Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Curious Sitkoff Reference

On the first page of The Struggle For Black Equality the author states the following:

Nourished by anger, revolutins are born of hope. They are the offspring of belief and bitterness, of faith in the attainment of one's goals and indignation at the limited rate and extent of change. Rarely in history are the two stirrings confluent in a sufficient force to generate an effective, radical social movement. They would be so in African America in the
. (emphasis mine)
I find the reference to "African America" to be quite interesting and I am wondering what the author's intention is here. Sitkoff could have referred to the black Americans within the South during the 1960's or to the United States more generally. The latter would set up the civil rights movement as a struggle that ultimately shaped its national identity. The reference to Africa seems to imply a distinct community along political, legal, and cultural lines. Perhaps the author is implying an "otherness" when referencing black Americans. My concern, however, is that this oversimplifies the complex relations that existed between black and white Americans. Sitkoff clearly demonstrates that Jim Crow laws resulted in the disfranchisement of the largest percentages of black Americans from participating in the political process, but the political and legal consequences do not necessarily imply (if I am interpreting him properly) an "African America." Black and white still understood themselves in relationship to one another; the relationship is symbiotic. I say this in full acknowledgment of Marcus Garvey's agenda and later Malcolm X's call for black Americans to rediscover their African roots.


jack rossi said...

The term also implies that slave descendants all had African roots. Were not some slaves also from other parts of the world (e.g., West Indies)? I presume the vast majority of slaves were indeed from Africa, but what was the actual percentage? Is it known?

Kevin said...

You are absolutely right on that point Jack. It also presumes that black Americans identified themselves in part as African. Clearly there were groups at different times and places who maintained some kind of connection, but most slave cultures in British North America by the mid-17th century had evolved into a distinct African-American culture.