A Review Of Lawrence W. Levine S Black Culture And Black Consciousnness Essay, Research Paper
Levine s Black Culture and Black Consciousness, as the title suggests, devotes its attention to a people who at the time of the books publishing had been traditionally neglected and overlooked by scholars. In the 1960 s and 70 s, Levine along with other emerging scholars in the Afro-American studies field attempted to break the established mold. Levine s text itself is significant in this movement because in tracing the birth, growth, and transformation of various elements of black culture with a focus on the oral tradition he acknowledges the significance and complexity of a culture that had been labeled up until that point as nonexistent.
Levine argues that once brought to the New World, although a unifying language and set of institutions were nonexistent, the Africans were able to forge a culture expressing their shared values and ideals manifested through a rich oral tradition on which Levine focuses. The songs, beliefs, and folktales to which Levine devotes his attention separately reveal one aspect of the slaves consciousness, (134) as they each served distinct needs of the slave culture.
Levine studies music as a distinguishing cultural form because of how much it illustrates about slave life. Levine contends that the religious emphasis of the slave music resulted from the slaves attempt transcend the limited world to which they were bound. By expanding the world in which they existed the slaves were able to forge the values, community, and structure needed to survive (33).
Slave folk beliefs were incorporated into the slave culture as a means of controlling the circumstances which controlled them in so much of their lives
And finally lave folklore, as Levine suggests, is significant because it reveals the attitudes and values of the slave culture. In the tales, the weak always overcome adversity and are never dominated by the strong. And furthermore, the weak never turned around and dominate the strong. These tales allowed the slaves to understand why they had to survive the circumstances under which they faced and enabled them to maintain hope even in the midst of the most disheartening environment.
Levine then contends that after emancipation, ex-slaves were thrust into a world no longer defined by slavery, so the sacred consciousness of the slaves necessary to survive was a no longer the central element of the slave culture although still very significant. As a result of their new existence we see the rise of black secular music. This music, moreso than sacred music, allowed blacks to assert themselves, their feelings, and communicate with their peers and oppressors freely for the first time. Just like black fork belief, it gave blacks the sense of power and control they had been missing for 200 years.
Also after emancipation we see the emergence of what Levine calls Black Laughter. The advent of black comedy, just like black secular music and folk beliefs, denotes the attempts by blacks to control their situation, by laughing at their enemies and themselves. Laughter allowed blacks to put their situation in perspective for a moment and escape from the circumstances which in a way still controlled them.
Throughout the book, Levine maintains a strong focus and does sway into they study of the black condition. Of course the black condition permeates the content unintentionally, but that does not distract the reader. The picture of black culture that Levine paints appears as a single unit of beliefs, values, and ideals and not a disjointed mass that easily could have surfaced in such an exhaustive study such as his. That is a credit to Levine, for maintaining the connections between the various elements of black culture both before and after emancipation is imaginably no easy task.
However, though his thoughts maintain focus and continuity at times, in certain sections of the book the excerpts and quotations take away from the writing of Levine himself. The content though, maintains the reader s interest throughout the book, especially through section about black folklore that many readers would enjoy because of all the creative tales that Levine shares.