Homework Help

Why didn't American slaves develop a distinct culture?Why didn't American slaves...

user profile pic

questionandan... | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:09 AM via web

dislike -1 like
Why didn't American slaves develop a distinct culture?

Why didn't American slaves develop a distinct culture?

9 Answers | Add Yours

user profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:14 AM (Answer #2)

dislike 0 like

I do not really agree with the premise of this question.  Most history books emphasize that slaves did, indeed, develop a culture of their own.  They emphasize how slave music, especially, expressed this culture of their own and how that even ended up influencing the culture of the slaves' masters.

To the extent that they did not develop a distinct culture, it would be because they were constantly being influenced by and interacting with the white people who lived around them.  Because their culture and those of the whites interacted, the slave culture would not become totally distinct.  Instead, you can argue, the slave and white cultures developed together and were too closely intertwined to be able to be separate.

user profile pic

missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:37 AM (Answer #3)

dislike 0 like

I would add two other relevant perspectives to your question. I agree that they did develop culture as the answer above suggests, but if they had come over as families of their own accord things would certainly have been different.

Slaves were separated from their family members. Slaves had been ripped from the cultures they knew in the terrain they knew. There would have obviously been generations of pain and hurt. If you have ever met or been a depressed person, you would probably agree that persons with these feelings are low-functioning; there is almost no motivation. It took years for these folks to stand up for themselves to even present a distinct culture of their own.

Immigrants go through a period of assimilation that lasts about a generation. The parents bring their children to America. The parents maintain life the way they did in their previous countries: foods, language, habits. The children grow among the new land and new language and often assimilate their parents as much as possible to the new place. The parents and children often create a new culture that combines the old with the new. With families separated during slavery and with no allowed connection to their old world, none of these regular factors of developing culture were available to them.

user profile pic

jacobjinglheimer | Student, Grade 11 | eNoter

Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:39 AM (Answer #4)

dislike 0 like

They actually did develop a distinct culture.

They created various songs and music, along with stories, atleast one of which probably appears in your American Lit. book. Along with that, because of their inability to marry in the eyes of the law, the tradition of jumping the broom was created. Something that could also be considered a distinct part of their culture.

 

I'm sure some digging on Google would help you find much more.

user profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 19, 2010 at 12:14 PM (Answer #5)

dislike 0 like

Their culture was absolutely distinct, and it was developed under the crushing weight of slavery, and in the worst of conditions.  Their language, a long term mixture of English, African dialects, Caribbean languages and others remains distinct to this day.  Their family culture , developed in the midst of ongoing personal tragedies, nevertheless survived.

A unique form of Christianity for the time, viewing Christ as liberator of slaves everywhere, emerged under the very noses of plantation owners.  And music designed as both a means of communication and celebration evolved from southern slave culture and has had a huge effect on American musical history, past and present.

user profile pic

Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 19, 2010 at 12:37 PM (Answer #6)

dislike 0 like

Anything called a "distinct culture" refers to a set of customs, mannerisms, traditionalism, religious influences, dietary preferences, social expectations, and diverse needs that are grouped separately form the culture of the social or ethnic group with the most members in the majority.

Saying hat the slaves did NOT develop uniquely and distinctively would be the same as ignoring that they are the pioneers on a myriad of influential aspects of the American culture such as their songs, their rhythms, their poetry, their unique histories, their food and diet, their accents and jargon, dialects, and unique lexicon (blended with American English).

So, saying that American slaves did not develop a distinct culture is as reductionist as saying that Hispanics nor Asians have not conserved their uniqueness within our country.

user profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 19, 2010 at 5:08 PM (Answer #7)

dislike 0 like

I would agree with the previous thoughts.  Who says they didn’t?  I think that a strong argument could be made that suggests that slaves did have their own culture and their own identity while in bondage.  Languages such as Gullah were developed as a way for slaves to communicate.  The use of spirituals helped to establish both a means to articulate a shared experience and also a hidden form of code to conceal from slave masters.  Moments like Nat Turner’s rebellion and other slave uprisings represent a culture of solidarity that formed on the plantation.  At the same time, a culture amongst slaves was highly evident in the most fundamental way in that suffering was something that was shared.  No slave had it “easy, “and all slaves, to varying extents, understood what struggle and perseverance resembled while living on the plantation.  In the end, the experience of being slaves did develop aspects of culture and helped to bring identity into a shared and common experience.

user profile pic

geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted September 19, 2010 at 6:47 PM (Answer #8)

dislike 0 like

American slaves who lived on large plantations did develop a distinct culture.  The ones who lived on small farms or were otherwise somehow isolated from a community of their fellow slaves, may not have.  Most slaves did not live on large plantations, but a good number did.

They came to America with very few possessions, just "carry-on luggage," but they brought their memories and their habits, so they brought their culture. It was altered in America and in turn it altered the white culture, but they remained distinct, at least wherever there were enough slaves to have a community.

Lawrence W. Levine in his Black Culture and Black Consciousness, is only one of several treatments of slave culture.  Another addresses the peculiar form of slave religion, Christianity with an African twist and with a twist that derived from being enslaved instead of free.

Blassingame's The Slave Community; Sterling Stuckey's Slave Culture; Lawrence Levine's Black Culture and Black Consciousness; Eugene D. Genovese's Roll Jordan Roll are a few other titles on this subject.

user profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 22, 2010 at 9:21 PM (Answer #9)

dislike 0 like

I agree--American slaves did develop a distinct culture.  It was made up, of course, of the traditions, music, and history they brought with them along with the new practices and realities of this foreign world they found themselves part of so dramatically.  We have music, the Negro spiritual, which is unique to this group of people at this specific time in our history.  We have written documentation in the form of diaries and journals, as well as first-hand accounts in other forms which outline for us the unique rites and rituals of this group of people.  They had customs and practices which united them, despite their regional, economic, and geographical differences. That says distinct culture to me.

Lori Steinbach

user profile pic

lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted October 26, 2010 at 4:59 PM (Answer #10)

dislike 0 like

I would also have to say that the American slaves did develop their own distinct culture. If you look at their influence on music after the end of slavery you will find an example of this. Also their influence on American cuisine would also indicate a distinct culture.

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes