According to Naylor (1997) when we talk about ethnic identity an examination of a conglomeration of ancestral origin common history, shared behavior patterns, similar religion and language is of central placement. These constituents in Naylors view constitute of the culture of a particular group that is quite distinct from other groups in society thus imperative for us to examine the concept of culture. Culture is a group characteristic that distinguishes a certain class of persons from the rest of living things.
Thermstrom (1980) establishes that it is the primary means by which persons within a certain group adapt to life and as a result culture forms the foundational basis of peoples thought and behavior. We can therefore state that culture is the defining feature of ethnic identity. Cultural groups thus create learn and use culture to respond to the problems within their natural and socio-cultural environment to control and even change them. People therefore use their culture or ethnic identity to respond to both kinds of environment with which they are concerned.
While culture establishes diversity and actually makes all human beings the same it makes them different as each human group creates and develops its own culture designed to respond to particular needs and wants thus influencing the choices made (Naylor, 1997). It is imperative for us to take note these choices relate to the kind of association depicted either within the family or outside the family: with friends such choices also influence our personal self esteem.
Culture is created by cultural groups in response to specific conditions, problems and or limitations that they encounter in the natural environment and socio cultural problems which are often their won creation. It thus serves as a guideline to the living standards required for both the individual and the group forming a solid base for assurance and security that comes with knowing what to expect from other people what to believe and the correct things to be done (Themstrom 1980)
As an African-American the situational context of forced slavery and immigration emancipation and institutionalized segregating the great migration and development of urban ghettos and the introduction of the civil rights movement which resulted in the practice and acknowledgement of civil rights movement which resulted in the practice and acknowledgment of civil rights is what forms the foundation of my culture. As such it greatly influences my personal, cultural and ethnic identity. This is depicted in my interaction with either family members or other persons that fall within the African American category.
I identify with a diverse group because my identity involves race, ethnicity or other social categories such as gender. To lay emphasis on my interpretation of identity within the African-American context it is imperative to bring out the fact that African Americans constitute of diverse cultural groups, their differences being grounded on education, occupation, religion, generation, gender, sexual orientation and their residential place being either urban rural or within the suburban area.
My participation within the community is also more skewed towards the furtherance of civil rights movement as it involves contribution and membership. In organizations such as the Urban League or the National association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which if I may point out is geared towards the promotion of equal opportunities policies for African-Americans. The fact that I am a female gender my participation and involvement in womens rights organizations is of high standing. It is also occasion by the structure of my family which is a single family that is as a result of divorce.
(2) The four historical time periods combined: force immigration and slavery, emancipation and institutionalized segregation, the great migration and development of urban ghettos and the civil rights movement of the twentieth century provide valuable insight into the African-American group identity (Thernstrom, 1980). Naylor (1997) lays emphasis on this preposition and states that the violent removal of Africans from the West coast and central Africa which was followed by the life of chattel slavery was the foundational basis of African American culture.
Back in the 1950s skin color and other physical characteristics such as linguistic and cultural differences formed the foundational basis of prejudice and discrimination amongst the blacks and whites (Nash, 1989). The various forms of discrimination that were afforded to the blacks were based on overgeneralized use of stereotype that were learned and therefore connoting an action of passing this practice to next generations.
As such the various forms of discrimination practice either within ethnic groups or outside ethnic group are negative exaggerations or distortions of groups or individuals in relation to their social class and gender (Naylor, 1997). Thus ethnic relations and in this case within my family setting have glass as well as gender dimensions. In the context of my family relations gender divisions cut across ethnic lines for example, poor African-American women faced discrimination on the basis of gender in that they were subjected to surrogacy and unemployment.
These ethnic patterns as established by Thernstrom (1980) are a product of land historical processes. He establishes that while the founding fathers established the concept of inanielable rights, on the other hand the African-Americans were viewed not viewed as human beings and therefore possessed no such rights. As a result slavery was practiced which was an extreme form of discrimination. It was accepted by the founding fathers as legitimate especially in the South through other forms of discrimination in the North and the West such as exclusion were widely practiced.
The act of slavery led to the civil war which resulted in the freeing of slaves. However, despite this freedom this did not resolve the problem of exclusion of the African-Americans from full participation in American activities (Naylor, 1997) with rights equal to those of other Americans. It instead led to the creation of so called Jim Crow laws that perpetuate the separate but equal doctrine. It is this same concept of separate but equal doctrine that is reflected in ethnic groups.
With specific reference to my family relation the separate but equal doctrine that is practiced and has resulted to social classes based on education, level of a person, religion and the amount of riches one has that has occasioned differences within my family setting and at large erosion of cultural identity. (3) As established in the previous section, exclusionary practices are what formed the foundational basis of American practices in the historical times. This led to the exclusion and discriminatory practices towards all the African-Americans.
It was event then that to be an oppressive ethnic group and as such was on the giving end. However, today the African-American culture is greatly complicated because of the changing nature of majority and minority relations (Nash, 1989). Nash establishes that these horizontal cultural changes are brought by a significant increase of the non-white population in the society. The Drastic change is also facilitated by the assimilation doctrine which is to the effect that ethnic minorities should aim to become like those who are in control and should therefore aspire to control the major institutions of such a society (Thernstrom, 1980).
This in my view is because these institutions define the cultural values and beliefs to be emulated by majority of cultural groups this is rampart today because of intermingled relations. For example it is established that a black woman who serves as a house help for whites is better placed to understand their employers better and thus this leads to the mergence of cultural values in the course of interaction. On the other hand, the concept of assimilation is not accepted with the African-American community.
It is viewed that this doctrine or concept disregards the underlying features of ethnic identity (Thernstorm, 1980). To lump together millions of blacks culture into one that would relate with that of dominant class is to ignore the distinctive variety of African-Americans ethnic experiences (Naylor, 1997). Thus the assumption of homogeneity ideally distorts the very essence of culture and ethnic identity. Moreover, todays practices tend to assume that all African Americans occupy the same level in society.
It is therefore imperative for us to note that while ethnic identity is a fruit of birth it is also a fruit of experience that this experience is what shapes ethnic identity which is merged with tradition and the perception of group identity.
Thernstrom S & Olov A (1980) Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Harvard University Press Naylor L (1997) Cultural Diversity in the United States, Greenwood Publishing Groups Nash M (1989) The Cauldron of Ethnicity in the Modern World; University of Chicago