of what's hot is easy when you're the brains behind the popular content. Over the years, African-Americans have led pop culture to unprecedented spaces in society and continue to do so with our films, our music and everything else we put our creative and intellectual efforts into. This Black History Month, we should remind ourselves of the incredible influence that we have on the rest of the world as we progress.