What is in the American Identity?

African Americans waving an American flag

African Americans waving an American flag

The above image features a group of African Americans waving an American flag, representing the fight for American identity.  Throughout history, African Americans have been fighting for an identity in the United States, whether it be as a cultural group, or as individuals.

Politically and socially, African Americans have looked for identity for centuries.  They started as slaves to the colonists, gained independence through the Civil War, and then thanks to discriminatory laws like the Jim Crow Laws, they were forced to be thought of as an exiled group, rather than a group of citizens.  They have been victims of hate crimes, crimes that are meant to cause fear in a specific group of people, and laws that have thrown them into minority status here in the US, despite all the progress that has been made.  Because of color, African Americans have been prevented from voting, taking public transportation, and even looking at white women or walking down the street looking suspicious in the past history of America.  This has caused struggles for African Americans to find an identity in the US, having to fight for their freedom and erasure of the stigma attached to their skin color.

Postcard of the lynching

Gelatin silver print. Copy photo. Frame, 11 x 9″, photo, 3 7/8 x 2 3/4″ inscribed in pencil on the inner, gray matte: “Bo pointn to his niga.” On the yellowed outer matte: “klan 4th Joplin, Mo. 33.” Flattened between the glass and double mattes are locks of the victim’s hair.”

As individuals, African Americans have searched for identities as well.  Where do they vote in the polls, where did they come from, how can they get a job that allows them to be comfortable in their position, and still fights the stigma of African Americans becoming cleaning personnel or struggling to hold down some other low wage job.  The search for identity has been especially prevalent in literature, for example Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and Quicksand by Nella Larsen.  Song of Solomon features a young man, Macon “Milkman” Dead, who is searching for himself through the imagery of flight as a method to escape his life and his troubles, and also a way to find himself.  He is searching for an identity outside of a family nickname given to him at a young age, and looking to make a life for himself outside of that that his father expects of him.  Quicksand follows Helga Crane, a young teacher who is searching for her identity after giving up her position as a teacher and traveling North.  As she searched for herself, she looks for her uncle, and attempts to use sexual experimentation in an attempt to figure out who she is.

The search for African American identity has always been a problem in the United States.  Whether it is personal or cultural identity, there have been people all over the country who have searched for fulfillment and a face other than the sea of nameless blacks that has come to be the stigma of African Americans.

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