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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

July 21, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

American culture has strong roots in Africa

According to Yale University professor Robert Farris Thompson, “To be white in America is to be very black. If you don’t know how black you are, you don’t know how American you are.” We are aware of Ithaca College’s significant white American majority; little did we know that the college is apparently “very black.” According to Sheila S. Walker’s “African Roots/American Cultures,” our college and national society is rooted on the African continent.

For example, the television shows we watch and music we listen to are ultimately products of the African continent. Rap and hip-hop, which are arguably our country’s most popular musical genres, stem directly from Africa. In accordance with the African oral tradition, West African griots publicly recited their poetry. It soon became customary to add rhythmic elements to these performances, which were introduced to North America by slaves. It later became known as rap through various artists of African origin, who created an entire industry and culture based on this African ritual. The fusion of Euro-American church music with Africa’s unique percussion, improvisation and call and response resulted in the birth of both gospel and jazz, with the blues derived from slavery’s spirituals and work songs. Rock is universally known as a product of rhythm and blues, plus various aspects of jazz, rock and classical music. Its connection to both jazz and the blues makes it an indirect product of the motherland.

Bugs Bunny is another perfect example. He made his first official television appearance in 1940 after the transatlantic slave trade resulted in a sizeable African and second-generation African population. Slavery had been abolished, and black people had begun to assimilate into all sectors of white America. The language of the black American became commonly employed by white American men, women and children like Tex Avery.  The term “bug” stems from the Wolof tongue of Senegal and was commonly used among black Americans when something pestered them. Bugs Bunny was a notorious pest who managed to hassle the hunters despite their unmistakable advantage, not unlike the slaves themselves.

Perhaps the above-mentioned examples could be disregarded as mere coincidences, but the following are indisputable. Our great American novel “Moby Dick” was influenced by African peoples, as is exemplified by its recurring references to the Yoruba, god of Legba. Our traditional southern meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and collard greens would not exist without the okra plant. The word okra itself comes from the Igbo (Nigerian) word “okuru,” and the plant is likely to have been transported here during the trade from West Africa, where it was and is still commonly cooked with. Our Capitol building itself was constructed via slave labor.

Finally, our economy, the thing we Americans pride ourselves on most and the factor that makes us the world’s most powerful nation, is because of the misfortune of the continent where the world’s least wealthy and least powerful nations exist. I am by no means accrediting all of our prosperity to the people of Africa and their descendants, but they are the foundation of our success. After all, Karl Marx’s primitive accumulation theory does state that a surplus of resources is needed for a country to feed itself and then accumulate wealth via trade. America’s original surplus was entirely a product of the country’s African slave plantations.

It is true what scientists say about mankind beginning in Africa, but little do they know that we also owe Africa credit for life as we know it today.

Simone Henry is a freshman sociology major. E-mail her at shenry1@ithaca.edu.