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African-American Culture (Essay Sample)


A comprehensive description of African-American culture.


African Americans
Student’s Name
Institutional Affiliation
African Americans
African American is the second-largest minority ethnic group in the United States. Their alternative names include Afro-Americans, Blacks, and Negros. Most African Americans have African ancestry, although some may have non-Black ancestors. Blacks constitute the descendants of African slaves brought to the United States to work in farms and cottages (Carliner et al., 2016). While in the New World, African slaves enjoyed limited rights where they were denied political and socio-economic progress in the U.S. They have, however, contributed significantly to American culture and history (Painter, 2006). The population of black Americans is approximately forty-two million, constituting about 12 percent of the U.S. population. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, approximately thirty-six million Blacks occupied the South. Ten southern states accommodated more than one million African Americans (Painter, 2006). Blacks also occupied significant cities such as New York with more than two million African Americans, while approximately one million lived in Chicago. Houston, Detroit, and Philadelphia accommodated between five hundred thousand and one million each (Painter, 2006). The earliest African Americans assisted the Portuguese to explore the Americans in the sixteenth century and settled in Mississippi valley while the others occupied New Mexico and South Carolina. Esteban is the most celebrated African American explorer who entered the country through the southwest in the 1530s.
The history of African Americans began in 1619 after the arrival of twenty Africans in Virginia, a former English colony. The Africans worked as servants for Europeans and were engaged for some years (Carliner et al., 2016). By the early 1600s, the European settlers brought Africans to the United States in large numbers. By 1690, over seven hundred thousand Africans occupied the U.S. (Painter, 2006). This number constituted a fifth of the United States population. They were easily identified by their color and easily distinguished from the rest of the population due to melanin's presence. This made them easily identifiable for enslavement in the 1750s (Painter, 2006). They were believed to be inferior to the rest of the population, a factor that promoted the rationalization of their enslavement. Black slaves worked in farmlands to clear bushes and to cultivate crops in the New World. A vast majority of these slaves came from West Africa, where political, music, art, and dance were advanced compared to the rest of Africa (Painter, 2006). The slave trade was slowly becoming profitable, making some Africans venture into the business to sell captives to the Europeans. The Africans were marched to the coast and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. At least a sixth of the slaves died due to disease, shock, and suicide while onboard the New World. The survivors were trained on essential communication and farming skills that would make it easy for them to work in plantations. They worked mainly in indigo, rice, and tobacco plantations and contributed to its economic development (Carliner et al., 2016). They played a vital role in the development of music, dance, and Southern speech. Their interaction with their masters resulted in the blending of cultural beliefs and traits. Although there was no slavery in the North, they indirectly benefitted from the South's plantation investments.
In 1770, the killing of Crispus Attucks, a former European slave, resulted in the struggle for independence from the British colony. About five thousand Blacks fought alongside the Americans (Painter, 2006). This resulted in the release of some Black slaves, especially the soldiers. The North abolished slavery and banned any form of the slave trade. However, the slave trade was legalized in 1788, and the formerly released slaves were returned to their owners (Carliner et al., 2016). The slave trade ended in January 1808, but it was not the end of slavery. Instead, the slave trade business within the United States boomed, where cotton plantation owners would buy slaves from slave owners. However, about a tenth of the Blacks were still free, some of the former slaves' descendants.
Cultural Characteristics
Culture refers to the shared characteristics, behavior, and beliefs of a particular group of people. It involves the group's way of living, dressing, food, and general interaction patterns such as marriage. Although there are many ways of defining culture, at least all definitions appreciate that culture is a unique way of living where the members share common values, characteristics, beliefs, and personalities. The African American culture refers to the contribution of the African culture to the United States' culture (Painter, 2006). The black culture is mainly focused on the historical experiences of the Black that includes the Middle Passage. Much of the black American ways of life reflect the authentic African culture, although blended with the Native American culture. During the slavery period, Africans were denied a chance to enjoy their native cultural traditions (Painter, 2006). However, many of the African traditions have survived throughout the ages. After the end of slavery, the African and American cultures continued to blend, which has resulted in innovations in music, literature, and religion, among other values and practices (Painter, 2006). Although rooted in Africa, Black culture has continued to evolve, which has resulted in new lifestyles among the African Americans that are different from the African cultural traditions.
Surface vs. Deep Culture
The African American culture exists in two broad groups, namely the surface culture and deep culture. Surface culture refers to the visible characteristics and norms that are associated with a specific group (Painter, 2006). Examples include types of foods, clothing, folklores, and dialects, among others. In contrast, deep culture refers to unseen norms such as beliefs, attitudes, religion, and fears.
Surface Culture
Oral tradition and literature
African American literature has evolved over the years. Initially, Blacks narrated stories about their experiences, mainly slavery. This was because they lacked enough training to express themselves otherwise (Painter, 2006). Later on, the Black literature has advanced to written from oral literature. This happened after African Americans attained higher knowledge of writing skills.
African American’s music strongly borrows from the West African polyrhythmic tunes that were accompanied by drum beating. During the slavery period, Africans used work songs to relay coded messages and ease their free labor pain (Painter, 2006). Most African American music is deeply rooted in their experiences. However, their music has continued to evolve, taking different forms such as ragtime, jazz, and blues.
African American art has remained unique from the slavery period, contributing a lot to U.S. art. It exists in different forms, such as paintings, drawings, among others. African American art reflects their lifestyles, economic activities, experiences, and profound culture, such as superstition (Painter, 2006). Beginning with simple sketches, African American art has transformed into sophisticated paintings that describe different aspects of life, not only the African experiences but also world matters.
Fashion and Beauty
1 Dress
The African American dress is a blend of traditional African dress and modern dress. During enslavement, Africans wore different types of dresses, depending on the positions they held. House servants and managers wore good clothes, mostly uniforms, while field workers, the elderly, and children wore poor quality attire. After the end of enslavement, Africans continued to blend their attire with the latest trends. Up to date, many African Americans keep the “correct” dress specifically designed for special occasions (Painter, 2006). Since the slavery periods, African American women have continued to wear bangles and necklaces, mainly beads.
2 Hairstyle
African American’s hairstyles are distinct from that of the Native Americans. Black American men keep ever-changing hairstyles, but that is rooted in the West African culture. In the 1930s, men kept short “conked” hair (Painter, 2006). However, some have kept short pain hair while some keep dreadlocks. African American women keep elegant, straightened hairstyles. The development of natural hair processing technology in 1906 has significantly advanced Black women's hair management (Painter, 2006). However, some black women have opted to keep short hair that is neatly kempt.
Deep Culture
Spirituality Religion and Beliefs
Spirituality is the belief in a supernatural being that interferes with human affairs. Thus, individuals believe a superior being who is beyond the control of everyone controls their lives. Spirituality liberates individuals from repercussions of their actions while limiting them from a wide variety of opportunities. Most African Americans were spiritualists and believed in traditional gods (Painter, 2006). They worshipped the gods at sacred palaces. Their worship constituted singing, chanting, and drum beating. Their traditional practices have slowly eroded after the emergence of other universal religions. The first predominantly African American denominations started in the eighteenth century. The National Baptist Convention U.S.A Inc. (Painter, 2006). Currently, more African Americans are religious compared t...

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