Cultural Portrayals of African Americans: Creating An Ethnic/Racial Identity

By Janis Faye Hutchinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Why Blacks Are Committed to Blackness

Rhett S. Jones

If race is a useless construct for understanding human behavior, why is it that so many African Americans in general and African-American intellectuals in particular remain committed to it? This chapter explores the historical roots of blackness. Blackness is similar to ethnicity in that it marks one group off from another, has a distinct set of cultural traits, and those who share it believe they are related. But blackness is both more narrow and more broad than ethnicity. It is more narrow in that it has its origin in the unique experience of Africans and persons of African descent in British North America. It is because blackness has been adopted by so many persons of African descent around the globe that it is more broad than ethnicity. Ethnicity is grounded in a particular geographical place, whereas blackness has become worldwide. This chapter examines the history of the one drop rule which holds that any person of known African ancestry, regardless of her or his physical appearance, is black. While every nation in the western hemisphere includes persons of African descent, the one drop rule exists only in the United States. If the roots of blackness are found partly in widespread acceptance of the one drop rule, they are also partly found in the perceived absence of ethnicity among African Americans and most importantly in slavery. Lacking a sense of ethnicity and confronted with the one drop rule, the slaves created open communities. The chapter concludes that not only should African Americans continue their commitment to blackness, but also other Americans might do well to join them in adopting the behavior associated with it.

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