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African Americans were one minority in the United States who did not pass throughout time unseen. On the contrary, their presence in America was very important not only because of the political and social scene, but also because of their contribution to the country's culture. Literature and music are one of the most important aspects of African American culture and they relate to art, dance and movies. Besides these, the African American language, fashion, cuisine, holidays, sports and family life are also part of their culture. In the African American eye, they are as important as literature and music, but less outlined. Even so, the cultural influence of these aspects can be observed once one learns more about the African American culture.
The appearance is very important, both for African American women and men. Clothing, hairstyles and gestures are things that sometimes define the African culture. The Black Arts Movement revealed the traditional West African clothing which became very popular not matter the occasion and the hairstyle transmitted messages about that certain person. According to his or hers hairstyle, you could tell the ethnic identity, the age, the rank in the society, his or hers religion or even if that person was married or not. The African American hairstyle could define a person and because of that, people were not so careless when it came to the way in which they appeared in public. If we refer to gestures, we will observe some that remained in their culture due to their painful past. And their reaction to other gestures or words that offend them is not necessarily a diplomatic one, especially if we refer to Hip Hop culture which plays a major role in America nowadays.
In Hip Hop culture hairstyles and clothing are very important criteria. Besides these, dancing is a way of expressing their feelings and transmitting their messages. In the course of time, whites joined Hip Hop clubs and embraced this culture worldwide. They saw in it more than it was; Hip Hop for many was what defined their personality. Dancing, talking, rapping, the way they dressed and arranged their hair, the way they walked, the slang, their view upon life, was not an open door for everybody; that was what made them different from others.
Like in Hip Hop, African Americans and whites work together in sports. A clear example of past discrimination was basketball.
Due to coaches who appreciated someone regarding his talent and not his skin color, African Americans managed to prove their worth on courts, even if they suffered plenty mocking when they went to study in a school where whites were majorette; and again, discrimination played an important role in their acceptance in the National Basketball Association (NBA). In the course of time, African Americans showed that they were better than many whites and managed to get high credits for their talent which finally made America proud to have them among its players. Some examples are: Michael Jordan, Linton Johnson and Charles Barkley in basketball; Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson in baseball; Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson in tennis; Evander Holyfield, Jack Johnson and Mike Tyson in boxing; Tiger Woods in golf; Earl Campbell, Bill Willis and Jim Brown in football.
African American family life is other aspect that creates a gap between blacks and whites because of their economical and unity problems. We can observe a big difference between the income of an average white family and an average black family. Poverty was one of the criteria that made family life harder in an African American community. Nowadays, the number of single mothers increased comparing to few decades ago as well as the delinquency rate. Discrimination is sometimes present when it comes to important decisions in a family, like marriage. In America racists did not die yet and many do not agree with a marriage between a white person and a black one because of their past and status in the society. In any case, things are starting to evolve and there are fewer problems concerning discrimination, although it is something that will always be present in America because of the large number of immigrants.
3.3.1. African American Vernacular English (AAVE)
The term AAVE is presented with all its features in John Rickford's book, African American Vernacular English. After you read the book, you can observe the influence AAVE had upon American culture. The AAVE is a variety of American English spoken by African Americans. This variety includes dialects, ethnolects and sociolects. The language is different from one category of people to another and here we take into consideration the age, the topic, the setting and the status. Due to its logical structure, AAVE is academically judged as a valid dialect, but many whites or African Americans think of it as slang or a language which appeared due to the lack of control of Standard American English.
Regarding the fact that there is a strong connection between the AAVE and the Southern American English, we can observe the influence of slavery upon the dialect. The slave owners had their contribution in the formation of the dialect because they used to mix Africans from different parts of the continent, not being allowed to speak any other language than poor English. The mixture of so many African languages and the banning of education formed the 'pidgin', which is an easier language built from features of two or more languages. The 'pidgin' was used between people who needed to communicate, but did not have a language in common. Later on, the slave language developed and after the slave era ended, the AAVE remained in the United States bringing controversies in the educational system. The problem was somehow solved when the Conference on College Composition and Communication made an important decision in 1974 which helped protect student's rights:
<<We affirm the students' right to their own patterns and varieties of language'the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. The claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice for speakers and writers and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language. >> (Smitherman xv)
AAVE has its own words, like any dialect, known only by the speakers or words which are part of Standard American English, but have a totally different meaning. This dialect created a small change in American culture because of its usage. In some parts of the country people, especially teenagers, adopted words from AAVE in their vocabulary due to the presence of multiculturalism.
In literature and media we can observe the portrayal of black speech, representing black identity. The presence of AAVE in American literature denotes the connection between African American and other characters and it was used in notable works, with inconsistent degrees of authenticity, such as: Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) by Mark Twain, Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell, Go Down, Moses (1942) by William Faulkner and A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) by John Kennedy Toole. AAVE was also present in television shows and movies. Parts where AAVE is used are rapping, dialogues between African Americans or different kind of contexts where a reference to the African American culture is made. Examples of its usage in television are: Do the Right Thing (1989), Jungle Fever (1991), Laurel Avenue (1993), Fresh (1994), The Best Man (1999).
This dialect, in spite of its different formation (specific phonology, different use of tenses and vocabulary) is a mean of communication which did not disappear and represents a piece of American culture. Communication is the most important thing between two persons and linguistics is a noteworthy and interesting science. Both are essential in the definition of a nation's culture and when we talk about a certain language or dialect we must take into consideration not only its form, but how it is delivered.
3.3.2 African American Holidays
African Americans celebrate both ethnic holidays and American traditional holidays, but the ethnic holidays are respected by all Americans because they are considered American holidays. One of the days which are very important for African Americans is the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday on the third Monday of January. This holiday not only brings back the memory of one of the most significant personalities in African American history, but it is also part of the three federal holidays which has the name of a person.
Black History Month is a period dedicated to the memory of important people and events that are part of the African American history and it is celebrated in February, the month when NAACP was founded and both Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were born. This is a month when aspects of the African American's lives and history, which did not seem very important, even if they were, have all the attention.
Another important month which is considered by presidents in the last twenty-eight years an important part of American heritage is June. At the beginning of summer, the African American Music Month is celebrated and lots of events which highlight all genres of African American music occur.
Two other holidays which are celebrated more in the African American communities are Emancipation Day, which is not celebrated in the same day in all the country and Malcolm X's birthday on May 19.
Holidays which highlight the African American history or contribution to the United States are the proof that they did not forget their past or their worth and no matter what, they will always be proud for who they are.