African Americans that had been transported to America as slaves found themselves lost with no sense of identity. It was a White man’s world and the Black man felt ostracized. In seeking to have a connection with their original culture, the Blacks began to connect with African culture in terms of dressing, religion and way of life. However, it was a challenge. They were not only African but they were also American. What did African American mean?
In this paper, I show that the appreciation of the African Diaspora continues as the African Americans seek to treasure the struggles their ancestors went through. They also want to connect with their African heritage and culture in order to have a positive identity about themselves
It has been a long journey of African Americans towards freedom. There are writers who wrote on the racism and segregation that was prevailing in the 1920’s to 1940’s. James Baldwin in the short story, Previous Condition, narrates how Peter is thrown out of a white neighborhood in New York by the landlady. “You get outa my house”! She screamed.
“I got the right to know who’s in my house! This is a white neighborhood; I don’t rent to colored people. Why don’t you go on uptown, like you belong?” (Baldwin, 1976, pg77).His friend, Jules, was renting it and had allowed Peter to live in the room. The story is set in 1948. He had tried to hide from being seen but he had been unsuccessful.
Nella Larson, in her story, Passing narrates the challenges that Blacks faced at that time. Claire, an African American, who is light skinned, passes herself off as a White woman in order to get opportunities that were not available for Blacks at that time. She marries a white man who does not know she is Black. Her husband is a racist.
When asked by Claire to explain to her friends why he calls her Nig he says “Well, you see, it’s like this. When we were first married, she was as white as ? as ? well as white as a lily. But I declare she’s gettin’ darker and darker. I tell her if she don’t look out, she’ll wake up one of these days and find she’s turned into a nigger.” He roared with laughter” (Larson, 2003, pg 24)
It is against these conditions that the African Americans sought to appreciate their culture. After the abolishment of slavery, several Blacks rose against the concepts of assimilation and integration. They wanted a complete restructuring of the country’s political and economic system. Despite the Civil Rights Act, Blacks were still facing racism. They also wanted to have an African-based culture to give them identity and a positive self-image.
The experience of racism and Jim Crow Laws had caused them to feel inferior to the Whites. They had been estranged from the past. The people therefore advocated for cultural pluralism. The Blacks started looking at Africa and appreciating it as a place of rich culture. They appreciated the black’s effort in Africa through fighting to fend off imperialism and White dominancy. The whites only wanted to gain wealth through their labor.
Du Bois notes that the civil war between the South and North was mainly about the slaves and not any other reason. He writes that “It was thus the black worker, as founding stone of a new economic system in the nineteenth century and for the modern world, who brought civil war in America.
He was its underlying cause, in spite of every effort to base the strife upon union and national power. That dark and vast sea of human labor in China and India, the South Seas and all Africa; in the West Indies and Central America and in the United States—that great majority of mankind, on whose bent and broken backs rest today the founding stones of modern industry—shares a common destiny” (Bois, 1998, pg15)
After the civil war, the South started to reconstruct their social and political systems to accommodate free slaves who could vote. However the gains were lost when certain Whites took over who felt that the Whites should be segregated from the Blacks. It led to the Jim Crow laws of segregation.
The African Americans migrated from the hostile South to the north to search for a better standard of living. The Blacks refused to quietly allow the Jim Crow laws to depress them. There arose a surge in the African American culture expressed in literature, music and art. Through these forms of art they sought to challenge the prevalent racism at that time. It came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance. They were defiant and wanted to live better lives.
There arose art institutions for African culture. In 1965, Dr Robert Pritchard established a guild society known as the American Festival of Negro Art. Later, the Morris College held a Negro History week where they showed African art and appreciated contributions by black artists to American jazz and literature. Leaders of this ethnic movement sought for schools to teach African American history.
In the ghettos, there was frustration with the country’s economic and political development yet there was no progress or improvement in their lives. The blacks started to vote for black leaders who would bring change.
Currently, due to the Blacks seeking to know their history there is so much information on the African American history and experiences. The African Diaspora will still continue even as the African Americans seek to identify their culture and appreciate it. It is treasured due to the struggles their ancestors went through to ensure that their culture is recognized and appreciated.
Baldwin, James. “Going to Meet the Man” USA: Dell Publishers. 1976. Print.
Bois, Du. “Black Reconstruction in America 1860–1880”. New York: Free Press. 1998. Print.
Larsen, Nelly. “Passing”. USA: Penguin Classics. 2003. Print.