The Assimilation of black culture

In this Ebonics thread people were discussing the validity of teaching ebonics in school. Something someone said struck me:

The main thing that seperates other cultures that have an easier time assimilating than black American culture is the cultural history that is missing for most black people in America due to the vicious breeding programs instituted during slavery. Families were sold off piecemeal to avoid the familiarity that could breed rebellion on a plantation, and many people have a hard time reconciling the lack of connection without any access to that ancestral history. Many attempts are made to propagate a ‘black’ culture, they are almost always met with derision. Hip Hop has created a cultural aristocracy to point to as a heritage. Ebonics somewhat does the same thing, and I feel like oftentimes people go straight to the derision of these attempts feeling that it will water down the intelligence of the culture. I don’t think that they are necessarily “Dumb” ideas, more that they are ideas that will be refined as time passes and come into their own, but it makes it harder for these ideas to germinate as they keep being plucked by naysayers who won’t allow programs such as these to grow and be discarded as pointless or create some new field of study, and help form a cultural American identity that has been subliminally denied to Black people through slavery and only recently even beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel when they will receive equal rights as white people. European colonialism was about replacing other cultures with European culture, and now we are starting to mature past that, and we need to experiment with things and help the ideas to mature rather than squash them at first appearance.

I believe that right now is the first time in American history where we are actually attempting to assimilate the population that was kept artificially in a lower caste in what was supposed to be the land of the casteless. It is much easier to build upon a cultural tradition that goes back generations than it is to build upon nothing like a great deal of slaves were forced to do right after they were emancipated.


Sorry, mswas, I can’t make heads or tails of the OP.

Cutting to the chase, there is an African-American culture that overlaps both ways with the larger US culture (i.e., African-American participate in the greater US culture, and non-African-Americans participate to a degree in African-American culture), and I don’t see what the problem is.

My impression is that most African-Americans don’t view themselves as victims and don’t see “Ebonics” as anything problematic or unusual. There was slavery and Jim Crow, but life moves on. African-Americans are ordinary Americans.


What do you mean by “aristocracy?” Do you mean hip-hop’s appropriation of WASP “class”, represented by conspicuous consumerism, in the embracing of Burberry, Bentleys, Cristal, ungodly amounts of gold, silver and diamonds, pinstripe suits, and luxury goods in general?

Personally I see that the so-called black culture not only assimilating, but directly influencing American culture now. Whereas 15 years ago rap music or hip-hop were fringe forms popular mainly with blacks, today it is extremely popular across all racial lines.

I also see hundreds more commercials and advertisements targetted at the black consumer-and not in a degrading way-than I did when I was a kid. Blacks are more and more becoming a very important cross-section of American culture, and I don’t expect that to change at all. Instead, I expect Brown culture to permeate it as well.

Slave-breeding programs? Really? Cite, please.

(I would say the OP was flat-out wrong, but I am having one of those days where everything I type is wrong. So I will just ask for a cite.)

So what were Jazz, Blues, and Mo-Town? Chopped liver?

Not to get into any other part of this, I just wanted to say that in my studies in Afam history, this was presented as a well known fact. Seems obvious, really, given that slaves were a commodity no different than cattle. Family units were not preserved- it was best to keep ‘good stock’ together to produce wothy offspring.

Some cites from a quick google (confirmed by several print sources in my office):

It was especially prevalent in the border states, and Virginia had a reputartion as a center for slave breeding.

That is a huge load of hooey. There were never any slave breeding programs, and slaves were never consider “only” chattel, laws notwithstanding. Virginia was “known” as a slave breeding center only to the extent that it had built up a huge resevoir of black slaves after the revolution due to wholly natural increase. People kept buying them and taking them west to work on newly opened plantations in the new states and territories.

Slave owners certainly encouraged slaves to have children, but it’s not as if they had to force them. Fact is, people tend to have children regardless. Note that your second cite, Stonebow, has a wholly different story than the first. The second is accurate, but it doesn’t say that the owners bred slaves like cattle, but that they enouraged them to have children.

regardless, we can provide a logical proof. Had slaveowners (who were, in that more agricultural time, well aware of how to enlarge a “herd”) actually chosen to do this, we would expect to see a number of plantations in Virginia with a huge disparity between males and females. There would be at least five women for every men. This did not happen on large plantations (it may have on smaller, poorer ones as female slaves did not bring as high a price and so one could purchase more). It would also have been very much frowned upon, religiously.

Those cites were not very authoritative. They seem to pass on ‘everyone knows’ sort of information.

Further given the life spans of human slaves and masters, I do not see how it could work. If I have a bunch of slaves, to breed them like cattle, I would have to sell (or kill) those with undesirable genetic traits and bring in those with favorable traits. I would then cross those two lines to produce superior slave children.

But, if I put all the time, expense and effort to produce a superior slave child, I could not sell that slave until he was old enough to show those traits. That is to say I would be producing products for my own son to sell. Why bother?

Further, could I charge a premium for a premium slave? How, showing off his bloodlines? County slave shows? Four-H programs? Most slave traffic was in a limited local area (the roads were fairly gruesome to begin with). How could I find buyer willing to pay big bucks for my big bucks? (Excuse me, it had to be said.)

