A member has requested that this piece "CULTURE, IDENTITY AND THE SELF:
AFRICANISMS IN THE AMERICAS" be circulated to a larger audience. The author,                                                                                                             Dr. Valentine Ojo, is based at the   Center for African Studies Lincoln University

The poem "Coming of Age" by the 1991 Poet Laureate, Eric C. Webb, opens with the following lines:
When I was younger
            I was a victim
            a victim
            of the
            Tarzan movies
            I knew my people
            as savages swingin'
            through trees.
An article in a recent edition of The Washington Post, titled "The Case for Black Colleges," concluded with the following statistics:
In 1900, 1,700 Negroes attended college.
            In 1944, 40,000 colored people attended college.
            In 1970, 522,000 blacks attended college.
            In 1992, 1,393,000 African Americans attended college.
In other words, from 1900 to 1992--in less than a century-- Americans of African origin have graduated from Negroes, through at least four changes of identity, to African Americans.  This frequently remarked "identity crisis" is of course precipitated on the lament of the poet quoted above:  the fate of a people, whose ancestors, it has been claimed, were "savages, swinging through trees," a people with no history and no culture.

But, simply because the culture of a people has not consisted of the domination and dehumanization of others, of their brutalization and of the looting and exploitation of the wealth of other people and nations, does not make their way of life and their beliefs less of a culture.  The fact that the history of a people is not written in blood and does not leave a trail of blood, inhuman exploitation, and sufferings in its wake does not mean that such a people do not have a history--history can not and should not be construed only as an anthology, a record of wars, destruction, and looting.
It is primarily as a result of this rather bizarre and inhuman interpretation of what constitutes culture and what constitutes history, that the African-American, because of his African ancestry, has been considered to be "culturally and historically bankrupt."  [Nwachuku, 1995].  Over the years, and regardless of more than enough evidence to the contrary, Eurocentric historians like Arnold Toynbee [1947] and Hugh Trevor-Roper [1963], and racist anthropologists, sociologists and classicists from Tillinghast [1902] to Mary Lefkowitz [1996], maintain that Africa has no history worth talking about until the arrival of Europeans, and that neither did her peoples make any significant contributions towards the sum total of human civilization, ancient or modern.
Of course, Europe needed to perpetrate the lie that Africa had no history or culture in order to pave the way to the culture of slavery, colonialism, and racism [Ojo-Ade, 1989; p. 6] which she later established at the expense of people of African descent.
The people who have had to bear the greater part of this burden are probably African-Americans, whose culture--and they have one--"is often described as rootless, or worse yet, the end result of contact with European culture, namely, America" [Howe, 1995].  Howe goes on to remark that "for many social scientists and historians, the connection between Africa and the American children of the diaspora is tenuous at best.  Other than owing their physical traits to native Africans, Americans of African descent are not thought to have much in common with Africa(ns)."  Then the assertion goes to be made that, at best, all that African-Americans possess of culture is 'slave culture,' which some would concede, may have had its nascent beginnings in the 'middle passage.'
Here we can wonder with Sudarkasa [1980], how come that "enslaved Africans are generically referred to as "slaves," and their institutions as "slave" institutions, as if their identity was solely determined by the condition of their oppression."  And here she takes note of a curious practice:  "Israelites enslaved in Egypt for centuries are always referred to as Israelites, in a state of bondage or in slavery."  And of course, it was never assumed that the Israelites lost any of their cultural traits, nor that they acquired any cultural traits from their captors.  Neither is it ever assumed that any of the various European tribes that migrated to America and elsewhere ever lost any of their cultural traits, nor acquired those of other cultures.  Only the Africans were always presumed to be cultural blank checks to be scribbled on by the European races, babies to be culturally nurtured into the civilizing ways and mores of the European.
