African American Cultural Background Thesis

My Cultural Background

As an African American my culture of origin is connected both with the culture of America and with the culture of Africa. My ancestors came to America as part of the slave trade. During that time, they adopted Christianity as their religious culture; so ultimately, the culture of my people is a mix of European, American and African ideas and values. Predominantly, though, the culture of my people is American and Christian. In the 20th century, some people in my community took to practicing Islam as a way to further develop their sense of their African ancestry. Overall, the culture is diverse and depends on many different inputs. This paper will describe some of those inputs, how they impact my community, and show how they are social, cultural, political and economical.

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The circumstances under which my people’s culture migrated to the U.S. were not positive: slavery was a negative experience for blacks. They had to deal with a lot of suffering prior to emancipation and even after the end of slavery they had to deal with Jim Crow laws, segregation and many other problems that the ruling class in America kept alive. From beginning till now, African Americans have had mainly a culture of suffering but it has made their community closer in many ways and there are still a lot of traditional concepts and values that African Americans retain.

Issues that divide members within this group tend to be associated with identity politics. Some members of this group think that everything has to be politicized and that in order for the African American to truly become authentic he has to get back to his African roots. But others don’t have any sense of any roots in Africa, no more than the descendents of a German American immigrant have any sense of roots in Germany after so many generations of passed. Alice Walker (1973) gave the best description of this division in her short story “Everyday Use,” in which the eldest daughter of an African American family returns to her home in the South after leaving college and says that she has changed her given name to an African-sounding name, even though it is made up and has no more to do with real Africa than the trees growing in the front yard of the house (Hoel, 1999). Thus, some people in my community have fabricated a culture from themselves that is both disconnected from their American culture and from actual African culture. They also distance themselves from their Christian culture and this is evident in the extent to which religion plays a role in their day-to-day lives.

For many African Americans, religion is very important. Some are Protestant and some are Catholic. Some are Muslim. At the end of the day, religion is important to those people who practice it and those African American families who do not practice any type of religion tend to be disconnected from positive cultural inputs. In these cases, they tend to rely on popular music such as hip hop and rap, or social media and TMZ for their dosage of cultural inputs. Thus, there is really a night-and-day difference between African Americans who are grounded by religious inputs and live their religious values in their lives, and African Americans who latch onto the superficial aspects of modern culture and live their lives according to these often glib and pretentious values.

Gender roles and expectations among men and women African Americans are traditional for the most part; however, in recent decades, the family dynamic has broken up and many families are single-parent families. In black families where both parents are still together, there is usually a strong religious element to the family and women are more focused on domestic aspects of the family and men with the work aspect. In single-parent families, women have no choice but to leave the house and work to support what is left of the family. The mother is mainly the most important voice in the family as a result. The fathers may not be well known or in the picture at all.

Age is important for this group because there is a degree of respect that African Americans show to the aged. We appreciate and respect our elders and that is expected of us, no matter what community or part of the country we are in. Every black community that I have seen is like this: it is part of the traditional culture and custom of black Americans in this country to respect their elders. Growing up and aging is related to informal rites of passage—and parenthood is a big part of that. When one becomes a mother or a father for the first time, it is a huge moment that means one has transitioned from adolescence into adulthood. However, because crime is a problem among this community as a result of the disintegration of the family unit and of poverty, there is a negative rite of passage associated with getting arrested or going to jail among men. This is very problematic and needs to be addressed because it is something that perpetuates negative stereotypes about blacks—namely that they are all “hoods” and criminals.

Prejudices and stereotypes that whites have about blacks are really just that—that blacks cannot be trusted. In the old days, blacks were depicted in the movies as lazy and non-threatening. Then after WWII and the Civil Rights Movement when African Americans began to be more respected in society, the prejudices and stereotypes began to be based on blacks being aggressive and hostile and threatening. So there has been a significant change in how whites perceive us and it has everything to do with preserving a power structure of the ruling class. However, it is hard to argue against some prejudices—like all blacks are potential rapists—especially when role models like Bill Cosby turn out to be exactly that. Still, it has to be reminded that this is still an ugly and hateful stereotype because rape is not something that is determined by race.

African Americans as a whole are diverse so it is not easy to say that they all have prejudices or stereotypes about other groups. Some view whites as all power hungry and fearful of blacks. Some view Hispanics as criminals. Some view Asians as very intelligent. A lot of African American comedians like Dave Chappelle and Richard Pryor have made careers out of emphasizing racial stereotypes to comedic effect, but this is nothing unique, as white comedians have done the same in the past.

African Americans tend to be somewhat skeptical of doctors and of the medical community, and that is not really their fault either as they all know about the Tuskegee Experiments, when the medical community was basically using the African American community as their own personal guinea pig. So while some admire Demar Derozan for speaking out about mental health, many blacks still view mental health professionals with skepticism.

These aspects of my culture impact my attitude, behaviors and sense of identity in positive ways, I feel. I feel that no matter what is going on around me, I am going to mind my business and focus on what I need to do to make sure mine are taken care of. I can be proud of that attitude, too, because it aligns with the values and beliefs that I have grown up with in my own culture. My family has gone through a lot of changes over my life: we have been rich and poor, in good health and in bad. We have had ups and downs, but we have never lost sight of what it means to be a good human being. I am always glad that I was raised to be respectful and to mind my manners—because, to me, this is what is at the heart of all good cultures.


Hoel, H. (1999). Personal Names and Heritage: Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’.

American Studies in Scandinavia, 31(1), 34-42.

Walker, A. (1973). Everyday Use. Retrieved from

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