Cultural Forms of Expression African-American Term Paper

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Cultural Forms of Expression African-American

Many cultural forms of expression have been utilized within the social science construct, to demonstrate ways in which such expressions reflect the culture as a whole, and in many cases the broader culture, or the one that is usually subjugating the first. Within W.E.B. DuBois, Writings DuBois wrote about how slave songs allowed individuals to express their feelings of subjugation and reject the broader culture. Angela Davis wrote about the blues as a vehicle to express the particular sentiment of back women, and more specifically, black feminists and lastly Daryl Michael Scott has used his pen to show how mid-century novels by Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison influenced social scientist in their thinking about the damage thesis of oppression. This work will utilize the three main works of these authors, and the ideas they contain to reflect the character of the sociocultural expression of oppression. This essay will analyze the ways works that emerge as an expression of culture such as music, songs, literature etc. have been used to create knowledge about the politics and the sociology of African-American life.

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Anthropologists are finally coming to terms with the import of "double consciousness" which W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1903, elaborated in The Souls of Black Folk. Double consciousness refers to the "complex and constant play between the exclusionary conditions of social structure marked by race and the psychological and cultural strategies employed by the racially excluded and marginalized to accommodate themselves to everyday indignities as well as to resist them, " according to Essed and Goldberg....Thus Du Bois reflected on the construction of an American black identity that is within but rejected by U.S. society, a situation that provided what he called double consciousness. Such a standpoint, suggested Du Bois, offered black people a self-awareness and critical insights unavailable to the insular, yet self-confidently universalist, perspective of white modernity. (Cashmore, 2003, p. 29-33)

TOPIC: Term Paper on Cultural Forms of Expression African-American Many Cultural Assignment

Each function of self preservation is spurned by the reality of one's situation, be it in the life of the free black or in the life of the slave. According to Cashmore, Du Bois and others constructing a "double consciousness" that allows the individual to both function inside an oppressed state and retain cultural identity, must come out in the context of culture in forms that are for the most part acceptable to the oppressor.

Slave Songs

In a passage in Levine, there is a statement that places slave songs into the context of a colloquial encounter, oversimplifying their message but still demonstrating that as a tool they have been utilized to their fullest to express the collective psyche of the black American.

Equally important is the process by which slave songs were created and transmitted. When James McKim asked a freedman on the Sea Islands during the Civil War where the slaves got their songs, the answer was eloquently simple: "Dey make em, sah." (Levine, 1993, pp.39-40)

Slave songs, later expressions of culture in the Blues and other factors have all been a fundamentally tool for understanding and misunderstanding with regard to the foundation of the common understanding of the African-American consciousness, as they have a limited history and are mutable in time and place, as Levine points out in his analysis of the utilization as slave songs as a tool to better understand the African America psyche.

The subject of Negro music in slavery has produced a large and varied literature, little of which has been devoted to questions of meaning and function. The one major exception is Miles Mark Fisher's 1953 study, Negro Slave Songs in the United States, which attempts to get at the essence of slave life through an analysis of slave songs. Unfortunately, Fisher's rich insights are too often marred by his rather loose scholarly standards, and despite its continuing value his study is in many respects an example of how not to use Negro songs. Asserting, correctly, that the words of slave songs "show both accidental and intentional errors of transmission," Fisher changes the words almost at will to fit his own image of their pristine form. Arguing persuasively that "transplanted Negroes continued to promote their own culture by music," Fisher makes their songs part of an "African cult" which he simply wills into existence. Maintaining (again, I think, correctly), that "slave songs preserved in joyful strains the adjustment which Negroes made to their living conditions within the United States," Fisher traces the major patterns of that adjustment by arbitrarily dating these songs, apparently unperturbed by the almost total lack of evidence pertaining to the origin and introduction of individual slave songs. (Levine, 1993, pp. 36-37)

In so doing, e.g. incorrectly utilizing cultural tools such as the lyrics of songs, and even correctly using them, as in the case of Du Bois runs the risk of changing the meaning of the cultural expression. In one case the use of the slave song helped the black slave through a period of adjustment to slave life, while in another they determined the level of the African-American damage in the context of oppression.

A passage from Du Bois Writings discusses the black slave yearning for freedom, as a rejection of oppression and as an expression of hope.

Freedom became to him a real thing. His religion became darker and more intense and into his ethics crept a note of revenge, into his songs a day of reckoning close at hand. The "Coming of the Lord," swept this side of death and came to be a thing hoped for in this day. Through fugitive slaves and irrepressible discussion this desire for freedom seized the black millions still in bondage, and became their one ideal of life. The black bards caught new notes, and sometimes even dared to sing,-

Freedom, O Freedom, O Freedom over me!

Before I'll be a slave

I'll be buried in my grave.

And go home to my lord.

And be free."

For fifty years negro religion thus transformed itself and identified itself with the dream of abolition. Until that which was a radical fad in the white north and an anarchistic plot in the white south had become a religion to the black world. (Du Bois, 1987, pg. 501)

Du Bois discusses the idea that the black slave, viewed freedom as a point they would reach at death and through slave songs, religious expression and spirituals they expressed this rejection of the white institution of slavery and also created within themselves, hope, desire and what later historians would call "damage" as a result of oppression. Slave songs have frequently been used to create knowledge about the politics and the sociology of African-American life and have been used to influence social scientist in their thinking about the damage thesis and the black race in general. Sighting such a change in the face of oppression as a foundation of the culture or damage and anger.

The Blues similar aspect of recognition, has been given to the context of a traditionally African-American institution, in the form of music called the Blues. As is pointed out by Angela Davis in Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, the blues have been analyzed as proof of the damage that slavery and objectification has done to the psyche of the black people and the psyche of black women in particular. Lynching in particular is a topic that Davis discusses, with regard to music, in this case a particular song "Strange Fruit." Lynching, has a significant historical connection with the demonstration of the power of the white over the black as it was an institution upheld from the very beginning of the slave trade, to ensure servility through fear and example. It was for many African America women, the worst possible outcome of a life of servitude, to watch your husband or son be lynched, or even hear about it for sometimes the most simple transgression against the status quo. Davis' message is particularly poinient because the passage discussing the phenomena and its connection tot the Blues specifically uses the word damage to designate the effect the institution of lynching had on the black culture.

Her songs [Billie Holiday] acted as a conduit permitting others to acquire insights about the emotional and social circumstances of their own lives. For black people and their politically conscious white allies, "Strange Fruit" publicly bore witness to the corporeal devastation occasioned by lynching, as well as to the terrible psychic damage it inflicted on its victims and perpetrators alike.

Davis work, in this passage in particular demonstrates an interesting context, in that damage is inflicted on both the oppressed and oppressor through acts of oppression such as lynching. The foundation in fact of many arguments for and against reparations, to African-Americans for slaver includes this sentiment that the culture is wholly changed and that whites should or should not forfeit funds to pay blacks back for the damage that was done to them by slavery, though this is a hotly contested issue, the idea of the African-American culture being… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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