Assimilation and Social Change Dynamics in African and African American Communities

Article excerpt

Introduction

Africans and African Americans share an ancient and vital history disrupted by the forces of social change manifest in the institution of slavery as exercised in the West and colonialism imposed on the African Continent. The institutions, values and belief systems, cultural and social artifacts, and mores that evolved from these conditions have been the subject of much discussion, research, speculation, and investigation. The dynamics of social change are inevitable, dramatic, incremental or gradual and yet always rearranging the perspective from which persons endorse values, develop belief systems, establish relationships, and attribute meaning to socio-political environments. Social change has been defined as "the significant alteration of social structure ... including consequences and manifestations of such structure embodied in norms ... values, and cultural products and symbols" (Moore 1967, 3). Changes in the boundaries of the social system, changes in the prescribed actions and the particular relationship of the system to its environment are concomitants of social change. An understanding of attitudes and values is instructive in making assessments about the direction of social change. Social movements serve as important indicators of the direction and thrust of social change by demonstrating specific forms of collective behavior.

Social change is difficult to measure due to its pervasiveness, however, the time element or rate of transformation provides dramatic evidence of changes in any particular society. In order to discuss social change, it is necessary to understand social conditions, the quality of life of a people including income and poverty, participation and alienation, health and illness, art and science, public order and safety, social mobility and status rewards. These social indicators are useful for understanding the presence or extent of social change and its impact on a community. The twentieth century witnessed dramatic and accelerated technological changes including expansive television programs that obliterated national boundaries, computerization processes with the Internet that ushered in an unprecedented era of accessible information and globalization with world markets and global lenders. The urbanization of cities of the world has resulted in changes in work patterns with major industries moving from production of goods to the production of services and peoples' changing attitudes toward work. The disruption of family life appears to have accelerated with the diminution of extended family contacts as people moved to cities seeking jobs, increased income and individuality, but often-finding joblessness, isolation, and alienation that strained and frequently fractured the linkages to family members in remote areas. Hall (1984, 354) uses the concept of a historical 'vector' to explain

Perhaps the most profound contributions of current use of this concept come in consideration of the impact on the Black historical experience of the forces ushering in the most recent Urban/Industrial period, and the great migration in which nearly the whole Black community was uprooted and displaced to an entirely new setting ... Aside from the process of enslavement itself the urban migration may constitute the single most disruptive phase of the Black experience. Wholesale reinterpretations of self-concept, social, and cultural sensibility in the consciousness of Blacks are traceable to displacement and reassembly of Black communities from predominantly rural, agriculturally based realities to predominantly urban, industrially based ones.

Social change also encompasses political change with shifting power dimensions and major social movements that included the 1960s civil rights movements in the US where African Americans demanded change in the racial, political, educational and economic oppression suffered for generations. The earlier years of the 1950s and 1960s witnessed the Nationalist and Pan-African revolutions on the African continent that rejected the stranglehold of colonialism and fought for independence as sovereign nations. …

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