Cultural Experiences of African Americans

Unique Aspects to the African American Culture


African American’s find their religion and spirituality to be very important to their culture and family.  Their worship service allow them to incorporate their African American heritage using rituals, ancestor worship, ecstatic ceremonies, dancing, and drumming and call-and-response preaching (McAuliffe & Assosciates, 2008).  It provides a safe haven one time a week away from the oppression and racial negativity they face all week long.  It allows the men who are often dominated in their work environment and directed to menial labor an opportunity to express their manhood by holding positions of high status in the church community such as a deacon or trustee.  The Black Church also practices a collective approach where all adults are responsible for training and disciplining the children of the congregation.  Through this, children learn responsibility, communication skills, and respect for their elders.  It is not uncommon for children to have an integral role in the church service itself by fulfilling roles such as ushers or reading scripture.


When African Americans first came to this country they were not in search of a better life, not seeking a safe haven from an economic system or political system but brought here by bondage after being torn from their families and homeland (McCray, 1994).  It is their sheer resiliency, adaptability, and reliance on their families that have helped them to survive.  African American’s families consist of blood relatives as well as non-blood relatives who are an extension or close friend of the family.   “Multi-generational families and intergenerational kinships have played a significant role in preserving and strengthening African American families” (Waites, 2009).

It is common in African American families to see grandparents raising their grandchildren or having their daughter reside with them to help care for their grandchild.  Additionally, African American families are a collective culture in that all generations care for one another.  Not only will grandparents care for their grandchildren but the younger generations will also care for the elderly generations as well.  African Americans will pool their resources to care for one another and extended family is focused on more than that of a nuclear family approach.

African American’s raise their children in a proactive fashion to be aware of racial hostility that they will encounter so that the children will not internalize this treatment and consequently develop low self-esteem.  Children are taught to rely on their family and their spirituality to cope with such treatment.  Parents often will use more forms of physical discipline in an effort to teach their children how to live in a racist world where discrimination and unfairness are common (McAuliffe et al, 2008).  Respect for authority is nonnegotiable and often times if children break this rule the consequences are severe.  This may be why there is an overrepresentation of African American children involved in the child welfare system.  Middle-class African American parents will still use physical forms of discipline but will explain their reasoning more than those from lower socioeconomic status.

Interestingly, African American’s raise their children differently based on their gender.  Girls are raised to be independent, strong, proud, caring, and self-sufficient.  Girls are encouraged to achieve academically, obtain a good job and be able to care for their own family if needed financially.  Boys, on the other hand, are not as severely disciplined for wrong doings and independence is not stressed in their upbringing.  Men continue to receive negative statements from a variety of sources including white men, black women, and other black men.  They consistently hear that they are inferior and are unable to maintain jobs of sufficient income to support their families and remain head of household.
Orientation to Time

Time orientation determines the rhythm of one’s life, one’s rate, and intensity of activity, as well as one’s priorities (Akbar, 1991 as cited in Belgrave & Allison, 2006).  To the African American, the past represents an important component because it shapes and affects present day life events and experiences.  African Americans make decisions regarding the future based on what has happened in the past.  They have been associated with the cliché “colored people’s time” (CPT).  This concept refers to the idea that African Americans are not driven by or made a slave to time, things start when they arrive and end when they leave (Belgrave & Allison, 2006).  Consequently, arriving late is acceptable to them as opposed to Western culture where time is a driving force and this frowned upon.


African American’s enjoy a variety of foods.  When they were brought to America they brought with them okra, sesame seeds, peanuts, black-eyed peas, and rice.  Slaves were given very small portions of food so they adapted and used what they had such as pork, cornmeal, and vegetables like sweet potatoes.  They also enjoyed cornbread and grits which are dried and boiled grains from corn and still made today.  They use molasses as sweeteners in drinks and recipes.  Other dishes made today include barbecued meat, sweet cornbread, fried chicken, and desserts. One delicacy and specialty enjoyed particularly in the south is chitterlings or “chitlins” which are made from pig stomach and intestines that have been boiled and deep fried.


African Americans sang spiritual songs which were created spontaneously as they began singing and this originated during times of slavery.  Some included songs about work, protest songs, and call-and-response songs.  They enjoyed the Blues genre in which most of the musicians were self-taught.  Blues is mostly about love and sadness and is often connected to Jazz music.  Rhythm and Blues or Soul Music also known as “R&B” was developed from blues, jazz, gospel, and harmony singing.  Hip-Hop and rap combines all genres and has had a huge impact on language, clothing, and values of young people all over the world (Faison, Dorsey, & Ingram, 2003).

 Below is a video with some amazing pictures, as well as the lyrics, to the Negro National Anthem: Lift Every Voice and Sing