Cultural Consciousness: The “Missing Link” for Black Empowerment?

Not too long ago, I had the occasion to meditate on the following problem of Afrikan nationalist community organizing: How do we sustain a national identity and will-to-power that can last for generations without running the risk of dissipation due to exhaustion or the seductive, attractive pull of opposing political, economic, personal, etc., desires and interests? Interests which could undermine the group’s cohesion. How do we sustain—without a formal political structure separate and distinct from the American (or non-Afrikan) government—a nation-within-a-nation which doesn’t have the luxury of formal legal and overall governmental structures as do nation-states?

But soon after, I realized that I already knew the answer; or more precisely, I had come across it in Wilson’s work. The answer is simple: Black consciousness! That is, Afrikan-centered cultural consciousness!

In the fourth chapter of Blueprint for Black Power, Wilson dedicated four sections to the discussion of his theory of consciousness—based on his other theory/model of its functional elements–as a mechanism of social control and cultural power. In the third of four, he explained the concept of group consciousness in the following way:

If the sets of values, modes of thinking, beliefs, and much more which define and direct an individual’s consciousness are shared by or are compatible with other individuals who mutually consider themselves to be members of a distinct group; who socially and behaviorally interact in order to achieve mutually desired ends; who initiate and regulate their individual interest in accordance with the interests of the group of which they are members; who identify many of their personal interests with interests of the group of which they are members; and who see membership in their group as vitally important to achieving both personal and group aims, then it may be inferred that they have generated and share in group consciousness.

Blueprint for Black Power, p. 94.

So a group consciousness is present when a group shares a common set of relevant directional-organizational orientations, mental-behavioral instrumentalities, and factual-experiential contents (Wilson, 1998).

Cultural consciousness, he defined in this way:

To the degree that such groups have formed as the result of a shared common social history, a shared or common ancestry and ethnicity; have been socialized according to the same or similar social practices as prescribed by the same or similar institutions; have been trained and motivated to act and interact in ways which maintain and advance the interests of the larger society, it can be inferred that they participate in sharing a cultural consciousness.

The distinguishing factor(s) between group and cultural consciousness is not merely the scope or size of the group, but the presence of a “common social history, a shared or common ancestry and ethnicity”; and whether or not they “have been socialized according to the same or similar social practices as prescribed by the same or similar institutions”.

In a lecture most know as Blueprint for Black Power (and in the book, itself), Wilson argued that culture was a means of creating consciousness through enculturation or acculturation. (In the lecture he also refers to them as possessing “spirits”.) Cultures socialize the consciousness of their members through what’s called the “socialization process.”

If this is true—and it is—then this means that not only is consciousness a potential mechanism for black self-control and empowerment, but that we can deliberately create it within ourselves through appropriate Afrikan-centered socialization. This brings me to the main point of the article.

Cultural consciousness is the means we need to facilitate large-scale organization and mobilization. We can’t expect to rely on institutional control measures (as a primary mechanism) since it would place too high a demand on our already severely limited human and institutional resources. (Our institutions and resources would be better utilize toward more programmatic ends.) We can’t have our political institutions be the major means by which we sustain group cohesion and identity. Instead, these have to come or arise “naturally” as a consequence of a collective cultural consciousness. In an earlier part of Blueprint, Wilson talked about the concept of “diffuse power” which arises out of “commonly held attitudes, values, and modes of behavior” (i.e., group or cultural consciousness), and which lays the basis for and “facilitates the conspiring of one group against another, without their conspiracy being deliberately planned and executed by any one person, group, or groups within them” (Wilson, 1998). In other words, cultural consciousness, once generated and shared, naturally brings about social cohesion. Thus all that is needed is its proper socialization and reinforcement through the kinds of institutions which will be responsible for these things. This is the kind of consciousness we need. And this is the kind we should strive to create!

In a later article I hope to discuss, in further detail, some of the minimum institutional means by which we can create/shape an Afrikan-centered group and cultural consciousness. But until then, feel free to check out the lecture I referenced in the article! It’s a classic! Also, please leave your comments and thoughts. Let’s build and discover together.

Main source: Blueprint for Black Power: A Moral, Political and Economic Imperative for the Twent-First Century. You can purchase the book at or your local black bookstore.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s