As numerous scholars have often remarked, there is possibly nowhere else that this denial of Africa a history and a culture has been more painfully felt than in America, and possibly no other group of Africans has suffered more deprivation on account of this myth of an Africa with neither culture nor history than Americans of African descent, "the present-day representatives of this race without a past" [Herskovits, 1958:  31].  More unfortunate still, and curiously enough, various scholars have also remarked that it would appear "no group in the population of this country has been more completely convinced of the inferior nature of the African background than have the Negroes" themselves [Herskovits, 1958:  31].
In corroboration of this rather curious phenomenon, Ojo-Ade [1989] has the following to say about us:  "...the Black is not free of cruelty toward his brother; the Black is guilty of selling himself for next to nothing; the Black is ashamed of himself.  Cabrera blames African Blacks who served as agents of slavery.  But that is only half of the story...transplanted to the Caribbean, and to America, the Black has continued in the process of self-degradation and self-destruction...Black is beastly, bad, barbaric.  White is wholesome, White is wonderful, White is a winner."
E. F. Frazier, a Negro-American scholar had this to say about his own race:  "...when one undertakes the study of the Negro, he discovers a great poverty of traditions and patterns of behavior that exercise any real influence on the formation of the Negro's personality and conduct...if...the most striking thing about the Chinese is their deep culture, the most conspicuous thing about the Negro is his lack of a culture" [Frazier in Reuter, 1934:  194].  Africa has always been considered, frequently by people of African descent both on the continent itself and in the diaspora, "a badge of shame...the reminder of a savage past not sufficiently remote, as is that of European savagery, to have become hallowed" [Herskovits, 1958:  58].
Nevertheless, the story is not as simple as that.  Africa was neither completely steeped in savagery, nor is she without a noteworthy history, as many Eurocentric scholars will have us believe, or as many of her misguided children who have been led to look down their Europeanized noses on their cultural ancestry have been led to believe, while these same Europeans are busily robbing them of this rich cultural heritage without acknowledging that fact.
In the fifth stanza of the poem quoted above, the Poet declares
            Now that I am older
            some notions
            still remain
            but the
            time has
            finally come
            for me
            to break
            my chains.
It is my intention to take a modest step in the direction of breaking these mental chains that still fetter our thinking about ourselves, by presenting here examples of Africanisms--examples of African cultural influences--that have left their indelible imprint on the Americas.  Many of these cultural traits and contributions are subconscious, and some are so subtle, we tend to take them for granted, being so much part of our daily lives.  The examples are taken from the spheres of Language and Literature; Cultural Artifacts and Religion; Kinship, Marriage and Family Structure; and the Mundane, in the form of Music, Dance, Salutations and Comportments--the way and manner we carry ourselves.  Even the manner in which American women of African descent carry babies on their hips, is a cultural particularity.

Language and Literature
Like everything else black and African, Eurocentric linguistic analysis of black speech patterns, and of the creoles and pidgins that developed in the Caribbeans and along the West African Coast as a result of contact between Europeans and peoples of African descent, have always been considered aberrant or deviant variants of the standard European dialects concerned.  The truth, however, like in many similar erroneous analyses of phenomena pertaining to Africa and its peoples, including and especially those in the Diaspora, is that such analyses are frequently based on lack of familiarity with, or plain ignorance of the phenomena being described, even when the scholars concerned are acclaimed experts in their fields [Herskovits, 1958:  277-279].  And sometimes, alas, the conclusions arrived at are based on outright malicious manipulation of the data, as part of the "systematic contempt for all things African," within the frame of "the spiritual justification of slavery" and colonialism [Allsopp, 1995:  91].
Those who have attempted to describe black speech patterns and the creoles and pidgins of the Caribbeans have been, by and large, people without any knowledge of the structures of the languages of the areas where the first speakers of these derived language forms acquired their primary linguistic socialization.  These scholars are, therefore, unaware of the fact "that there are systems observable in communication among present-day Caribbean people that are derived from observed systems in the communication of sub-Saharan African nations" [Allsopp, 1995:  91].  Put differently, many of the features, if not most, that characterize and distinguish the creoles and pidgins spoken by sizable populations in the Caribbean from standard English or French are to be traced back and found in the structures of the African languages spoken in the slave basin of West Africa, since those who gave the initial impetus for the formation of these new languages derived from this area.  Furthermore, it has long been established through the comparative studies of their individual grammars, that the languages of the West African coast, "despite their mutual unintelligibility and apparent variety of forms," [Herskovits, 158:  280] are basically similar in structure, and share those features which linguists employ to classify languages as belonging to the same stock.
