African-American Culture

African-American culture is a term that refers to the culture of Americans of African descent in the United States. According to Sidney Mintz and Richard Price, the origin of African-American culture cannot be traced back to a particular geographical area or tribe in Africa as captives were shipped to the New World from different parts of the continent. The authors posit that African-American culture was born from the joint efforts of the enslaved Africans to start a new life and create a new society in America.

Other scholars, including W.E.B. Du Bois, believe that the roots of African-American culture are to be found in African values, beliefs and practices. This view is supported by France Ntloedibe, who argues that Africans brought on slave ships to the Americas shared much in common culturally in terms of languages, music, dance, religious rites and more.

Many consider the process of "Creolization" as the beginning of African-American culture. According to James A. Perry, the first locally born African Americans were known as Creole blacks, dating from the 1730s. Until then, most of the captives either died without having children or did not even reach adulthood. Perry points out that by about 1820, nearly 90% of black American slaves were American-born. As time passed, the ties of this Creole population to Africa weakened. However, Creoles based their culture on their African ancestors. They used similar or adapted funeral ceremonies, the way they named their children and their beliefs in amulets, charms and witches were all based on their African heritage. Perry also underlines that African-American culture retained a number of African religious elements, both Muslim and traditional African beliefs. Although a major part of the slave population was converted to Christianity, the Muslim presence remained strong during the 19th and even the 20th century.

African-American culture, including music, literature and art, gained public recognition during the late 1920s and the early 1930s, a period known as the Harlem or Negro Renaissance. During this period both black and white Americans discovered the vibrancy and uniqueness of black literature in particular, but also black art and music. For example, jazz, swing, blues and other musical forms that are generally associated with black people became part of American popular music. The period after World War I (1914 to 1918) even became known as the Jazz Age.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Harlem, a neighborhood of New York City, emerged as a black metropolis, turning into the hub of black literary and cultural activity. This was a result of the great migration of black people to northern industrial cities to escape racism and prejudice in the south. In addition to the cultural revival that is most often associated with this period, the Harlem Renaissance was also characterized by the increased political involvement of African Americans. For example, many considered the success of black literature during this period as a tool to promote equal rights by undermining racial prejudice and winning respect for black intellectuals. Later, in the 1960s and 1970s, the emerging Black Power movement promoted racial pride and ethnic cohesion. This movement inspired a new renaissance in African-American culture, which came to be known as the Black Arts movement. Unlike the non-violent African-American Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power movement adopted a more militant stance against racism.

According to Kalamu ya Salaam, black theater groups and black poetry performances and journals were the two hallmarks of the Black Arts movement. In addition to formal drama, black theaters offered space for poetry, dance and music performances but they also hosted community meetings, lectures, study groups and film screenings.

The Black Arts movement is seen to have planted the seed of hip-hop music from the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century. Marvin J. Gladney points out three areas showing the ideological link between the two: the elements of anger and rage, the need to establish independent black institutions and the development of a black aesthetic as a yardstick to measure the value of black art.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

History and Memory in African-American Culture
Geneviève Fabre; Robert O'Meally.
Oxford University Press, 1994
Stylin': African American Expressive Culture from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit
Shane White; Graham White.
Cornell University Press, 1998
Black Camelot: African-American Culture Heroes in Their Times, 1960-1980
William L. Van Deburg.
University of Chicago Press, 1997
Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars
Joel Dinerstein.
University of Massachusetts Press, 2003
African American Family Life: Ecological and Cultural Diversity
Vonnie C. McLoyd; Nancy E. Hill; Kenneth A. Dodge.
Guilford Press, 2005
African American Communication: Exploring Identity and Culture
Michael L. Hecht; Ronald L. Jackson II; Sidney A. Ribeau.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003 (2nd edition)
From Black to African American: A New Social Representation
Gina Philogène.
Praeger, 1999
The African-American Predicament
Christopher H. Foreman Jr.
Brookings Institution Press, 1999
Cultural Hegemony and African American Development
Clovis E. Semmes.
Praeger, 1992
Mercy, Mercy Me: African-American Culture and the American Sixties
James C. Hall.
Oxford University Press, 2001
African American Culture and Heritage in Higher Education Research and Practice
Kassie Freeman.
Praeger Publishers, 1998
Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture
Katrina Hazzard-Gordon.
Temple University Press, 1990
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