African American Culture and Heritage in Higher Education Research and Practice

By Kassie Freeman | Go to book overview

2
From Africa to America: The Relationship between Culture and Experience

Mia D. Alexander-Snow

It is important to keep in mind when learning about "culture," particularly if it is outside your own cultural parameters, that "experience" is culturally defined. Thus "as life circumstances change, and as people attempt to conduct the same sorts of activities under these new circumstances, their cultural understandings will affect the way they both view their circumstances and experiences" ( Roseberry, 1994, p. 43). Thus, culture becomes defined in experiential communality--the sharing of particular experiences by a group of people.

The anthropological theories of cultural ecology and historical political economy primarily look at the relationship between culture and experience. Cultural ecology is the study of the relationship of culture to the natural environment. Two distinct phenomena are involved: "the physical environment itself, and the cultural arrangements by which the environment is exploited, including technology and economic organization" ( Hatch, 1973, pp. 114-115). Historical political economy adds another dimension to cultural ecology by emphasizing the role that inequality and domination of power have on cultural meanings and expressions ( Roseberry, 1994).

Borrowing from the cultural ecology and historical political economy perspectives, I argue that the ecological and geographic factors of preslavery and slavery America encouraged the retention, rather than the destruction, of the traditional African value system or philosophical orientations--"one with nature" and "survival of the people"--and that the value system is embodied in the experiential communality of African Americans in contemporary Black America.


AFRICAN CULTURE: THE PRESLAVERY EXPERIENCE

Being One with Nature

Traditional Africa, from which the vast majority of slaves were taken, was a deeply religious society. The traditional African peoples believed that religion was

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