AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE
Stereotypesagainst African Americans have existed throughout their history inthe United States. Negative stereotypes against African American canbe traced back to the slavery era where African when African wereconsidered to be an inferior race. After emancipation, thesestereotypes resulted into formal discrimination and segregation,which had huge social, economic and political impacts on the AfricanAmerican society. In the modern world, the most important form ofstereotype against African American is perpetrated by the varioustypes of media. In many occasions, stereotypes against AfricanAmerican in the media results into a negative perception aboutAfrican Americans culture and way of life. For example, in videogames and films, African American characters are portrayed ascriminals and murderers. This results into African Americans beinglabeled as criminals. Other stereotypes view African Americansincludes being unintelligent, angry, evil, and uncultured whoseexclusive role in the society is being a servant of the superior race(Gates & Yacovone, 2013). Being an African American, thesestereotypes have an impact on how I relate with other members of thesociety. For example, when in a social gathering dominated by otherraces, I feel out of place because of attracting unnecessaryattention. This affects my confidence and self esteem, even in caseswhere the society accommodates racial diversity. However, anunderstanding of the African American culture will dispel some of thenegative stereotypes against African American community. This essayprovides an overview of the African American culture with an aim ofproviding insight and dispelling some of the stereotypes created bythe media against African Americans in the United States.
AfricanAmerican is one of the distinct cultures in the United States. Itincludes cultural traditions and practices of American of Africanethnic ancestry. Although the African American culture has beenlargely influenced by the mainstream American culture, there are somedistinct features of the African American culture which have beenresilient. The United States government defines African American as“people having origins in any of the black race groups of Africa”.Therefore, although it is very distinct, the African American cultureis derived from the African culture, mainly the sub Saharan Africancultures. It is important to note that majority of African Americanscannot retrace their ancestry to Africa. This is because they areancestors of slaves and other Africans who moved into the UnitedStates several generations ago. The social and cultural environmentsin the United States restricted African American culture. Forexample, during the slavery era slaves were not allowed to practicetheir culture. This led to the adoption of European cultures by theAfrican slaves (Fabre, 2004). However, some positive influence ofslavery on African American culture cannot be ignored. For example,drumming was an important aspect of African traditional societies. Itwas widely used by slaves as a means of communication. Afteremancipation, the African American continued to grow and flourish inthe united states due to lack of restriction that was associated withslavery. This led to the emergence of a distinctive Africa n Americanculture, which can be viewed as a blend between the mainstreamAmerican culture and the sub-Saharan African culture. This culturehas distinctive cultural activities, music, cuisines, literature andart, among others. Racial segregation and discrimination againstAfrican Americans in the United States as well as their desire topreserve their family and cultural traditions has an influence on thedevelopment of the culture, separate from the mainstream Americanculture (Fabre, 2004).
Duringthe slavery era, slaves had limited access to formal education in theUnited States. Only a few slave owners allowed their slaves to learnhow to read and write. Additionally, racial discrimination andsegregation of African American in the American society furtherlimited their accessibility to education after the emancipation. As aresult, in the post slavery era, African American culture andtraditions were mainly preserved and passed from one generation tothe other through orally. Oral traditions were the main features ofthe African American culture. This was consistent with many Africantraditional cultures where cultural information was preserved throughoral literature. Although these oral literatures have been convertedinto written literature, they are a source of cultural inspirationand entertainment in the modern African American societies (Fabre,2004). Some of the common African American folktales from the pastcenturies include trickster and heroic stories that were used toteach children social values and morals. Despite the vibrant AfricanAmerican culture in the late 19thcentury, it was not recognized until the Harlem renaissance period,in the 1920s and 1930s. During this period, African American culturehad significantly developed and flourished leading to emergence ofdifferent forms of African American art, including music, literatureand other forms of art. Although many American cultures, includingthe mainstream American culture flourished, for the first time,African American culture was noticed. During the same period, theincreased number of African American with basic education andpolitical involvement had an influence on cultural movement (Gates &Yacovone, 2013).
Bymid 20thcentury, black power movement which was motivated by the need tosecure equal rights for people of color in the United States emerged.This led to a shift from African American culture to civil rights.However, the quest for civil rights united African Americansresulting into cultural cohesion thus promoting racial pride. Thisinspired African American the emergence of African American art andliterature, reading to the black art movement in the second half ofthe 20thcentury. The most important aspect of the African American culturethat has had an influence on different aspects of American life ismusic. African American music is hugely influenced by the rich musicculture of West Africa. This music is characterized by polyrhythmicsounds and lyrics which are very common and popular in the Americansociety today. Traditionally, African societies used music as ateaching aid, ease suffering, preserve the culture and pass messages(Holloway, 2005).