Some of these characteristics include the fact that most of the languages of this area, being spoken in oral cultures (this feature also resurfaces in black literature), rely partly on kinesic for the transmission of communication.  This in part makes for the often remarked reduction in morphosyntactic features observed in these creoles and pidgins, and in the languages of the West African coast.
Many of these languages - Ibo, Yoruba, Ewe, etc. - are tonal or tonemic, i.e. the use of variation in pitch "to differentiate...meaning of otherwise identical word-forms" and to perform syntactic functions is systemic in these languages [Allsopp, 1995:  96].  Such a system does not operate in any European languages, but it is operative in the Caribbean creoles.  Other features of these new languages which abound in West African languages, and which play little or no roles in the structures of European languages include:  the frequency of ideophones ('sound-concept' words); the prototypical open syllabic structure (CV-) of West African Languages, where even borrowed words with consonant clusters have to be 'opened' up:  church - sóbsX; Christmas - KérésXmésX, etc.; non-inflectional morphology, with a corresponding reliance on word-order to signify syntactic relations, etc.; absence of verb-noun concordance; tense relations usually signalled by independent verbal elements; absence of passive transformation; questions do not usually require a change in word-order (preference for question markers); and use of reduplication, among others.
The Gullah 'dialects' of English spoken by the black population of the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas have retained many of these features.  And in addition, many linguistic usages among mainstream African American can ultimately be traced back to unconscious retentions of Africanisms, since such usages are rarely encountered among the white population.  A good example is the frequent use of 'Hi, Brother,' 'Hi, Sister,' 'you all,' etc. among African Americans.
One important factor that is often ignored in the initial phase of African presence in the New World regarding language evolution and usage is that the Africans who managed to reach the New World alive had to acquire as much of the vocabulary of their masters as they needed to survive, and as was taught to them.  Being a preliterate people, they pronounced these unfamiliar sounding words the best they could, and reorganized them (instinctively) into their African speech patterns.  Considering that the conditions under slavery were not ideal for learning (and that any serious learning was often discouraged), that the early Africans were able to fashion languages of survival must be seen as a testimony to the creative ingenuity of the African.  One need only to observe the language performance of recent immigrants into this country, regardless of their racial background, and especially the ones with little formal education, to imagine the feat enslaved Africans had to perform.
In the literary arena, various recent studies are beginning to unearth Africanisms (sometimes under the guise of postmodernistic and feminist writings) in the literary productions of African American writers.
Holloway [1987] for example posits in New Dimensions of Spirituality, that "the linguistic or mythic vehicles, in the voices of Black women...enable African values to survive in the chaos of Western culture."  Her propositions are informed largely by the African and Black American female values portrayed in the works of Toni Morrison, as when she sees reflections of African values in Claudia's description of a conversation with her mother and a friend in The Bluest Eye as a "gently wicked dance" [Holloway, 1987:  38]; or the elements of African spirituality, mythology, and ethos, "an explicit thematic interplay basic to an African view of the universe," which she identifies in the novel Tar Baby [Holloway, 1987:  117-118].  Holloway actually asserts that language (Black language that is) has served as "response to the indignities of racism" by helping to draw boundaries around black cultural identity:  "Whether we call it a dialect, Black English, Ebonics, or numerous other terms, the language of the black community has African roots and maintains African identity in a world where identity is constantly threatened by cultural assimilation and dissemination" [Holloway, 1987:  38].
