The Identity Of African Americans

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the year of 1619, slavery was introduced. It was the largest oppressive legal structure in American History. With the end of the Civil War in 1865, many African Americans

in the South began to dream of integration in American society, including political empowerment, equal economic opportunity, and economic and cultural self-determination.

While African Americans tried to rise from the ashes of enduring slavery, there were still obstacles that they had to overcome. They still had to endure prejudice and racism. White lawmakers on state and local levels passed strict racial segregation laws known as “Jim Crow laws”. While a small number of African Americans were able to become landowners, most were exploited as sharecroppers, a system designed to keep them poor and powerless (Smithsonian). Hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) perpetrated lynchings and conducted campaigns of terror and intimidation to keep African Americans from voting or exercising other fundamental rights (Smithsonian). The dramatic historical changes that have occurred over the past 400 years are significant chronosystem changes with important implications for the development of African Americans. All of the struggle and peril that African Americans faced has left a permanent scar on their heritage and feelings about themselves and other people around them. The issue that we are still faced with to this day is identity. Identity is the fact of being who or what a person or thing is (Dictionary). A lot of African Americans don’t know who they are, so in return, they don’t know how to feel about other people. This is a major problem in the African American community. They are raised in a constant search of finding their purpose and calling in life. A lot of black people don’t know what their calling in life is, so they may do things that hurt themselves and other people around them. This is why we see so much black-on-black crime. Black people are still carrying the scars of their past and are still held in the bondage that held them down. The lack of identity allows for doubt and insecurity to set in. African American’s identity crisis is a great topic to go in-depth in.

The struggles of identity have helped perpetuate generational cycles that are prevalent in the African American community. Many black men and women don’t have a sense of purpose. That is why we see following the norms and succumbing to peer pressure. Black men in poverty-stricken neighborhoods succumb to the street and crime life because that is all that they know. After all, it is all that they see. They may not have a solid foundation within their homes and need to seek validation from some source. Many black men and women are desperate for acceptance, so they may find it in places that are not necessarily good for them. This is why we see a large number of blacks in jail because of the lack of identity and purpose. When your identity is established, you will have a solid path to go down and you won’t need validation from external sources because you know what your goal is.

Another negative component of identity is the colorism bias. Skin color in the African American community is one of the most important attributes. African Americans use skin tone variations to distinguish themselves from each other, reflecting social status hierarchies (Celious & Oyserman, 2001) This problem stems back from the days of slavery. Your color dictated how you were treated by the slave masters. In American history, slavery constituted a strict caste system that distinguished Black slaves by their skin tones. Lighter-skinned slaves were usually mixed-raced and favored by White slave-owners. These lighter-skinned slaves were frequently fathered by White slave-owners (typically from nonconsensual sexual relations with female slaves) and were, therefore, privileged; unlike dark slaves, lighter-skinned slaves were spared physically strenuous, outdoor work and instead held domestic indoor jobs like housekeeping in closer contact to Whites (Brown, Ward, Lightbourn, & Jackson, 1999). Over time, the lighter-skinned blacks began to bask in their status and they started to be able to get educated and own property. Darker-skinned blacks were still relegated to working in the fields and being treated horribly. The effects of this colorism are unsurprisingly being felt today. In some African American circles, there is disdain towards lighter-skinned people because they feel as if they are put upon a pedestal. There is still a belief that they are still being treated better in society than darker-skinned blacks. Whether it is true or not, colorism is affecting all generations of blacks. Dr. Kenneth Clark created a “doll test” to gauge the self-esteem of African-American children. He found that many children had self-esteem issues because when it came down to choosing a doll, they didn’t choose the dark-skinned doll, but they chose the white doll. This goes along with the belief that there is a bias against dark-skinned women and light-skinned people are held in higher regard. Many dark-skinned people feel as if they are proud of their own skin. People sometimes make fun of dark-skinned people by calling them “burnt” or things of that nature. That’s why we see so many accusations of people bleaching their skin. Some people don’t want to have darker skin and they get lighter skin so that they can more light skin and closer to their white counterparts. Skin color is a large component of identity disorder. There are black people of different shades. It doesn’t matter what color you are. As long as you accept yourself for who you are, you will succeed.

Although African American identity has seen many struggles, there are positive aspects of identity. After the Civil War, blacks were trying to find their identity and a way to shine in a country that doesn’t want them. The Great Migration happened and many blacks began to integrate into more culturally tolerant cities such as Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, etc. The Great Migration helped spawned one of the most important times in African American history, The Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance encompassed poetry and prose, painting and sculpture, jazz and swing, opera and dance. What united these diverse art forms was their realistic presentation of what it meant to be black in America, what writer Langston Hughes called an “expression of our individual dark-skinned selves,” as well as a new militancy in asserting their civil and political rights (Smithsonian). There wasn’t a better time in American history to want to identify yourself as black. Some of the greatest African American contributors were of that time such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Zora Neale Hurston, Louis Armstrong, etc. During that time, cities were thriving with African Americans-owned and ran publishing houses and nightclubs. The literature, music, and fashion they created defined culture and it was acceptable for African Americans of all kinds, even whites.

Being black in the modern era is still a challenge because race relations are still not great, but it is easier than ever to be yourself and be happy about being black. Hip hop is one of the biggest driving forces of modern-day media. Everyone knows the hottest rappers. They are always usually African-American. Black culture is one-hundred percent in style right now. All races of people are rocking fashion ideas innovated by black people. With people like Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce who promote black culture and loving your black self, being black is at an all-time high. Most people are now proud of being black than ever before. Black Panther (2018), a Marvel superhero movie that had a black director and predominantly black cast, was a major milestone for African American culture. The movie grossed over 1.3 billion dollars worldwide. That was an accomplishment and it shows that there is nothing wrong with black people and them embracing their culture. Black culture is alive and well. The identity of black people is better than it has ever been and at this rate, it will be getting better.

African Americans indeed have it hard in society. Just by being born black, you will have to grow through perils and prejudice that many other people will never have to go through in their life. It is easy for you to want to hate yourself and wonder why you were born black. This is the case a lot of the time. Black people are angry at the world because they do not like themselves. Black on Black crime is prevalent because of this hatred. If someone doesn’t love themselves, how can you expect them to love you? This hatred is brought down through generations and no one understands why it is there. The answer is simple, Identity. If you embrace your identity as a black person and you are proud of your skin and your heritage, then there is nothing in this world that can stop you from being what you want to be. Of course, it won’t be easy. Instead of looking at the negatives of being black, look at the positives of being black. Find the good. “It’s all around you. Find it, showcase it and you’ll start believing in it.”, Jesse Owens. Believe in yourself and you’ll actualize into something that you didn’t know you could be. Look at your heritage and see what your ancestors went through and see how you have it now. We can accomplish the same things that any other race can. We will have to fight for it. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”– Harriet Tubman 


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