chapter  3
26 Pages

African Americans: ‘I don’t sing other people’s voices’

This ‘collective construction’ of an identity began with the vital oral culture from Africa sustained through expressive modes such as song and story. This was, according to Ralph Ellison, ‘what we had in place of freedom’ (Ellison 1972:255), because ‘since we were excluded from the cultural mainstream’, it was ‘only performative spaces we had left’ (Hall 1992:27). In the very first black newspaper, published in 1827, its editor John B.Russwurm wrote that for ‘too long others have spoken for us’ (Ripley 1993:11) and so put into words the primary concern of African Americans, to speak for themselves and dispel the ‘implication…that only certain Americans can define what it means to be American-and the rest must simply fit in’ (West 1993a:256-7).