Next consider, few slave holders had more than one or two slaves. Certainly you would need some sort of minimal population to run a real breeding program. (Youngsters not ready to breed/sell, a breeding population and some whose traits were still being evaluated.)

Look at the breeding of chickens. They are small animals and have a rapid life-cycle. In a single human life span you can produce a unique chicken, and so people do. (Did you know they have show chickens?) Now look at parrots. They live forever. Few people have more than one. We do breed them in captivity, but not to improve the genetic line, it would just take too long and there are no buyers for a bigger (smarter, tastier) parrot.

(On the other hand, it seems everything I type today is wrong, so consider that too.)

The links that I posted were hastily googled, and I apologize for their somewhat contentious nature. However, as I said, I also referred to
From Slavery To Freedom: A History of African Americans, 7th edition and found much of the same information, backed by contemporary testimony. As I’ve not seen any discrediting of John Hope Franklin’s work, I assume this is more authoritative.

Basically, once the ban on the African Slave trade goes into effect (1808), we see a huge surge in domestic trading. Even before that, the fear of losing a steady supply of slave labor spurred slave breeding as an industry. As Franklin writes:

"there seems to be no doubt that innumerable slaveholders deliberately took to increase the number of saleable slaves by advantageously mating them and by encouraging prolificacy in every possible way. As early as 1796 a South Carolina slaveholder declared that the 50 slaves he was offering for sale were purchased for stock and breeding. In 1832 Thomas R. Drew admitted that Virginia was a “Negro raising state” and that it was able to export 6,000 per year because of breeding. Moncure Conway of Fredericksburg, Virginia, boldly asserted that “the chief pecuniary resource in the border states is the breeding of slaves; and i grieve to say that it is too much ground for the charges that general licentiousness among the slaves, for the purpose of a large increase, is compelled by some masters and encouraged my many.”(p. 115-116)

I’m not arguing that these slave breeders were particularly scientific. But I think they recognized healthy slaves, as well as those that tended to be more fertile and could carry more children to term, and ‘encouraged’ their mating. As these were slaves, I imagine that this ‘encouragement’ was quite persuasive.

Jazz got typed as too intellectual.
Blues doesn’t have enough to do with modern urban life.
Motown was never edgy enough. Too popular.

And none of them ever pretended to a cultural aristocracy. At least not the kind where you surround yourself with luxuries and settle disputes by force.

I don’t think we should typify African Americans as having a seperate culture. A sub-culture, perhaps, but not a distinct culture. After all, blacks in America don’t have a seperate religious faith, language, clothing, or value system. Our similarities are greater than our differences.

Methinks that by suggesting that blacks have a different/seperate culture than that of white America exaggerates the difference between the groups in a harmful sense. It suggests that they are “foreign”, not completely part of America. Instead of focusing on our differences, we should be celebrating *American *culture, to which African Americans have made great contributions.

A fine post Stonebow, thank you.

But to a degree, they do. There certainly are Black dominated churches and denominations. You don’t see a lot of white gospel choirs. There are also a handful of non-christian Black religions with a history in the US. There are clothing styles that originated and are largely worn by Black people, and not just your standard baggy clothes. Since moving to Oakland I’ve seen a huge variety of dress styles that I’ve never seen anywhere else- including neo-African regelia, old men in dapper brown pin stripe suits, hordes of women eating late at night at Denny’s with pastel suits and beautiful elaborate hats (still puzzles me…after some weekday church service, maybe?) The language debate is apparently still raging, with some calling it slang, some calling it a dialect and some calling it another language all together. And we’ve also seen the same debates when it comes to family structures. There is plenty of research showing that African-American family structures have distinguishing attributes (for example, the importance of the Grandmother) that make them often quite different than white family structures.

And why should they have to assimilate away from what is a valid indiginous American culture?

Why would they need to encourage them at all? Breeding was something that slaves did. Slaveowbners certainly looked upon the results as saleable property, but there was no particular overt act to encourage more births beyond what many European coutries use today: material incentives.

Surely you see a difference between a tax break * and the promise of freedom from chattel slavery *?
Your statement that slaves would breed anyway is also quite cavalier- does it make no difference to you whether the person you mate with is your wife/husband or not? The destruction of the family unit- both through family breakups in export or by forced pairing (or at least culling sickly slaves out of the mating pool) is one of the worst, and farthest-reaching, evils of the slave trade.

The destruction of the family unit, both actively and passively is largely what I was referring to, and people being paired in order to produce big offspring that would be good workhorses. Literacy was discouraged. All of these things led to minimal ancestral cultural connection.

Lissa: I wasn’t meaning to seperate black people from American culture in any way. I was referring to the lack of cultural connection to their past. For instance, while I know little about my family history, I can trace my family name back to about 1700 and COULD find out if I so chose.

I am not denigrating any of the great musical cultures other than Hip Hop, and yes Hip Hop is a parody of wasp bourgeois culture in many respects. Many black musicians in the past were very successful, but it’s slightly different from Hip Hop culture in that Hip Hop is creating black corporate moguls, in short it is giving people influence over the economy at a greater level than they previously reached. While Miles Davis influenced modern music more than Puff Daddy ever will, Puff Daddy has a lot more political power than Miles Davis ever did.