She pursues this theme further in Moorings and Metaphors [1992], where she endeavors to demonstrate the unbroken African heritage of African American female writers by juxtaposing their thematic concerns and orature influenced styles with those of contemporary female writers of the African continent.  Holloway suggests that "the imaginative literature of these women may be a significant source of cultural continuity" [12], and endeavors to identify "a dimension of the intertextual, shared traditions in African and African-American women writers' text" [13], as against those of white female writers.  This cultural continuity she has tried to demonstrate under the concept of (re)membrance in recognition of the fact that the "spiritual point of origin for these works was oral and poetic at a time when oracy and poetry were not distinct modes of expressions but were intimately linked" [13].
When a Toni Morrison writes the following lines in the novel, Jazz [p. 52]:
Alice Manfred stood for three hours on Fifth Avenue marveling at the cold black faces and listening to drums saying what the graceful women and the marching men could not,
she was describing the African drums of her cultural heritage.  And "...watching Bud and C. T. abusing each other at checkers..." [p. 68], as Sekoni [1995] showed in his study of this theme in the works of other African-American writers, is an African pastime.
As a follow-up to his examination of Africanisms in the Postmodernist expressions of Hurston, Sekoni [1995] has endeavored to show the specific "appropriation and reuse of traditional African and African American cultural aesthetic forms...especially of the joking partnership and trickster narrative mode" by Langston Hughes in his Jesse B. Semple stories [64-65].  The African origin of these literary devices that played such crucial roles in, and "characterized cultural discourse during the Harlem Renaissance," is not in doubt.

Cultural Artifacts and Religion
That people of African origin are deeply religious (even when they do not subscribe to any formalistic religion) has often been remarked, even by the worst detractors of African cultures, who, however, then go on to apply such labels as 'fetishism,' 'animism,' 'ancestor worship,' etc. to the religious convictions and practices of African peoples, both on the continent and in the Diaspora.  We again see the tendency to denigrate anything African at play, whenever attempts are made to describe African-influenced variants of even orthodox Christianity.  Yet, the myriads of Euro-American Christian sects would hardly ever be described in such negative terms.
Our main focus here, however, is to briefly outline how the intense religious life in African culture has characterized African culture in the New World, the intimate connection between life and religion, and the concomitant intimate connection between religion and what is ordinarily construed as objects of art in European cultures.
The Yoruba culture of Western Nigeria and of Dahomey would appear to have been the major contributor to African religions that "survived the vicissitudes of the Atlantic Trade" [Thompson, 1983:  xv].  "The impact and spirit of millions of Yoruba in West Africa on key urban population areas in the Americas, most notably in Havana, Salvador, Brazil, and the heavily Hispanic barrios of certain cities of the United States, especially Miami and New York" (we may also include Philadelphia and New Orleans) is nowhere better attested to today than in the proliferation of such Yoruba deities as "Eshu, spirit of individuality and change; Ifa, god of divination; Ogun, lord of iron; Yemoja, goddess of the seas; Oshun, goddess of sweet water, love, and giving; Oshoosi, god of hunting; Obaluaiye, dread spirit of disease and earth; Nana Bukuu, his mother; Shango, the fiery thunder god, who has inspired thousands of Afro-Americans (two Afro-American religions - Shango in Trinidad and Xango in Recife in Brazil - bear his name)" [Thompson, 1983:  xv].  There are other minor Yoruba deities that are actively worshipped in various localities in the New World, such as "Obatala, deity of creativity; Orisha Oko, a celestial judge and restorer of fertility," and other areas observe the Egungun cult of ancestral spirits.  Besides there is a major revival of Yoruba culture and religious observances currently underway at Oyotunji Village in South Carolina [Hunt, 1979].
