Shiraev & Levy (2013) defines culture as, “A set of attitudes, behaviors, and symbols shared by a large group of people and usually communicated from one generation to the next” (p.3). I consider myself to be a part of the African-American culture, although I am biracial. I am half Caucasian, and half African-American, but since I was raised only by the African-American side of my family, I primarily identify myself as being African-American. A large part of the African-American culture as a whole is the role Christianity has been valued in the culture, going back to the days of slavery.
There are a multitude of aspects to African-American culture. There are certain types of foods that I was raised on, different types of music that I enjoyed during my upbringing, and different display rules that were enforced within my family. Growing up, I was raised on what we called soul food, and some examples of that are cornbread, collard greens, black eyed peas, fried chicken, catfish, etc… I was also raised to enjoy various types of music ranging from gospel and jazz to hip hop and rap music. The different types of music go back to the slavery time period. Goffman (2010) states, “Separated from their languages and history, African Americans somehow managed to preserve something of their culture through the only medium available to them: music, originally limited to voice and rhythm (with an assist from the banjo, derived from African instruments), and closely associated with dance” (para.3). The love of music has transformed and spread throughout the African-American culture. Growing up, I was always told to not be associated with the wrong crowd, or to be in the wrong place in the wrong time because I am half black. Culturally, it has been spread that it is difficult to trust the police and to always be suspicious of racial profiling. I think a lot of the distrust stemmed from past experiences that my grandmother went through personally and witnessed growing up, and as a result she passed that down to her children and grandchildren. On a larger scope, a lot of people that I have met within my culture have also been stated that they have been raised to distrust policemen and people in positions of power.
The custom that is significant to African-American culture that still currently exists is family reunions. It is significant in encouraging family cohesiveness, and also helps the older generation pass down customs and traditions from younger generations. Throughout my lifetime, there have been three family reunions (one on my grandmother’s side of the family and two from my grandfather’s side of the family). Each time I attended a family reunion it was an uplifting and life changing experience for me because I got to talk to relatives that I rarely get to see, and learn from older members in my family. McCoy (2011) states, “Family reunions are important rituals that have long contributed to the survival, health, and endurance of African American families, helping to maintain cultural heritage even in uncertain and turbulent times” (para.1). Family reunions are typically a time where the family comes together and observes how far they have come as a family, and celebrate life as well.
My culture would maintain this tradition from an evolutionary perspective because it would help strengthen the African-American family. Sciraev & Levy (2013) declares, “According to the natural selection principle, described by Charles Darwin, some organisms-due to various, primarily biological, reasons-are more likely to survive than others” (p.13). Considering the adversity that was faced culturally, family reunions were a positive way to build and encourage familial ties, and strengthen and encourage the youth. Older generations wanted to see slavery end so that the younger generations could receive educational and career opportunities that they never had during that time. In the African-American culture, we wanted to remain strong through adversity and enable ourselves to adapt to change. The evolutionary theory states that the strong has the better chance to survive than the weak, and family reunions were used as a positive coping mechanism to keep the African-American culture strong.
My culture would maintain this tradition from a sociocultural standpoint because they are in similar social class structures. Whereas there may be some within the culture that obtains a different social class structure, the practice of family reunions as a whole are maintained because they still the same social status in common. I am not trying to stereotype and say that everyone that attends family reunions are in the same social class, but it is a common bond that holds the culture together. According to the ecological approach, family reunions are used as a mechanism to encourage economic and cultural stability. Older individuals usually pass down their inherited knowledge to younger generations so that they can be successful and help improve the culture as a whole.
Two ways that the theoretical approaches might be similar are that the evolutionary and ecological approaches both encourage strength and stability regarding the use of family reunions. However, the evolutionary approach differs in that it is looking at survival from a biological standpoint. The sociocultural approach is similar to the ecological approach in that the ecological approach acknowledges that financial factors may play a role in the culture as a whole. However, the sociocultural standpoint considers that people in that culture are similar because they are in related circumstances, so they would get along and relate to each other conversing in a family reunion. The ecological approach looks more on how the economic factors influence the culture’s circumstances.
In conclusion, the approach that best helps me understand the custom is the evolutionary approach because I can see how family reunions were used to help strengthen the African-American culture, and make sure the culture survived even through severe hardship. They believe that the strong is more likely to survive than the weak, and taught us how to adapt to extenuating circumstances. This week, I got to analyze my culture and the custom of family reunions. Before this assignment, I took it for granted that family reunions are normal and just a part of life. However, what is considered a norm for me may not be a norm for another culture. I also got to define and really think about the term culture and what it really means.
Goffman, E. (2010). From the Blues to Hip Hop: How African American Music Changed U.S. Culture and Moved the World. Proquest. Retrieved from: http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/aamusic/review.pdf
McCoy, R. (2011). African American Elders, Cultural Traditions, and the Family Reunion. ASA. American Society on Aging. Retrieved from: http://www.asaging.org/blog/african-american-elders-cultural-traditions-and-family-reunion