The Theoretical Framework Of Afro American History Cultural Studies Essay

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The origins of most African American people are directly related to slave trades which started to take place from 1619 when the first African slave trade arrived at Jamestown, Virginia. The slave population belonged to various parts of central and western Africa; most of these people were from places like Bight of Biafra and Sierra Leone.

By the year 1700, slaves had reached the 10% of the population in the United Estates of America being, the majority of them, located in the South where they had to work in tobacco or rice plantations. Moreover, as the country grew, the organization of slavery started to be more closely related to the southern states because in the North it began to be abolished being Pennsylvania the first place in passing a law for gradual slavery abolition.

However, by 1793, cotton plantation flourished and more and more slaves were required to work on them. The cotton gin became then the main reason for the rise of African American population in about a 70% the US; most of these people were concentrated in the Deep South.

As the years passed on, by the year 1808, the international slave trade was finally abolished. Even though, slaves continued to be highly demanded and those working in tobacco and other farming labors, started to be sold to traders in the Deep South for working in cotton plantations.

Around 1830 there were more than 300.000 black American who were free and living in the North of the country; most of them were very poor and only a few were able to equal white people by making business for the black community. Racial discrimination started to be suffered by these free people of another skin color who were not accepted or welcome in white people services. The segregation led Afro American people to concentrate themselves in their own communities where only black people lived and had business.

After some years, during the American Civil War, an important issue for Afro American took place: the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. This freed slaves from southern states in conflict with the north. In 1865, the 13th amendment of the United States Constitution declared slavery as an illegal practice, then, in 1868 the 14th amendment gave full citizenship to African Americans and, finally, by 1870, the 15th amendment granted black males the right to vote.

The time continued to pass and, by 1910, African American population began to relocate themselves in other areas of the country; this process is known as The Great Migration. In this way, during the first half of the 20th century, more than 5million of Black Americans moved from the south to the north, west and Midwest of the nation, looking for better opportunities. Migrants were tired of suffering from racial and political discrimination, violence and educational inequalities and they viewed in these new places an escape from their unfair past.

In the 20's African American concentrated in New York originated an important cultural and artistic movement called The Harlem Renaissance; while another important part of African American, arriving from Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana settled in the south side of Chicago.

From 1941, passing through the World War II and lasting until 1970 a second Great Migration occurred. Again, over 5 million Afro Americans, especially urban laborers, traveled from the South to the North, West and Midwest, locating themselves in places such as California, Oakland and Los Angeles. In this way, after this second important migration, most African American were living in the cities, still the majority of them was concentrated in the south and, the rest, were living in the North and West of the United States.

However, Afro American continued to feel unhappy because of the inequalities and differences among white people and themselves; while whites were accepted in private schools, blacks were only able to attend public institutions. This fact was just one of the reasons which gave birth to the Civil Right Movement and the march held in Washington named For Jobs and Freedom where over 250.000 African American people participated crying for equality, not only in education, but also in employment and public services.

The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance, also known as the New Negro Movement, was a cultural and artistic movement which started around the 20's and 30's in Harlem, New York. In this center, many middleclass Afro American had been arriving by the year 1900, and afterwards, during the First World War, many more Black Americans arrived.

On of the most important characteristics of the Harlem Renaissance was the racial pride which was demonstrated in the emerging ideas of the New Negro, who throughout intelligence and different art expressions would be able to provoke a change and fight against racism, prejudices and injustices by means of creating their own progressive, integrated and socialist ways of govern. The way in which these Afro American people expressed their ideas and proposals to raise their race was art in general: music, literature and painting.

The New Negro Movement or the Harlem Renaissance was a great breakthrough for African American citizens because, apart fro being an spectacular and sociological boom of culture and art, it served to change the view the world had about African American people who had migrated from countryside to live an urban and cosmopolitan life. Afro Americans started to be perceived intellectuals and sophisticated people rather than as uneducated people who did not have a real and clear identity; moreover, the New Negroes gained a space in international stage where they made many social fellow contacts.