In ghetto culture, regardless of ethnicity, rich white men are seen as gangsters, and that gangsters are the ones that hold the keys to power in society. In my opinion this is just a simple truth. Hip Hop culture isn’t doing anything that your average white power broker isn’t doing, it’s only that when it happens in Hip Hop culture it’s a little more blatant, and that’s largely the difference. The Hip Hop moguls gain influence by being perceived as gangsters, whereas the white moguls want to be perceived as more genteel than that, even though Bill Gates is about as gangster as they come.

In my opinion having a venerable tradition to point to is one of the cornerstones of power, as ones reputation can then assimilate the reputation of the venerable institution to which one belongs.

So what was the topic of interest when I started this thread was talking about the attempts at ‘gentrifying’ Black American culture that oftentimes get derided, and why they get derided.

I concur that ‘Ebonics’ is a dialect, but that doesn’t make it unworthy of study. Anything is worthy of study if someone wants to study it, and I see that these programs while sort of crude now may evolve into something much deeper and more elaborate as time goes by, perhaps it is a way to engage a populace that largely feels like they are still being marginalized, and their own personal character is being unrecognized. So while the current crop of Hip Hop moguls might seem crude and barbaric, the next generation will be setup with more power in our society, and they will take it even farther as time goes by hopefully with the end result of enfranchising the disenfranchized.


Yes, there are-- black Muslims, for example, and some imigrants from Africa and other nations bring their faiths with them. But the majority of African Americans are Christians. How they sing or worship has little bearing on it. After all, you wouldn’t call Baptists a seperate “culture” than Episcopalians, would you?

I own an Indian sari and a Japanese kimono. I also own a dress which I bought in a “black” clothing shop which looks African. One of my elderly co-workers belongs to the Red Hat Society, so she wears some big, elaborate hats. Wearing an outfit one day does not necessarily say anything about your cultural background.

Some groups have very distinct clothing. Black Americans wear whatever they please, including “white” clothing and African designs. They do not have a distinct cultural dress like the Amish. That is a group with distinct clothing.

I can’t see how anyone could reasonably claim that it’s a seperate language. Is American English a seperate language from British English? Does a person from the Deep South speak a seperate language from someone from New England?

That still does not qualify as great enough of a difference to deem them a seperate culture. The American family has never had a concrete definition. At different times, family structure and the importance placed on individuals has changed.

Through the years, in various times and places, Christianity has merged with other religions in a variety of ways. For example, in Gautemala, Catholism and ancient Mayan traditions have merged fairly seamlessly, to the point that there are Guetemala specific saints and Mayan cermonies within churches. In other parts of Latin America, Catholism mixed with African traditions and formed the various incarnations of voodoo (many of which are very dependent on saints and other Catholic symbols). In America, evangelical christianity merged with African worship practices and themes of redemption, freedom and humble equality were emphasized. Although these various forms of Chistianity share words and symbols, they emphasize different feelings, different relationships with God, different attributes of God, different concepts of the afterlife, and different roles of the church in the community. Though they may not be “seperate religions” they are certainly culturaly specific forms of a religion.

Incidently, I’ve heard that seeing a genuine Black worship service is a big deal for European tourists in America. Much the same as you or I would seek out a Hindu festival in India or a Fiesta in Latin America. If it is different enough to be a tourist attraction, don’t you think it’s different enough to be culturally specific?

And there are plenty of people in India walking around in jeans. But when I see an Indian lady around here in a sari, I assume it is because of cultural factors and not because she just happened to want to wear a sari instead of a kimino that day.

Having culture specific clothing doesn’t mean every member of your group has to wear it every day and nobody else can ever wear it. It does sometimes convey cultural values (like a muslim hijab) or group identity (like a Amish plain clothes.) Other times, it just happens to be something we picked up from our parents who picked it up from their parents before them. But you arn’t ever going to find a Denny’s full of white ladies in pastel suits and elaborate hats.

No, they are different dialects. AAVE has different grammer structures, different tenses, and some different vocab. It’s like any other creole. Is Hawaiian Pigin just different English? Of course not- it is a creole language with several different roots.

I mean, the definition of the Indian family has changed over time, too. But you arn’t going to find many Anglo-Americans fighting with their parents over their arranged marriages or happily moving in with their in-laws.

Is the OP talking about the assimilation of black culture, or the assimilation of black people?

America as a whole has never had a problem assimilating black culture. Black music, black forms of comedy and theatricality have been hugely popular throughout the Twentieth Century in terms of mass culture, and going back to the Colonial era in terms of folk culture. The standard approach has been to give the black invented cultural form a white face, to avoid the deeply ingrained hatred of black people.
We should also be clear about what we’re discusssing. The existence or non existence of breeding programs is a tangential issue. What really affected black American fortunes in the past was brutal anti black persecution in both the North and South, throughout American history. It wasn’t a question of breeding programs. It was the murder, arson, theft, and ostracism repeatedly directed against black American communities throughout the country.