In addition to these, many religions have taken the forms of syncretism between African and Christian beings in predominantly Catholic areas like Brazil and Cuba, and even in New Orleans.  These include the macumba religious groups of Rio, the Yoruba-inspired candomblé rites of Brazil, and the voodoo cult of New Orleans.  Commenting on this phenomenon, Ojo-Ade [1989:  91-92] aptly observed that "unlike the continental Africans who, in their large numbers, continue to worship at the altar of the white God, their brothers and sisters of the diaspora have moved away from the white altar to the black shrine...Syncretism is at best the co-existence of Africa and Europe, the harmonization of two practices to form a viable whole in which neither constituent is made to feel strange.  In reality, many an African community of the diaspora has successfully supplanted Christianity by assimilating it into the religion brought across the Atlantic."
Even orthodox Christian religious sects have not remained completely untouched by the influence of the religion brought by the enslaved Africans.  The phenomenon of "spirit possession" in the "shouting" churches of the United States, the concept of the 'devil' as an agent of 'good and bad,' and thus to be 'appeased,' as found among Black Christian sects, and American religious revivalism, including those of the white churches, may ultimately be traced back to the Africanisms in Negro religious practices in the United States [Herskovits, 1958:  222].
It was remarked at the beginning of this section that religion and art are closely linked in African culture.  Consequently, the mainstay of many a museum and private art collections in the New World today comprises of "the richness of detail, moral elaboration, and emblematic power that characterize the sacred art of the Yoruba in transition to Brazil, Cuba, and the United States"  [Thompson, 1983:  xv].  This section will close on the pertinent observation made by Allsopp [1995:  93-4] that "in notable contrast to the European's preference for the medium of stone...the strongly preferred medium of the African sculptor and carver is wood...of which there is voluminous evidence, in the Caribbean, in the wood carvings of Haiti and of the so-called Bush Negroes of Suriname."
Kinship, Marriage and Family Structure
It is not my intention here to go into any detailed treatment of the African family structure, nor of the forms it has taken and the evolution it has of necessity undergone in the New World in general, and in the United States in particular.  Following the eminently readable Myth of the Negro Past by Herskovits [1941; 1958], several other studies essentially reaffirming the connection and continuity between traditional African family structures and African American family structures have since appeared, culminating in the more recent studies by Sudarkasa [1980, 1988, 1995].  These studies have introduced new dimensions to the discussions about the African American family.  These include the total refusal to accept that the African American family is 'aberrant' and 'crisis-ridden' simply because it does not conform to the Euro-American nuclear family based models [Sudarkasa, 1980:  55].
Another important development is the introduction of the concept of the Seven Rs - respect, responsibility, restraint, reciprocity, reverence, reason and reconciliation - which as she rightly observes, "represent African family values that supported kinship structures...that lasted for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years" [Sudarkasa, 1995:  218].
A few confirmatory observations are, therefore, in order.  True enough, "African patterns of family organization survived among enslaved blacks and some of these patterns are still manifest in the present day" [Sudarkasa, 1980:  57].  Most differences in the two structures can be explained largely "in ways that reflected the influence of slavery and of Euro-American values"  [Sudarkasa, 1988:  39].  Sudarkasa further aptly observed, that "the operation of various factors associated with Westernization and urbanization in contemporary Africa are leading to the emergence of family patterns similar to those found among blacks in the U.S." [1980:  57], a factor which merely serves to underscore the essential similarities between African and African American family structures, based on their common heritage.
Some terminological clarifications may serve to reinforce some of the arguments.  The African concept of family (Yor. 'ebí') is strictly consanguinal, that is, based on blood relationship.  Thus in a patriarchal set-up, the mother of a child is not, as a rule, considered a member of the child's family, from the point of view of the father's side.  Though children can be, and are necessarily, considered as belonging (also) to their mother's family, especially if the marriage was not sanctioned by the bride's family.
The Rs, irrespective of their actual numbers, are the real cornerstones of the African family structure, and are reflected in such Yoruba usages as 'Xtéríba,' 'XwbntúnwbnsX,' 'Ptó,' etc. and similar observances, in regulating the affairs of an extended family.  Many of these features have always characterized the African American family [Herskovits, 1958:  143-206], and are still very much present today in African American families, in areas like child-rearing practices, and in the central role of women in the family, giving rise to the false notion of female-headed families as aberrations.