Concept of Discrimination

As it has been illustrated, Afro Americans have lived the oppression, segregation and slavery from the beginning of their history in the United States; it is certain to say that Afro American people have been discriminated. According to Pettigrew, discrimination is defined as "an institutional process of exclusion against an out-group, racial or cultural, based simply on who they are rather than on their abilities" (FALTA NOMBRE LIBRO 9) while Frederickson and Knobel define discrimination as "actions that serve to limit the social, political, or economic opportunities of particular groups" (Frederickson and Knobel,12). However, the two definitions previously mention share a common factor: discrimination reject one and the same treatment of people because of their race or simply because they are different.

In the case of African American in the United States, they suffered from discrimination mainly because they had a different racial origin than the rest of the people in the country. Moreover, as the power, not only political, but also economical and social, was hold by White Americans so African American people had little to say in this respect.

Racial Discrimination

Nevertheless, there are many kind of discrimination and racism is just one of them. Africans who were brought into North America experienced racial discrimination from the very beginning because they were slaves and had a different racial origin; a different skin color. However, as they years have passed, Afro American have continued to feel discriminated because of their racial roots, in spite of the fact that they are not slaves anymore. In this way, it is possible to say that with or without being slaves, Afro Americans have had to face a full history of racial discrimination.

In some degree, Afro American people have been always discriminated, in their own country, because of their genetic or racial characteristics, especially for their skill color. Afro Americans' physical differences have been a powerful reason for them to be considered as low-grade beings, being this condition an excuse, in the past, to treat them even as animals who did not have soul nor thoughts or feelings.

Racial discrimination has to do with having a negative prejudice about someone only because of his/her race. And it can be found a subtle difference between what is called a racial prejudice and what is known as racial discrimination. "Racial prejudice is attitudinal, so when we describe someone as being prejudiced against blacks, we mean that he or she judges blacks unfavorably because of their race. Racial discrimination, on the other hand, is behavioral, so when we characterize someone as discriminating against blacks, we mean that he or she treats blacks unfavorably because of their race" (Sigelam and Welch, 48).

It is a fact that in most societies around the world, the specific and special characteristics of people, such as skin color, are given importance and meaning depending of the culture or nation. However, discrimination begins to be a social reality when these racial differences become an excuse to treat people in an inferior way, setting up categories in which population is segregated and classified because of their racial heritage. Is in this scenario when racism becomes a social dilemma, because each group or category is rapidly stigmatized and society begins to accept and have discriminatory perceptions, attitudes and behaviors toward people.

In addition, racial discrimination is an issue when social significations are given to racial groups because these trigger peoples' distorted viewpoints, suppositions and prejudices about certain racial category. In the case of the African American population, they were stigmatized as inferior beings who could not have the same opportunities than White people deserved, because of their racial origins and their different physical or genetic features. As a result, Black Americans were affected in the sense that they were, at some point in history, denied access to many opportunities such as jobs, education and health care. On the other hand, there was no equal delivery of resources and money at work together with the fact that African American people had to live apart from their fellow white countrymen. In this sense, racial discrimination is of great importance in that "the consequences of racial classification over time can create boundaries among racially defined groups that affect people today" (Blank et al, 26).

Gender Discrimination

Concerning this racial struggle and as times goes by, new issues have been added to the discrimination suffered by Afro American people. If they have been underestimated and segregated from white people is mainly because of their race and origin, but then issues of gender and sexual orientation have been included to this awful discrimination.

In the case of gender discrimination, "it may come from both within and outside of their communities, while that based on race/ethnicity may come from other women as well as from men" (Redi and Comas -Diaz, 1990). However, most of the time, race arises as a more powerful way of discrimination than gender. For instance Afro American females were much more oppressed because of their skin color than for being women. Thus, "many women of color tend to give more importance to the oppression from whites (of both sexes) while viewing their oppression by men (of all races) secondary" (Kliman, 1994).

In general, discrimination based in gender has been extensively experienced by women all around the world, at some point in history. Women have been widely considered to be the "weak sex" and, as a result, they have been, many times, deprived of opportunities for considering them less competent than men. In consequence, women have been sometimes denied the right of entry to education or jobs.