TheAfrican pedigree is very common and visible in the modern AfricanAmerican music. However, the music has been bled with Europeanaspects of music to create a music that conforms to the modern way oflife. Some of the major forms of music in the second half of the 20thcentury as well as in the modern world can be attributed to AfricanAmerican culture. This includes R & B, Rock and roll, and thepopular hip hop music. However, it is important to note that modernmusic such as hip hop is as a result of multiple cultures, althoughit was emerged as a result of African American cultural movement thatemerged in the civil rights era. Despite this, many African Americanconsider these music genres to be a part of their culture. In themodern America, music is one of the most accepted aspects of AfricanAmerican culture. As a result, the mainstream culture has adoptedAfrican American music. African American music is also accompanied bydance (Holloway, 2005). Just like music, dance in the AfricanAmerican culture is mainly derived from the West African culture aswell as influence from other cultures in the United States.Traditionally, dance is an important aspect of the African society.Therefore, when African slaves arrived in the United States, dancewas an aspect of their daily life. Due to the rich and diversity oftraditional African American dance, some of the basic elements of themodern dance are derived from the African American dance. It is alsoimportant to note that the modern African American dance isinfluenced by other traditions such as Caribbean dances (Holloway,2005).
Artis also an important aspect of the African American culture. In themid 20thcentury, there was relatively less number of African American artistsaccepted in the American society. Even African Americans did notconsider African American art important. However, in the 1960 and1970s, the pride associated with the civil right movement had a hugeimpact on African American art. African Americans started using artto express their culture. Some of these arts have remained popular inthe modern American society. African American literature is animportant aspect of the African American culture. Through literature,the culture and traditions are preserved and passed from onegeneration to another. As mentioned earlier, during the slavery era,oral literature was the basic form of literature in the AfricanAmerican society. In the modern society, this has been replaced by arich literature as an increased number of African American authorsemerged (Holloway, 2005).
Inmany cultures, language is an important component. However, theAfrican American culture does not have a distinctive language. Duringthe slavery era, the slave owners ensured that the African slaves didnot develop a distinct language by ensuring that the slaves fromdifferent languages were mixed. This ensured that the only languageof communication was English. As a result, majority of AfricanAmerican speak English. However, due to limited access to education,Pidgin English which is common in West Africa emerged, although ithas since been eroded by American English due to increasedaccessibility to education. Due to stereotypes associated with beingblack in the United States, a large number of African Americans haveattempted to adopt European body image and fashion. For example,African American has attempted to conform to the European standardsof body shape, body size and aesthetics. However, due to increasedethnic and racial pride among African Americans in the modernAmerica, people are increasingly adopting the African Americantraditional attires and fashion. There several African Americanfashions and styles that is very popular, despite the huge influenceby modernity and the mainstream culture. The hairstyles in theAfrican American culture are mainly influenced by the nature ofAfrican hair, which are usually coiled curls. in the 1960s and 1970s,afro was the main type of hairstyle among African Americans, but ithas since been replaced by clean shave, braids and dreadlocks(Holloway, 2005).
Dueto the diversity in the African American culture, there is nodistinct religion that defines the culture. Thus, there are severalreligions in the African American culture. Christianity is the mainreligion in the African Americans culture since the slavery era.Discrimination and segregation led to the emergence of AfricanAmerican Christian denominations such as the AME church. During theslave trade era, Islam had spread in the tran-Saharan Africa.Although the slaves who had been converted to Islam were unable topractice Islam during the slavery era, since the slave owners wereChristians, Islam emerged as one of the major religions in the 20thcentury African American society. However, Islam in the AfricanAmerican community has been a controversial religion, even in themodern era. Other religions in the African American community includeAfrican traditional religions, Buddhism and Judaism (Dodson, 2003).
Thefoundation of the African American culture is the family. The AfricanAmerican traditions define the role of family in the society. Forexample, the African American culture emphasizes on heterosexualsexual relationship and the importance of kinship in the society. Thetraditions also define gender roles in the family and the role of theextended families and the community in promoting family life. Oneaspect of the traditional aspect in the African American culture hasbeen the respect and honor given to elders in the society. However,it is important to note that through intermarriages, majority ofAfrican American families are biracial. Non African Americans,especially those married to African Americans are finding itnecessary to adopt African American traditional view of a family. Asa result, interracial marriages have not completely eroded thetraditional view of a family in the African American community(Holloway, 2005).
Dodson,H. (2003). Jubilee:the emergence of African American culture.Washington, DC : National Geographic Books.
Fabre,G. (2004). Historyand memory in African-American culture.New York: Oxford University Press.
Gates,H. & Yacovone, D. (2013). TheAfrican Americans: many rivers to cross.Carlsbad, California: Smiley Books.
Holloway,J. E. (2005). Africanismsin American Culture.Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.