The Evolution of African American Identity

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Identity has been a major concern of African and African American authors from the beginning. In fact African American identity underwent drastic transformations between the eighteenth century and twentieth century. As Amistad, "Federalist No. 54", The New Negro and The Souls of Black Folks shows, African American identity has shifted from an early tribal identity, to a dehumanized identity based in slavery, and finally to a ‘new' type of Negro identity based in art and African origins. These transformations of identity have been a tremendous struggle that were produced by their exploitation by white America.

From the onset of the slave trade, the first Africans brought to the United States were forced from their native land, into a place where life and customs were unfamiliar. Throughout this early period, many African Americans clung to their tribal and cultural roots from Africa. From these African roots, early slaves drew an identity that strongly resembled the tribal mind-set that characterized Africa. The movie Amistad captures the essence of slaves holding onto their tribal identity. There is a scene in which the attorney, Mr. Balwin, enters the prison where the African captives are being held and sparks huge debate amongst the African prisoners. This scene perfectly illustrates the early tribal slave mentality. The debate is set off when Mr. Balwin intrudes on the different territories within the prison cell. These territories are set forth by each of the individual "clans" within the group of African prisoners. Despite their bleak situation, the slaves in the prison still felt the need to protect their small piece of the claimed area from an intruder, whether white or African. This scene exemplifies the way the Africans held on to separate tribal identities from Africa, and had no sense of unity or national identity. The way African's clung to their tribal identity is one of the largest factors that lead to their exploitation. With the...
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