It is obvious that gender results to be a prominent and salient human feature that is distinctive in people; the special and different characteristics of males and females have served to give inhabitants different roles in society. "In most societies, men hold positions of public importance, they dominate and control family resources, and they are assigned status and power as their birthright. In contrast, women typically play private personal roles, they have little control of their lives, and they frequently have difficulty earning and keeping power and status" (Reid and Comas-Diaz, 1990).

Throughout history, women have suffered gender discrimination in some way or another. However, to understand better: "Gender discrimination involves constructing man as norm and woman as the "other" by exaggerating the differences and distance between men and women and privileging the characteristics of men" (Lott, 1995, p.12). On the other hand, "Treating men or women unfairly or with prejudice because of their gender is termed as gender discrimination. Gender discrimination is caused by internalization of age-old perceptions of gender roles" (FALTA AUTOR AND PAGE). In this sense, when gender discrimination is exerted, men are put in a higher position than women who are given less power over their lifer and decisions compared to males.

Gender discrimination is something that still remains and is widely spread; however, as the time has passed, women have started to ask for equality of treatment and opportunity. Here, the concept "Blatant" must be depicted to understand better this reality: "Blatant or overt sex discrimination has been characterized as unequal and harmful behavior toward women that is intentional, visible, documentable, and unambiguous" (Benokraitis, 1997; Swim and Cohen, 1997). "It includes a range of behaviors: from salary differences and job discrimination, to sexual harassment and physical violence" (Benokraitis, 1997; Klonoff and Landrine, 1995). Furthermore, nowadays, overt sexism is exerted when women receive a lower salary and job positions than men or when they are thought to be more suitable for part time positions or only for passive, nurturing, emotional, non aggressive, and nonassertive roles.


Sexual harassment is another form of overt sexism, chauvinism and violence suffered by women. Sexual harassment can be exhibited either physically or verbally. Subtle sexism includes such behaviors as sexist jokes that put women down ad reinforce male dominance over women (Benokraitis, 1997). People often interpret jokes as being harmless and a safe way to express otherwise demeaning remarks. Another example of subtle sexism is gender discrimination in classrooms. In a review of literature, Myers and Dugan (1996) noted that sexist images of male and female roles were reinforced in classrooms, and sexist humor that demeaned woman's abilities was used.

Klonoff and Landrine (1995) developed the Schedule of Sexist Events (SSE). They defined sexist events as "negative events (stressors) that happen to women, because they are women…{ that are) inherently demeaning, degrading, and highly personal" (pp. 441-442). 56 Y 57 PAGIMAS ORIGINAL

58. Experiences of sexist discrimination can cause woman to be less confident in future endeavors, jobs or other activities, placing her into a victimized position of accepting whatever she can receive because her condition. This is supported by Elmslie and Sedo's (1996) findings that discrimination against women leads to helplessness, which further leads to decreased motivating, reduced ability to perform, and impairment of ability to seek future employment. Thus, when a woman experiences this form of discrimination, she may internalize the negative messages ad develop a sense of helplessness.

Women of color are groomed from birth to be primarily the lovers, mothers, and partners (however unequal) of men of color, who are also oppressed by white men. They are also perceived by white men as workers and as objects of sexual power and aggression. This objectification allows white men to express power and aggression in sexual terms that are not complicated by the emotional entanglements that are present in their relationships with white women. Women have been conceptualized in terms of dual dichotomies: "white goddess/ black she-devil, chaste virgin/ nigger whore; the blond blue -eyed doll/ the exotic 'mulatto' object of sexual craving" (Rich, 1979). (Issues in the psychology of women by Maryka Biaggio, Michel Hersen).

All these types of discrimination suffered by Afro American people triggered a reflexion on their own reality, which was the reason for many African American artists to begin not only to show this reality, but also to encourage their race to change their role in the American society and make it fair and active. One of the Afro Americans pioneers in this change was the philosopher Alain Locke, who wrote what are considered the basis in this struggle for changing the old view of the Negro. His ideas were depicted in his famous essay "The New Negro".