Actually, the currently fashionable "It takes a village to raise a child," is an African thing--the extended family has always been a village, and the village has always been the extended family in the African context.
The Mundane:  Music, Dance and Salutations
When a General Colin Powell recalls that as he grew older, he started "to decode the sly double entendre" of the calypso songs he had heard as a youth in family gatherings, he was, unconsciously maybe, reliving facets of his African heritage [Powell, 1996:  14].  The General remarked further that he continued to play calypso tapes in his office even after he became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and noted that his aides (presumably mostly white Americans) did not, however, get the pidgin lyrics and missed most of the innuendo in many of the tunes.  And he concluded that "but then, you do not hear much calypso music in the Pentagon's E-Ring" [Powell, 1996:  14].
There is much insight to be gained into the pervasiveness of Africanisms in contemporary life in the Americas today in this brief citation.  For one thing, Negro songs and music of the U.S. form only part of a larger body of the New World Negro music which include Caribbean music forms like reggae and calypso, and Latin American forms like salsa and samba.
Regarding the influence of African and African-derived musical forms, Thompson [1983:  xiii] observes that "listening to rock, jazz, blues, reggae, salsa, samba, bossa nova, juju, highlife, and mambo, one might conclude that much of the popular music of the world is informed by the flash of the spirit of a certain people specially armed with improvisatory drive and brilliance," meaning of course the people of African origin.  He observed further that "since the Atlantic slave trade, ancient organizing principles of song and dance have crossed the seas from the Old World to the New," where "they took on new momentum, intermingling with each other and with New World or European styles of singing and dancing."
Some of the principles that distinguish African musical forms include dominance of percussive elements including the tendency to use most instruments as percussions; a propensity for multiple meter; overlapping call and response - "interlock systems" between solo/chorus, voice/instrument, etc.; centrality of the rhythmic element, a "metronome sense" generated through keeping a beat in mind as common denominator; offbeat phrasing or syncopation; use of songs and dances of social allusion (i.e. music which no matter however danceable and funky, are primarily intended as social criticisms) from the Negro blues through the songs and lyrics of James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, to contemporary rap phenomena; and "an interdependent and inseparable combination of dancing, singing, and drumming"  [Herskovits, 1958; Thompson, 1983; Allsopp, 1995].
Many of these Negro musical forms have informed and found their way into such majority culture musical forms like Dvorak's "From the New World," and Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess."  In addition, they have exercised profound influence on contemporary composers like Aaron Copeland and others.
People of African descent have often been remarked for what Herskovits [1958] had termed "strict adherence to codes of polite behavior," and which has often been misinterpreted as "Negroes being obsequious" by detractors of Negro behavior.  As already noted above (and in agreement with views in Sudarkasa [1995]; and as already noted by other scholars) reverence and respect, especially for older people, and reciprocity and a sense of responsibility towards other members of society are highly cherished values in traditional African and African American communities.  As a result of this African tradition, Black people tend to exchange salutations more frequently among themselves than most other ethnic groups (note the frequency of 'Hi, Brother,' 'Hi, Sister'; and that of student/student, student/faculty, faculty/staff salutations, even among perfect strangers).
And I have often noticed that stopping at traffic lights or meeting at the dentist's waiting room, Black people, perfect strangers, tend to exchange some form of recognition of each other.  These are clearly traditional African residual carryovers, behavioral patterns that characterize cultures that lay emphasis on communality.  It may of course be noted that this practice of mutual recognition through exchange of salutations would appear to be catching on, even in the majority culture.
