Cultural Forms of Expression African-American Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

(Cha-Jua, 2001, at (

Another aspect of representation, however, concerns collective memory and the representation of a shared past. Through the context for dialogue they create, social movements facilitate the interweaving of individual stories and biographies into a collective, unified frame, a collective narrative. Part and parcel of the process of collective identity or will formation is the linking of diverse experiences into a unity, past as well as present. Social movements are central to this process, not only at the individual level, but also at the organizational or meso level of social interaction. Institutions like the black church and cultural artifacts like blues music may have embodied and passed on collective memories from generation to generation, but it was through social movements that even these diverse collective memories attained a more unified focus, linking individuals and collectives into a unified subject, with a common future as well as a common past. (Eyerman, 2001, p. 21)

There is a direct link then, here and in much of social science to analyze historical artifact, as blues music is called as a message of cultural connection, from which the broader world can access messages of collective damage, and attempt to build a better future. Though the conflict over the "damage thesis" is as convoluted as the idea that one cultural representation is the collective memory and consciousness of an entire people in addition to knowledge about the politics and the sociology of African-American life.


In this last segment of this work the idea of African-American literature as a manner in which sociologists determine the collective nature of a people is discussed. The "damage thesis" being the strong tie between all of the selected messages of social reflection, has a serious part to play in this question. One of the best examples of this thesis is demonstrated through the controversial work by Daryl Michael Scott Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880-1996 In which Scott discusses the way that the analysis of mid-century works of literature by African-Americans like Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison influenced social scientist in their thinking about the damage thesis and how this literature have been used to create knowledge about the politics and the sociology of African-American life.

A passage from Scott's introduction clearly develops the idea of the damage thesis, as it ids reflected in the broader culture and in sociological and political ideology, through analyzing individual works to assert a collective consciousness, that all black people and in a sense all oppressed people share.

This idea underpins the widely held belief that black people should not create or preserve private-sphere institutions to address their group needs and aspirations. My distaste for the herd mentality among intellectuals led me to question the prevailing readings of the black family literature and how scholars have viewed damage imagery in general. So strong and so rigid was the orthodoxy that those seeking to join the profession would not dare to take the social science literature on its own terms. Most important, the origin of this study lies in my opposition to the use of damage imagery in the process of making and justifying social policy. I believe that depicting black folk as pathological has not served the community's best interest. Again and again, contempt has proven to be the flip side of pity. And through it all, biological and cultural notions of black inferiority have lived on, worsening the plight of black people.

Scott, 1999, p. xviii)

Sadly, according to Scott the damage thesis has changed the manner in which the study of sociology has been perceived and has also collectively colored the manner in which the literature of the oppressed has been viewed, almost as Scott contends, to the point that it has lost its individual meaning and the meanings it has bestowed upon the black race, through damage imagery has resulted in a backlash of contempt from pity. According to Scott the reflection of this damage imagery analysis by the social sciences has spurned countless movements that were intended to improve the lot of people but in fact damaged the manner in which the overall culture viewed them, through pity and implied psychological damage.

Perhaps the most severe result of denying respect to an individual is the insidious effect on his self-esteem. Few can long resist self-doubt in the face of constant belittling and humiliation at the hands of others." 8 If the interwar experts dismissed the image of the happy Negro and viewed most blacks as suffering from personality problems resulting from their social status, blacks were not thought to be suffering to the same degree. Many leading experts clung to and built upon the Progressive Era belief that the light-skinned Negro elite represented the truly damaged element of the black population. The differing political agendas of the two generations of experts notwithstanding, the assumption that underpinned the leading theories of the interwar years was the same as the prevailing one of the Progressive Era: social and cultural proximity, not distance, caused damage to the psyches of members of subordinated groups. (Scott, 1999, p. 21)

In a point counter point assessment of the argument for and against reparations for blacks of slave decent is a statement that brings into focus Scott's point with regard to the backlash of perceptions of pity. Scott would argue that the reasoning behind such an argument is as fatally flawed as the representation of it is due to the fact that sociological perspectives have assassinated works of literature by refusing to view it as independent of the body, but only as a reflection of the politics of a collective.

AFTER ASSERTING THAT BLACKS AS A COLLECTIVE GROUP benefited from slavery, have already received reparations in the form of welfare, and in fact owe the U.S., Horowitz then attempts to use class to undermine support for reparations. He posits his class-over-race thesis by contrasting the Black middle class and West Indian immigrants to the so-called African-American "underclass." First, he asserts that slavery and "the lingering after-effects of racial discrimination" have been insufficient barriers to success because they have been successfully hurdled by "the black middle class majority." That members of the Black middle and capitalist classes suffer racial discrimination is widely documented in past and current employment, housing, and loan discrimination suits. Class status does mitigate racial oppression, but it does not alleviate it. (Cha-Jua, 2001, at (

That there is a supposedly learned man willing to make the above statement is a testament to the idea that social thought has come full circle from pity to and almost criminal level of contempt.


In closing, this work demonstrates the strong sens of collectivity that surrounds the oppressed culture, especially in the African-American culture, and this sense of collective, coupled with the real application of the "damage thesis" in the study of sociological and political issues with regard to African-American life is perpetuating myths and breeding contempt. Scott and others have shown that simplifying a culture to its most common denominator, that of the collective experience of slavery, in all its forms is damaging to the fullest understanding of the history and future of the whole of the culture, and to the broader culture of the United Sates.


Cashmore, E. (2003). Encyclopedia of Race and Ethnic Studies. New York: Routledge.

Cha-Jua, S.K. (Summer 2001) "Slavery, Racist Violence, American Apartheid: The Case for Reparations" New Politics, 8:3. At

Dubois, W.E.B., (1987) Writings, New York: Library of America.

Davis, A. (1999) Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, New York: Vintage.

Eyerman, R. (2001). Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African-American Identity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Levine, L.W. (1993). The Unpredictable Past: Explorations in American Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Scott, D.M. Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche 3. Raleigh, NC: University of NC Press.

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