In "The New Negro", Locke heralded a spiritual awakening within the Afro- American community. It was manifested by a creative outburst of art, music and literature as well as by a new mood of self confidence and self- consciousness within that community. The center of this explosion was located in Harlem. Famous personalities such as Claude McKay, Louis Armstrong or Langston Hughes either moved to Harlem or visited it frequently in order to participate in the vigorous cultural exchange which took place there. The artists of the "New Negro Movement" were merely symbolic of the new life which was electrifying the Afro- American community.

Locke pointed out the significance of the great northward migration when he said that the Negro "is in the very process of being transplanted," was also being "transformed". This migration of African Americans from north to south, was usually explained either in economic terms-jobs pulling Negroes northward-or in social terms - discrimination pushing them out. In both cases, the Afro-American was represented as the passive victim of external socioeconomic and political forces. Locke insisted that, to the contrary, it was more accurate to understand this migration as a result of the decision made by the Negro himself. For the first time in history, thousands upon thousands of individual Afro Americans had made a basic choice concerning their own existence. They refused to remain victims of an impersonal and oppressive system, and, as the result, they deliberately pulled up their roots, left their friends and neighbors and moved north to what they hoped would be "the promised land".

As presented in Locke's "The New Negro" a new image of the Afro American individual emerged. If he was less polite or more aggressive than before, he was also more self-reliant and less dependent on pity and charity. This change, however, did not occur suddenly. The passive, well-behaved Negro, content to stay in his place, had largely been a myth. In part, he had been the product of a guilt-ridden white stereotype which found this myth comforting. The Negro himself had also contributed to this fiction by his custom of social mimicry, his habit of appearing to fill the role which whites expected of him. By the end of slavery, however, a spirit of individuality had been growing within the Negro consciousness. The opportunity for industrial employment in the North which had resulted from war and from the slowdown in European migration along with the increase of racism and segregation in the South combined to open the way for development of the growing spirit of determination. This new poetry explores the theme of racial identity from an African American cultural perspective and orientation. The poetry represents the embodiment of the new Negro, as fashioned by Locke, for whom the Negro symbolized a new identity from African Americans in the twentieth century: dynamic, assertive, strong and proud of their heritage.

The new Negro was doing more than asserting his own individuality; the entire Afro-American community was developing a new sense of solidarity. The racist attitudes of mainstream America, both north and south, made it almost impossible for a Negro to conceive of himself purely in individualistic terms. Any Negro who thought of himself as an exceptional or unique individual was brought sharply back to reality by this racism which relentlessly and mercilessly depicted him as nothing more than a "nigger". The new Negro represents an early attempt at the canonization of African American writers and illustrates Locke's' belief that art and letters could be used to increase awareness about racial issues and transform society. African Americans would assert their humanity through artistic contributions, which, in turn would lead to more equitable treatment in society.

In spite of the individualism which was preached as a basic part of the American creed, the Afro-American community was forced to develop a strong sense of group cooperation. In the face of growing racism and segregation, the idealism of the new negro was still based on the American ideal of democracy, and his goal was still it share fully, some day, in American life ad institutions.

Locke's self-consciousness about racial discrimination and inequalities embodied in his essay, not only empowered African American people to be proud of their origins and heritage, but also encourage them to face their future with faith and hope.

Locke believed that the new Negro was taking the racism which had been forced upon him by white society and was turning it to positive uses, transforming obstacles to his progress into "dams of social energy and power".

Langston Hughes, the most prolific writer of the Harlem renaissance, wrote a kind of manifesto for the movement. He said that he was proud to be a black artist. Further, he said that he was not writing to win the approval of white audiences. At the same time he claimed that he and the other young Negro artists were not attempting to gain the approval of black audiences. They were writing to express their inner souls, and they were not ashamed that those souls were black. If what they wrote pleased either whites or blacks, Hughes said, they were happy. It did not matter to them if it did not.


