Sociology is a social science that seeks to create the impetus for the utilization of objective standards and views for the review and analysis of concepts and ideas. This include the use of empirically proven methods and theories to examine and critique ideas and pointers. Several approaches and methods are used for the evaluation and analysis of different cultures. The purpose of this paper is to utilize the etic (outsider’s) and emic (insider’s) approach of cultural analysis to evaluate the African-American subculture of the United States of America.
Emic Perspective of the African-American Culture
The emic perspective is to provide an insider’s view on a given culture or system. The emic framework is one that presents the absolute perspective of a given culture and defines what the culture is in its own sense and its own unique features. This involves critiquing and defining what makes a given group what it is and what the group does that makes them what they are. Taking the discussion deeper, it can be said that culture is the way a group of people live and what they do and how they do it becomes the basis for the emic framework of a given group of people.
African-American culture is made up of a number of traditions and practices of the descendants of persons of African origins who came to the United States mainly against their will. This includes a number of cultural practices that can be traced back to Africa and a vast majority of cultural practices that were developed on American soil over the past 200+ years.
African-American culture is rooted in the oral traditions of each family and how the family lived in Africa and how they carried out their activities. Almost every African-American has some kind of tale about how their ancestors moved to the United States because that is the only way each person could trace his origins back to Africa. This is due to the fact that the nature and means through which African-Americans came into the United States was against their will and they were often seized and captured and brought on an uncertain journey. Thus, there are oral traditions that are often based on the fact that most African-Americans’ ancestors were unlettered and they had to find ways of transferring their stories from generation to generation by word of mouth.
The African-American culture is deeply influenced by the activities and processes of slavery. Slavery forced African-Americans to develop a unique dialect of English which is different from native English speakers by way of the fact that it is based on tenses that were constructed due to convenience rather than convention. This is because the ancestors of African-Americans had to find a way of communicating with other people in the New World when they were brought in. Thus, in the process of having to speak within a hostile environment, the African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) which is sometimes called Ebonics developed. It has traces of African languages and has features of words from the Caribbean islands which influenced the way African-Americans speak.
Slavery also shaped an African-American identity through things like songs which were developed as a form of escapism from the challenges of day-to-day life on the slave plantations. This is because the livelihood of most African-Americans were cut off by the fact that they had no rights under American law after independence. Life was based on only one routine – work for plantation owners. Thus, these African-American style of singing were developed as a fundamental means of creating some kind of escapism.
Religiously, African-Americans also developed a different form of Christianity. This is because African-American worldview was based on the African philosophy of carrying out religious activities, focus on miracles and the presentation of strong messages in the AAVE dialect of English. Based on this, many African-Americans are still members of what has become known as Black Churches in America and around the world.
Modernism has had an impact on the African-American cultural identity. For instance, the events of the 20th Century like the Harlem Renaissance caused the African-American identity to be one that was developed to create a new Black American. This is found in the mechanization and modernization of most of the traditional practices of African-American groups. This has culminated in a secular life which includes the development of blues and jazz as a means of modifying the Negro Spirituals of the slave plantations. This has caused African-Americans to retell their stories in different ways and forms that is done with modern systems. Jazz developed further and rap music showed major ideas and concepts.
Liberal African-American cultures developed in New York and other parts of northern United States in the 1950s. This created a system whereby African-Americans created cultures that were close to other Americans. However, African-Americans retained their distinctiveness in terms of religion, maintaining extended family processes, utilization of AAVE as a vernacular, and creating a distinctive African-American literature and lines of business.
Towards the 1970s, African-American culture grew significantly and instead of having a predominantly southern USA influence, African-American expanded to include several minorities like Black Caribbean migrants (Haitians, West Indies and others), Continental Africans, Black Latinos and others. Another significant minority that developed amongst the African-American cultural system were the Black Muslim movements that mainly sought converts in American jails where they targeted all Americans including African-Americans.
African-American culture is now diverse, but based on the adoption of cultures that are common in Africa and the Caribbean like food, clothing and other philosophical views. African-American culture encourages the maintenance of Black businesses which are made up of Black managers and Black investors. There are Black entertainment lines that are often made up of Black musicians (reggae, rap, jazz and blues) and Black actors who act films with a majority Black cast. This has created a distinct identity and culture where AAVE is used as the main lingua franca for interactions and discussions.
Etic Perspective of African-American Culture
An etic perspective of culture is based on an outsider’s view. This provides a relativistic view of the culture from another person’s worldview or understanding of the African-American culture and way of life. This is often done by the examination of the culture from what other people see the culture to be and from there, draw labels and identify the way a culture is and what its features are.
First of all, African-American is equated to Black skinned people in America. Thus, to most people, the idea of being an African-American is that it is a culture for anyone who is in America and has a Black skin. However, this is not true. There is a distinct African-American culture that is different from the culture of a Nigerian or Ghanaian or Senegalese or Bengali or Arab who lives in America. In the etic perspective, there is no separation of the African-American culture from other Black cultures. African-American culture is the same as Black culture.
African-American culture is often viewed in relation to what is shown on the television to the mainstream viewers. The first and observable pointer of the African-American culture is that it is based on a system whereby family values are fundamentally challenged. African-Americans are more likely be born to single mothers. African-Americans are more likely to have families outside wedlock because the nature of the treatment meted out by African-Americans, they have not been allowed to marry and they are almost always likely to be single and not able to marry because of different pressures. This is based on the intertwining of slavery and discrimination with the African-American culture.
Another aspect of African-American culture in the media is the fact that it is depicted as violent and full of crime. This is because most media outlets present nothing about African-Americans but their violence and their crime and poverty. These are things that gain better television ratings and due to that, they are more likely to be shown than other positive aspects of African-American culture. For instance, many people are willing to associate African-Americans with gangster rap and violent gang movies that are shown about African-American communities.
In an etic framework, African-American culture is the adaptation of the White man’s identity to the Black man. This is seen in the form of jazz and the blues which is a modification of classical music in a way that allows African-Americans to enjoy this genre of music. African-American dressing is also viewed as the wearing of old clothes of White Americans and this is a depiction of the economic disadvantage African-Americans suffer in relation to White Americans.
Another view of African-American culture is that it is a protesting culture. This is because African-Americans have had to ask for everything and continue to argue about racism and continue to tell the world about racism and ask for change.
The study has viewed the African-American culture from an emic (absolute) perspective to an etic (relativist) perspective. In the emic sense, African-American culture is influenced by the history of the African-American people. And this culminates in an oral tradition, a unique dialect of English and singing and entertainment forms that are different. This has led to a different form of Christianity and a lifestyle that is modelled on the average American, but interpreted in a unique manner. From an etic sense, the African-American culture is viewed from a safe distance and this includes the view that it is violent, influenced by poverty and crime and is based on broken family structures. African-Americans are seen by outsiders as people who live a variation of White America and have a culture that is based on protesting against racism.
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