The Development of African American Culture
Characteristics of Negro Expression by Zora Neale Hurston is a commentary on African American culture in which Hurston speaks with authority. She discusses the various ways in which African American culture differs from “white” culture in America and the reasons behind this. I particularly find interesting her discussion of the African American vernacular. It’s evident that America’s culture as a whole is an assortment of different cultures from throughout history since so many different groups of people emigrated or were brought against their will to America. Just as America’s current culture has so many different influences, African American culture seemed to be made up of many different cultures itself. An example of this is from the African American practice of Hoodoo, which Hurston studied in New Orleans. It’s a mix of Christianity and traditional African religions, combining together to form something entirely new. Another example of this is the rise of Jazz music in America, which originated in African American communities and was a blend of many different musical styles. What is interesting though is how African American culture developed in contrast to other ethnic groups in America. Africans were brought to America against their will and remained enslaved for centuries, so they could not pass as much of their culture on to future generations as other cultures could. This did not keep African Americans from developing their own culture though, as Huston points out. Many English words were modified over time to create an African American vernacular that is still used by African Americans today. What was able to be passed on though were stories, particularly folk tales. Hurston’s Mules and Men is a collection of these stories, and it’s interesting to see the common elements throughout. For one, there seems to be a recurring device where a weaker character overcomes a more powerful character using their wits. I wonder if this plot element has to do with the enslaved state of African Americans at the time, with the dominating white class being the seemingly unbeatable antagonist like in the stories.
One Reply to “The Development of African American Culture”
This is a really insightful commentary on the evolution of Black culture in America. It made me recall our discussion last week about how it felt impossible that Hurston wrote no African words have survived and developed into the English language. Prof. Kinyon made a great point when she said ‘how could they?’ because African languages were stripped away from Black people over the Atlantic passage, and so much of that culture was lost. I agree with you that it is very important to emphasize how much of our modern day American culture has developed from African American tradition.
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