The African American Culture
Culture can be defined as the beliefs, values, behaviors, and material objects that together characterize a peoples way of living (Scott, 2005). Culture provides social heritage mainly because it is the sum total of the knowledge shared between members of a particular social affiliation. In a matter of speaking, the African America culture cannot entirely be collapsed into one culture. This is because it is perhaps made up of many individual sub-cultures (Scott, 2005). This paper explores some of the nuances that characterize the African American culture, such as; language, literature, religion, music, government, family, dressings, food, and holidays.
According to Wheeler (1999), in 1975, an African American scholar introduced the word Ebonics, which essentially encapsulated African American Vernacular English (AAVE). However, as Wheeler (1999) continues to state, the term, even though perfectly fitting for the African American language, was not adopted by linguistics. Hence, according to Wheeler, AAVE continued to be standard language used by most African Americans. However, a majority of English speakers continue to perceive AAVE as a type of slang that is characterized by a lot of grammatical mistakes (Wheeler, 1999).
African American literature is heavily impacted by racism and oppression, both past and present. Indeed, according to Umulkhulsum (2011), one can almost argue that African American literature was written mainly to offer a voice against racism and oppression. A good example is the poem Monday in B-Flat by African American writer, Amiri Baraka. In this poem, Baraka attempts to depict the police as the devil, perhaps because of the numerous atrocities the organization has continuously perpetuated against African Americans.
A great number of African American religious denominations and practices were inevitably conjured from the crucible of enslavement, which forcibly raptured African Americans from their African heritage. Traditionally, African American religion was characterized by harmonious relationships with nature and the belief in supernatural beings such as spirits and gods. However, over time, change has taken its tool and today the greater portion of African Americans practice Christianity, with a majority professing Catholicism.
Like literature, music represents the African American medium of rebellion. Much of the lyrical content and style that characterizes historic African American music speaks against oppression, and was often depicted as an escape from the harsh reality of being uprooted from their motherland. In this regard, music styles such as Jazz, blues, bluegrass, and so forth have over the years been used by many African American musicians to communicate the African American viewpoint.
After being freed by President Abraham Lincoln, most African Americans became converts of the Republican Party. However, this was altered sharply during the 1930s when President Roosevelt managed to convince a significant portion of the African American voters to vote democrat. The same feat was repeated by Lyndon Johnson, who upon lobbying for the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 set the pace for a friendly relationship between African Americans and the Democratic Party.
The African American cultural understanding shares largely with other American cultures. However, it apportions distinct features as it relates to marriage, gender roles, and parenting styles. It is no surprise that most African American family bonds are extremely strong, characterized by brotherhood. It is this form of brotherhood that provided refuge from oppression during slavery and prevented the African American culture from being stripped of its identity.
Clothing and Food
Under enslavement, African Americans were required to wear a particular type of dress. However, most retained clothing styles native to their countries of origin. With freedom and cultural interaction, most African Americans dress more in a more contemporary fashion but still retain certain nuances of their African heritage. In regards to food, African American culture is responsible for the term soul food, which is used to describe food traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans, especially in the southern parts of the US.
Like any other culture, the African American culture preserves its heritage through observation of important dates. Some of the important dates that make up African American holidays include; Juneteeth, Kwanzaa and Martin Luther King, Jnr. The last one is particularly important for African Americans because it is synonymous with the Civil Rights movement which eventually secured universal suffrage for African Americans amidst other freedoms.
Amiri Baraka: A Brief Overview
Amiri Baraka was born in 1934 and is credited for being a prolific writer in fiction, poetry, drama, and music. Some of his works include; The Tales of the Out and the Gone, Wise I, and Monday in B-Flat, among many others. Apart from being considered one of the widest published African American writers of his generation, Baraka is also considered a tough political activist who has travelled the world giving lectures on political and cultural issues (AmiriBaraka.com, 2016). His personal website states that Baraka begun his professional career in the US air force, which he joined in the early 1950s (AmiriBaraka.com, 2016). However, this career was short-lived and he soon ventured into the world of writing, first penning poems, and then developing into an acclaimed African American music critic. Barakas prominence is captured by the numerous awards he has bagged such as the American Academy of Arts & Letters award and the James Weldon Johnson Medal for contribution to the arts.
That the African American culture has been immensely impacted by its historic foundation of slavery is evident in every aspect of its character. However, generational change characterized by popular culture is likely to refine its place in the greater American setting.
Amiri Baraka: Poet, Playwright, Activist. In AmiriBaraka.com, 2016. Accessed on 28th April, 2016 from http://www.amiribaraka.com/bio.html
Scott, J. H. The African American Culture. Pace University, 2005. Accessed on 28th April, 2016 from https://www.pace.edu/emplibrary/VP THEAFRICANAMERICANCULTURE_Hugh_J_Scott.pdf
Umulkhulsum, Y. A. Racism and Oppression in Black American Literature: A Example of Richard Wrights Black Boy. University of Ilorin, 2011. Accessed on 28th April, 2016 from http://www.unilorin.edu.ng/studproj/arts/0715CD056.pdf
Wheeler, S. R. African American Vernacular English is Not Standard English. Westport CT, 1999. Accessed on 28th April, 2016 from http://web.stanford.edu/~zwicky/aave-is-not-se with-mistakes.pdf