Sexual orientation discrimination

Sexual orientation discrimination: an international perspective by mary Virginia lee badgett

p. 19 At one time, asking whether lesbian, gay, or bisexual people were treated differently from similarly qualified heterosexual people in the labor market would have seemed a silly question, since many jobs explicitely barred gay people.Since some tiem after World War I, the United Satets has forbidden gay people to serve in the military (Eskridge and Hunter 1997). In the 1950s government witch-hunts sought out and fired homosexuals in the State Departmtn and in other security-related jobs (Johnson 1994-5). Openly gay people were (and still are in some places) banned from working with children, and such discrimination has been upheld by the judicial system (Eskridge and Hunter 1997: 627-9).

Sexual orientation discriminatin is where people are tyreated less favourably because of their sexual orientation. This includes people who are homosexual (gay and lesbians) and bisexual.

Discrimination and homophobia affect the lives and choices of homosexual people in all areas of social and personal life. From their early yeasrs the derogastive words used for gays and lesbiabns


As baker states, 'if we turn to the Harlem renaissance of the twenties, it is difficult in the presence of a seminal discursive act like Alain Locke's new negro to conceive of that modern, afro American, expressive moment as other than an intensely successful act of national self-definition working itself out in a field of possibilities constructed by turn-of-the-century spokespersons.' (Davis and Lee, 197)

(21) The genesis of African Americans as a New World people was the result of forcible capture and transportation of a minimum of ten million Africans from their homeland across the Atlantic Ocean. Yet both historians of the United States and black artist have only quite recently focused on this massive, forcible transfer of people. Faith Ringgold's (b. 1930) story quilt and other works by African- American artists depicting the Atlantic slave trade address a traumatic , thorny, and until recently, virtually unstudied topic. In Ringgold's work, black people cry for help in a sea presided over by an African American Statue of Liberty. Ringgold's Miss Liberty carries a torch whose smoke joins that of a burning slave ship.

The Atlantic slave trade affected tens of millions of individuals personally and also profoundly shaped the history of the Americans. Africans were already present in the Western Hemisphere before 1619. But the history of black people in the United States is usually dated from the first arrival of a sizeable number in territory that would become the United States. In 1619 about twenty ethnic Ndongans from what is now Angola in West Central Africa landed at Jamestown. Because their arrival in Virginia was recorded, they became African Americans' founding generation.

Race in the Unietd States

We begin our discussion of race in the United States with its founding in 1789. The founding document, the U.S. constitution, accorded de facto recognition to white and nonwhite racial categories in oder to assign political representation to the states (Anderson and Fienberg, 200). During the 1787 Constitutional Convention, northern and southern states compromised on counting slaves as three-fifths of a person fro purposes of congressional reapportionment. (pagina libro 28). In addition, Indians "not taxed" were to be excluded from the reapportionment counts. The compromise on the treatment of slaves was key to the establishment of the new government; it was implemented in the U.S. decennial census, first conducted in 1790, when enumerators were instructed to classify people as white, other free person, or slave and to exclude Indians not taxed. Because all slaves were treated as a single racial group, the enumeration of people by their civil status effectively produced a racial classification of whites, American Indians, and blacks.

In his introductory essay, Locke explores the significance of Harlem as a cultural capital in new York with its promise of social, economic and artistic advancement for the new negro: 'the migrant masses, shifting from countryside to city, hurdle several generations of experiences at a leap, but more important, the same thing happens spiritually in the life-attitudes and self-expression of the young negro, in his poetry, his art, his education and his new outlook, with the additional advantage, of course, of the poise and greater certainty of knowing what it is all about.' (197 ????)


George M. Frederickson and Dale T. Knobel, "History of Prejudice and Discrimination", in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Gropus, eds. Stephan Thernstrom, Ann Orlov, and Oscar Handlin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980),

black americans' views of racial inequality: the dream deferred by lee sigelam, susan Welch)

measuring racial discrimination by Rebecca M. blank, Marilyn dabady, constance forbes citro, national research council (us).

The Cambridge companion to modernist poetry by alex davis, lee Margaret Jenkins