Author : Gerald Early
“When Africans arrived in the New World as indentured servants and slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries, they were entering an alien world. The languages, religious beliefs, kinship practices, dress, food, and cosmic and moral philosophy of Europeans were significantly different from what Africans were used to, to how they saw the world, to what they felt their traditions were. Yet this New World was not so alien; otherwise the entire enterprise of chattel slavery would have collapsed, as Africans would never have adapted at all. Africans were used to agricultural work and the tasks of farming; many had abilities as artisans and could work well with tools; they were not as susceptible to European diseases as Native American groups.
There has been continued debate since the 1940s, when Jewish anthropologist Melville Herskovits and black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier first started the argument about how much African culture was stripped away from Africans in the process of being transformed to a new class people in the United States. (Frazier argued that blacks had been entirely stripped of their African cultural background; Herskovits argued that blacks retained a number of significant Africanisms.) Part of this concern about African sources and origins that has arisen most intensely since World War II has been psychological and political, for as Ralph Ellison observed, “The white American has charged the Negro American with being without past or tradition (something which strikes the white man with a nameless horror), just as he himself has been so charged by European and American critics with a nostalgia for the stability once typical of European cultures.” ”
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