Undisturbed Survival Mode: Four African American Women's Thoughts on Identity Change

Undisturbed Survival Mode: Four African American Women's Thoughts on Identity Change

Vance Lee Vaughn (University of Texas at Tyler, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7835-2.ch004
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African Americans are moving around the country – again. This time to suburban areas. It seems they are moving to the suburban areas for the same reasons they moved to the urban areas a century ago (jobs, safety, education, and improved living conditions). This chapter focuses on four African American women teachers. Three currently teach in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. One teaches in the Washington School for Girls—an inner-city, urban school in Washington, DC. Two of the teachers are from rural areas. One teaches in a suburban school outside of Dallas with demographics much like the inner-city schools. The other two teachers grew up in urban Dallas but have taken a teaching position in an affluent Dallas suburb. The notion that African Americans are losing an identity they never had is non-commonsensical. Instead, this chapter suggests that African Americans are still in a survival mode thrusted upon them since slavery while a new developing generation of Blacks view blackness from a different set of identities.
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Well into the twenty-first century people in America of African descent continue to face the slobbering challenge of the question of identity. Many of them have not given much thought to their identity, or, have been undaunted about the subject, unless it is brought to their attention. Some historians strongly suggest that European slave masters intentionally stripped their slaves of their names, languages, culture, customs, and of their history (Wong, 2017). Then, they submerged them in a mixture of African tribes who could not and did not communicate with each other due to a language barrier strictly in an attempt to lessen their chances of attempting to escape the plantations. Intentionally crafted by design, the African in America has had his culture, his beginnings and his identity seared with hot irons. The burning stench of over 200 years of death and defeat still lingers in the air corrupting the minds and hearts of people in America. There are two camps. One camp ignores the stench—this camp lives on as if all is well. The other camp smells the stench, sometimes attempts to get rid of the stench, but soon realizes the stench is ubiquitous over the atmosphere and is too big of a problem to tackle. The African American identity is lost in the stench.

There are some African American people in America who view the term African American negatively. Having no knowledge of Africa, they close their ears to any such association with Africa. Some often think that one of the reasons why so many African American people living in the United States and the Caribbean do not like thinking of themselves as African is because of the collective ignorance that many African Americans still have about their African roots, and why those roots are important. There are many African kingdoms that are largely unknown to many people of African descent, yet those same people would have gone to schools that taught them much about European civilizations such as Greece, Rome, France, and Britain. When the education system is geared mostly towards European history and culture, and the media depictions of Africa are still largely negative and misinformed, it is easy to understand why many people of African descent would look at their own ancestral roots negatively.

Moreover, Africa has always been depicted as a negative place filled with savages and cannibals. According to some historians, generations of African people living in America only knew of Africa as the “Dark Continent” (Wong, 2017). A much closer, broader and unbiased study into the history of Africa will reveal a country rich in history, wealth, knowledge and existence. Had the Africans stayed in Africa and avoided the slave trade in America things would have been quite different for Africans and for Americans. Unfortunately, history has already been lived and recorded.

Upon forced entry into the United States, Africans found themselves bound, almost frozen, but otherwise cemented in a country that used them for capitalization, pleasure, and reproduction limiting them and any of their off-springs to a decent way of living without suffering, if not a real, physical encounter of racism or a hate crime as the victim, then a lifetime of feeling like an unappreciated stepchild. Those Africans who suffered through the antebellum and survived long enough to reap the benefits of the Emancipation Proclamation had a choice to make. Some chose to remain on their master’s plantation as they had nowhere else to go. Some accepted the offer and gift from the country and moved as far from the south as they could. Included in the move were those who looked to the urban cities as a safe haven. The big city would be their heaven. The urban cities would be their places of finding themselves, raising their families, keeping their children safe from the slave master, and eventually a place where they could live out the American dream without any unwanted, unmerited and unanticipated distractions. Their urban movement increased at an exponential rate. As they crowed the big cities, what is commonly known as the “white-flight” built the suburban towns and layovers. As such, African Americans began to enjoy the urban area. As the only group remaining in urban areas they inherited an environment that they could control politically, socially and spiritually. African Americans “knew who they were.” Interestingly, African Americans are now gravitating to the suburbs.

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