Why black minimalist?
When I first had the idea of focusing on black minimalists, I had doubts. Did I need to place black in front of minimalist? Was I needlessly separating myself from the larger minimalist movement? I was also nervous about how my non-black readers would receive this new direction.
I was curious about whether our experience of minimalism was different from the dominant perspective. At the very least, I needed to tell my story. I felt there might be others needing to tell their stories, and still more, needing to hear stories that resonated with their experience.
I started searching for black people who identified as minimalists or who were living simply in some way; however they defined it.
When I talked with other black minimalists, I realized this could be something big. The response to my first post, Black Minimalists on the Web, was overwhelmingly positive and it affirmed our need to connect with one another.
What is a black minimalist?
A black person who adopts a simpler lifestyle as a means of liberation from anything that no longer serves her best self. The adoption of minimalism could be a response to overwhelming physical clutter, emotional baggage, financial debt, health concerns, or oppression. Any deep-seated desire to change one’s life can prompt a minimalist lifestyle. It also springs from a desire to liberate and positively impact black communities.
Why do we need a black minimalist movement?
I was perusing the web recently, doing my periodic search for black minimalist stuff to see if anything new turned up, and I stumbled upon this comment on a blog post from Joshua Becker’s site, Becoming Minimalist.
Let me put forward a different perspective and one I’m sure may rub some the wrong way. I agree owning stuff is a burden on many levels but what if you are not white as many of you appear to be. Is minimalism and the discarding of all outward signs of status and identity a luxury only those in society who aren’t judged by virtue of their race necessarily can afford? If you were African American could you live a minimalist life, a life of simplicity and still be respected and treated well? Could it be that society would see you as inferior pandering to stereotypes if you don’t have wealth and material sign posts to validate your standing? For many minorities, having an outward display of abundance is the only way to gain respect and a foothold in a very unequal society. Therefore, is minimalism, much like golf, a white man’s philosophy?
Jon’s questions are important and some I’ve asked myself on this journey. His comment and some of the responses made me cringe a little though. For one, he is asking this question on a forum created by a white man and used by mainly white people. I don’t fault him for this because where else would he have asked this question. So much has happened in four years and there weren’t as many minimalist forums, let alone any platforms catering to black minimalists at this time.
Some of the responses, in my opinion, were dismissive of his concern or missed the point because if you’re not living the black experience in this country, how do you even know where he’s coming from? Fortunately, a few commenters did offer understanding and empathy for what Jon was trying to express. He never responded to the replies, but I hope he saw those last few comments affirming his experience.
This movement is needed because we need a space where Jon and any other black person can feel comfortable asking these questions and not worry about rubbing someone the wrong way. I want for black people who want to live simply to know there is a community of people who understand where they are coming from and can offer insight. For these reasons, Black Minimalists will be expanding into an entity of its own in the near future.
Furthermore, the historical, social, political, economic, cultural, and spiritual implications of life in America, in the African Diaspora and on the African continent, also makes this movement necessary. Our liberation as individuals and communities is at stake. This is a call to create, build, and uplift our people in a way that disengages us from the norms of oppression. It reaffirms and celebrates the fact that we are enough and that we already have everything we need to free ourselves.
Questions from a black minimalist
I would like to briefly answer Jon's questions and invite you to share your thoughts in the comments.
Is minimalism and the discarding of all outward signs of status and identity a luxury only those in society who aren’t judged by virtue of their race necessarily can afford?
No and yes. It’s complicated. Any person, regardless of background, can do anything she wants in theory, including living simply. You can’t deny though, that we (black people and other minorities) are under a microscope. I’m at a point in my personal life where I care less and I think other black people are starting to care less too and the carefree black girl/boy movement beautifully shows that.
I think MamaJama’s comment hits on what Jon was getting at:
In many cases, it can be shown, without a doubt that appearances can make or break (literally) a minority man. You’re debating a philosophy, a lifestyle, we’re talking about the freedom to live (in any form that doesn’t lead to one’s death based on one’s skin color). Don’t take your freedom (that eludes others) for granted.
If you were African American could you live a minimalist life, a life of simplicity and still be respected and treated well?
Yes, we do it everyday. I personally haven’t encountered any negativity regarding my lifestyle, but you can’t necessarily identify a minimalist just by looking. I don’t wear a sign that says “minimalist”. You’d have to take the time to get to know a person before learning that information unless they offer it upfront. So most of the time, we are not judged by our minimalist identity, but by other external factors.
Could it be that society would see you as inferior, pandering to stereotypes if you don’t have wealth and material sign posts to validate your standing?
Yes. Forget about minimalism for a moment and focus on history. American society has shown us repeatedly how it feels about black people and all other groups who do not fit in with the majority. We as a society place value on the attainment of certain material possessions and status positions. This is real regardless of your lifestyle.
People will judge you regardless of what you do, so why not live a life that is authentic and meaningful to you?
Is minimalism, much like golf, a white man’s philosophy?
No. Minimalism is a universal philosophy that has existed since humans came to be. Many people, including certain nomadic and religious societies, still practice living simplistically . White men and women may have popularized minimalism as a lifestyle trend in recent years, but minimalism is for everyone.
For those asking these questions, this is why I highlight black minimalists through interviews and roundups, this is why I talk about minimalism and black liberation, and this is why we have started having discussions via twitter. This is why I put black in front of minimalist.
Where can you learn more about black minimalists?
You can now find us on our website: blackminimalists.net.
Black Liberation + MINIMALISM