Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

African Americans as

minority ( ± immigrant?)

African Americans as minority

African Americans did not immigrate voluntarily like traditional immigrants.

African Americans coming to the New World found not freedom and opportunity but slavery (for two and a half centuries).

Intermarriage is a key institution for immigrant assimilation. Intermarriage between blacks and whites was illegal in much of USA until 1960s. Black and white intermarriage remains substantially lower than intermarriage between settler / dominant culture whites and immigrants.


African American experience in USA: 250 years of slavery, 100 years of legal segregation, 50+ years of legal desegregation & unofficial resegregation.

Slavery lasted app. 250 years.

Legal segregation lasted another 100 years (separate & unequal schools, voting restrictions, last hired-first fired, excluded from professions, bans against black-white intermarriage)

In effect, assimilation of African Americans to the USA's Dominant Culture was actively discouraged or legally prohibited. (e.g., separate schools, neighborhoods, bans on intermarriage).

Complete legal equality has existed for only 1-2 generations

Biggest historical drag on African Americans: lack of capital or wealth development—slaves were forced to work their whole lives for the wealth and profit of others, without profit or savings for themselves or their children. (African American incomes have risen since somewhat since the 1960s, but the wealth gap between blacks and whites remains enormous. Even if )

Immigrants had opportunity to work, profit, accrue capital, wealth, property. (Many didn't profit; others got more than their share from work by slaves and poor whites)


Unofficial segregation continues:

Official segregation is illegal, but segregation has been largely re-established through geographic and economic separation. (white flight, economic inequality, private-schools, bible academies, and home-schooling movements)

Public schools are more segregated now than in the 1960s.

Higher education: lower taxes on wealthy > decreasing state support. Higher tuitions benefit wealthier students, burden poorer students with debt or drop-out.

Red states restrict voting by minorities. (Shorter voting hours, picture IDs)

Black and white intermarriage rates lag behind rates of other interracial marriage generally.

Blacks (and Hispanics) were disproportionately the victims of the Subprime Mortgage Crisis leading to the Great Recession of 2007-2008. These victims of predatory lending often lost their homes and their families' entire savings while lenders received bonuses and additional tax cuts.

African American income averages only 60% of White income, and African American wealth is only 10% of White wealth (i.e., property, stocks, other investments).

(Conservative Whites will blame the last item on laziness or welfare, but the largest cause of the wealth-gap is the 250 years African Americans worked for the profits and investments of Whites instead of for themselves. Blacks may rise in income level but still not have family wealth like houses, stocks, insurance policies to fall back on.)

See selection from Barack Obama, Dreams from my Father

African Americans as immigrants? > domestic or internal migrants

In limited ways some individual and collective relocations by African Americans imitate aspects of the immigrant narrative:

Slaves escaping from South to North gained greater freedom and some rights of citizenship, though discrimination prevailed in housing and marriage arrangements.

"Exodusters": after Emancipation, African American families and communities founded all-black towns in Kansas and in Oklahoma territory (also Florida?)

The Great Migration of African Americans from rural South to Northern cities, late 1800s through mid-1900s for industrial work and service-related jobs.

Military service, a traditional path to assimilation, rights, and economic improvement for minorities, pulls African Americans away from original communities to larger world with potentially less racism, encourages racial mixing, leads to higher rates of racial intermarriage. (The USA's Armed Forces were desegregated in 1948, before school desegregation began in the 1950s and 60s.)

See also Afro-Caribbean immigrants, New World Immigrants of African descent who do immigrate to the United States but share minority experiences of past slavery and, upon arriving in the USA, are often lumped with African Americans and limited in assimilation via intermarriage (but also with significant exceptions and differences).

(These are all potential research topics for American Immigrant Literature students interested in studying African American literature, history, or culture.)

Africans as immigrants? (e.g. Dr. Rose Ihedigbo, from Sandals in the Snow (IV2 149-172))

Africans who immigrate to the USA are not uniformly counted as "African Americans," a term that may be reserved to Americans descended from enslaved Africans.

Instead African immigrants may be called Nigerian-Americans, Kenyan-Americans, etc., but this naming situation is new and fluid. American Africans?

African immigration to USA was almost non-existent until late 20th century.

Why so little African immigration till recently?

American legal discrimination against African Americans meant immigrant narrative couldn't work for Africans.

Also African overpopulation is unprecedented in world history—overpopulation drives immigration throughout history

By some measures—educational attainment, family stability, generational progress—African immigrants are currently among the USA's most successful immigrants, a potential "Model Minority."

Many African immigrants maintain their family religions, whether Christian or Muslim, along with traditional gender roles, which may lead to family stability (a quality of Model Minorities" or "Ideal Immigrants."

African immigrants sometimes speak British or Commonwealth English, potentially giving their speech prestige beyond that of other Americans.

Also, African Christians are often more evangelical than white evangelicals, providing connections to USA's dominant culture.

(As above, African immigrants are potential research topics for American Immigrant Literature students interested in studying African American literature, history, or culture.)

African Americans as definitive minority group

African Americans define how Americans think of minority groups. Why or how?

Historical nearness to dominant culture compared to American Indians & Mexican Americans. (Latter groups had communities to escape to, hide in; with a few exceptions, blacks lived at least somewhat connected to white communities.)

Early acquisition of literacy (despite laws against); African Americans were first minority voices and texts to be published. (1700s) (Literacy as essential entry to dominant culture)

Most long-lasting and powerful non-mainstream literary tradition: slave narratives, the Harlem Renaissance, mid-20c novels, late-20c African American women's writing

Abolition and Civil Rights Movements stimulate or model other liberation movements:

1840s-60s: Movement to abolish slavery inspires early American women's movements.

1960s-70s: Civil Rights Movement models protest and civil disobedience campaigns by American Indians, Mexican Americans, women, LGBTQ, & even dominant-culture whites who claim to be "victimized" or "discriminated against" by Affirmative Action, political correctness, etc.

1970s Roots on black African heritage inspires various immigrant and minority groups to rediscover or reclaim pride in ethnic traditions and values.

Shoulc African Americans as a minority give up resistance to assimilation?

For the minority group:

Advantages to African American assimilation: Possible socio-economic advances from attending white-majority schools, "learning the language" and joining networks of well-connected people with resources; access to middle-class benefits and safety-net; detachment from needy relatives or

Disadvantages to African American assimilation: African Americans attempting to assimilate  to dominant culture may find themselves caught between two groups without a home, trust, or complete acceptance in either.

For the dominant culture:

Advantages to African American assimilation: Opportunity to forget the past and one of "America's original sins"; resolution of major issues of equality that repeatedly challenge American ideals and practices of equality, freedom, etc.

Disadvantages to African American assimilation: Along with gay men, African Americans are "style leaders" for American culture (dress, hair styles, slang, music, dance).

Conformity, plainness, social insularity and traditionalism of 1950s dominant culture (i.e., good old days, MAGA) owed largely to legal segregation.

African American writers and artists see American culture more directly and clearly than the USA's dominant culture, which must ignore conflicts to maintain ideals?

Instructor's resolution: Think less of African American culture as a problem to be solved as one to be examined, worked with. Any "problem" is inherent in our nation's creation, particularly expansion and prosperity due to slavery, so if the issue is a problem, it's one in which both sides are involved, though one side obviously enjoys far more power at the expense of the other.