Sunday, February 17, 2008

European Americans and African Americans

The internet and talk radio have broken the monopoly of the big networks on shaping and reflecting public opinion. The downside of this is that a lot of ideas in the market place have not been road tested. Like shopping in a flea market, you get burned a couple of times, and in the process get an education and some quality merchandise.
Third political parties and fringe political groups have contributed a great deal to the American political mainstream. Sound ideas such as women's suffrage and racial equality once belonged to groups in the political outfield. Thinking Democrats and Republicans reached the reasonable conclusion that those who believe in ending segregation should not have to go to the Communist Party or similar groups to work for such a self evidently reasonable goal. In the last century, child labour laws and a cap on the work week for adults were sensibly co-opted by the Democrats and Republicans. This process is part of what keeps the American people happy with a two party system, instead of a multi-party parliamentary smorgasbord of political parties.
Now with the internet, the splinter parties have a national audience. Rather than view this as a threat, I think that it is an opportunity to advance and defeat ideas with logic and facts rather than name calling.
A question asked by "white power" activists sounds very reasonable. If Blacks can have Black pride and African- American pride, why can't whites have white pride and European American pride? I believe this question deserves to be understood as a sincere one. The question itself overlooks certain critical facts.
Most Europeans who came to America did so voluntarily. Even the those who came to the Georgia colony as prisoners and others who came to the thirteen colonies as indentured servants kept their names and retained their family ties. Additionally, they eventually regained their freedom and most importantly, their servitude was not hereditary.
Most Africans who came to America up until the Civil War were taken from Africa against their will. Unlike whites, they were not allowed family Bibles or other artifacts that might have attested to their lineage. The maintenance of extended families was not even attempted. Indeed, husbands, wives and children were often cruelly separated. The imposition of European names served to totally obscure the lineage of the African slaves. In Brazil by contrast, slaves tended to be sold in larger lots. It is for this reason that the Yoruba language of Nigeria still survives in Brazil today.
Most whites can construct a family tree that does not stop at the gang plank of a slave ship. European Americans can point to a multitude of languages and dialects as the heritage of their individual families. Africa has many languages and cultures, but connecting one's family to any one country or region in Africa involves painstaking detective work that is seldom neccesary in European American families.
The blues musical scale and lyrical structure is directly traceable to the region around Mali. Some Hispanic and West Indian musical forms come from other parts of Africa far removed from the birthplace of blues music. There are basket weavers in South Carolina whose complex handiwork is identical to baskets woven by their distant relatives in Ghana. Haitian Creole and some American dialects still spoken by some African Americans contain African words that one can still recognise. D.N.A. offers some additional promise of reconstructing a heritage.
African American History is an essential facet of American history. There are special challenges in its telling and its reconstruction. European Americans have the blessing of ties to specific countries. I am able to trace much of my outlook to the experience of my ancestors in Germany, Hungary and Croatia. The term" European American" is too vague for me to understand myself and how I relate to the past in facing the future.
A language, a faith and a family tree point to who I am today. The outline of a continent and the colour of my skin leave too much undefined, too many questions unanswered.
However complex the family tree of the world's peoples might be , the tradition of my faith is that we are created by G-d with a potential and a mission.
The advocates of "white pride" and "European pride" have posed interesting questions. I have for the sake of discussion imputed to them the presumption of intellectual honesty. To me, their questions are not rhetorical but real and necessary. I hope I have answered them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A lot of African Americans are not pure-blooded African Americans, although this probably occurred after coming to the western hemisphere.