Professor Arthur Ramos, the highly respected Brazilian scholar and authority on African cultural retentions in the Americas provides innumerable examples of Africanisms in the day to day life of Americans--Black and White--that are often overlooked or taken for granted, or assumed to have been "borrowed" from European cultures, simply because similar phenomena may be found in them.  The list extends from such familiar things as movement, songs and dance, mode of dressing, forms of associations and family structure, to religious life and folklore.  Professor Ramos insists that the considerable influence of women on social and family life in America is due to the influence of African matriarchal culture.  Music, especially jazz, America's most significant contribution to world culture--besides jeans and Coca-Cola--is a result of African cultural influence.
Even, in the general behavior of all North Americans, what he calls the "Negro stamp" is easily discernible--"Theodore Roosevelt's manner of laughing, the swaying motion of sailors at the New York port, the movement of the hips in the style of Mae West, the typical American camaraderie and sporting attitude to life, are believed by even psychologists and philosophers like Jung and Graf Keyserling to be the result of Negro influence on American life" [Ramos, 1946:  67]. Professor Ramos concludes that "on the surface, we perceive the social picture of Western culture.  However, in the hidden folds of individual comportment, we are able to discern traces that were clearly left by the influence of the Dark Continent."
By Way of Conclusion...
Let me round off this presentation with some pertinent observations as to why bother to identify the Africanisms that underlie African American behavioral patterns today.  DuBois in his pioneering study The Negro American Family (first published in 1908, and quoted by Sudarkasa, 1980) provided part of the answer:
This is not because Negro-Americans are Africans, or can trace an unbroken social history from Africa, but because there is a distinct nexus between Africa and America, which, though broken and perverted, is nevertheless not to be neglected...(DuBois, p. 9)
Why not?  Sudarkasa [1980] observed that although the captive African "people had to adapt to the realities of the savage system of slavery in which they existed,...that did not obliterate the fact of their origin.  If Israelites enslaved in Egypt for centuries could remain Israelites; if diverse European peoples in the twentieth century can still acknowledge cultural survivals from ancient Greece and Rome; I wonder why it is considered preposterous that Africans only a few generations removed from their homelands would show evidence of their cultural roots."
The case is stated succinctly in the foreword to The Negro Impact on Western Civilization [Roucek and Kiernan, 1983]:  "Before the black American can feel he is an American in the same sense that the white man feels he is one, he must first understand his blackness, just as the white man understands his whiteness."  Part of that process of understanding is that he must reconcile himself to his African heritage.  Herskovits [1958:  185] remarked already some four decades ago that "a people without a past are a people without an anchor in the present.  And recognition of this is essential if the psychological foundations of the interracial situation in this country are to be probed for their fullest significance, and proper and effective correctives for its stresses are to be achieved."
However, commenting on the reality of today's Black experience both in the Diaspora and on the original "Dark Continent," Ojo-Ade [op. cit.] observes that "reactionary standpoint is often couched in revolutionary rhetoric.  Subconsciously or otherwise, white superiority is espoused; at least, only a Black fool would doubt in whose hands lies today's real power.  Most importantly, there is no saying when, and if the slavery (cultural slavery that is ) will end.  For now, the hope for a change for the better remains just that, hope against hope, because white superiority and supremacy seem to be sacrosanct."
Nevertheless, let me state this clearly:  The African-American is not--I repeat NOT--a direct descendant of the Greeks or of the Romans, nor of any of the European stocks for that matter.  He, like his brothers and sisters on the continent of Africa and like the others in the Diaspora, is first and foremost, a person of African descent, whose African cultural mores and values, have, of necessity, been influenced and modified through contact to the cultures of Europe, especially to that of the strong Protestant variant to be found in North America.  He, nevertheless, shares this historical distinction with the Chinese, the Japanese, Koreans, Indians, Jews and Arabs, people whose cultures have also come under massive European influence.  We may now ask:  If these and other such people have not totally lost their identity and completely renounced their cultures in favor of those of the Europeans, why is it then that Americans of African origin must lose theirs and renounce their culture, and thereby deny themselves a sense of self?
With our Poet Laureate, I would like to conclude this presentation with his closing lines:
            I'll free my mind
            then my soul
            and the world
            will be my quest.


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© Valentine Ojo