The Evolution of African American Identity

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Identity has been a major concern of African and African American authors from the beginning. In fact African American identity underwent drastic transformations between the eighteenth century and twentieth century. As Amistad, "Federalist No. 54", The New Negro and The Souls of Black Folks shows, African American identity has shifted from an early tribal identity, to a dehumanized identity based in slavery, and finally to a ‘new' type of Negro identity based in art and African origins. These transformations of identity have been a tremendous struggle that were produced by their exploitation by white America.

From the onset of the slave trade, the first Africans brought to the United States were forced from their native land, into a
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Slave owners eager to maintain the profit driven business of slavery, took this loss of identity as an opportunity to tighten the grip they had on the African Americans. By forcing the identity of being property rather than human on the slaves, slave owners could further exploit the African Americans. The debate for slaves being identified as property is eloquently explored in the Federalist No. 54 paper from the New York packet. On the basis of taxation and representation, the paper contemplates if and when a slave should be considered a person versus property. The author believes that slaves are human until they become enslaved; at that point the enslavement takes away that human element. The Federalist No. 5, points out that the identity of slaves is a peculiar one; no matter how many slave owners desired to have slave viewed as property, one fact could not be overlooked: slave were still human beings. As slavery continued to evolve and slaves gained their freedom, the need for a new authentic African American identity needed to be adopted. The Harlem renaissance characterizes the time in which African American decedents of those who had seen first hand the injustices of slavery, began to move out of the north seeking a better life and an identity of their own. In the works of The New Negro and The Souls of Black Folks, the authors outline a new way of thinking for helping African American's develop
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