Sunday, April 8, 2012

African American Folk Art: A Close Neighbor

 As Dr. Johnson-Ross was speaking of African American Folk tradition, its history and its motifs, I could not help but think of how similar it was to the culture I wrote about in last weeks blog, Jewish Folk tradition. While this is surprising, as Jewish and African American is a seldom seen overlap, it is not actually a complete surprise. Last week I spoke about how one of the main characteristics of Jewish Folk tradition that separated it from a previous folk traditions we had learned about was that it was a diaspora based tradition, and this holds true for African American Folk tradition as well.

The diaspora aspect of African American Folk tradition plays itself out very similarly to the how it does in Jewish Folk tradition. We for one, get to see how this intertwined traditions blends and melds itself with other traditions around the world. Furthermore, the protagonists in these stories are often the minorities or oppressed people in the stories themselves, and the stories often revolve around a particularly clever person tricked and overcoming a majority of oppressive force, be it a frog tricking the oppressive alligator, and a rabbi tricking a corrupt court system.

Alligators, always so mean to frogs.

Many things Dr. Johnson-Ross said specifically of African American culture also reminded me of Jewish culture. For example, Dr. Johnson-Ross talked about how it was very typical for African American mothers to be overly protective of their sons. To this point, overly caution and overly protective Jewish mothers are a classic Jewish archetype.

Sooo many Jewish mother cartoons to choose from!

Ok... one more...

Despite their similarities, there are differences between African American and Jewish folk tradition as well. One of the main differences is that Jewish folk tradition has a religious mythology intrinsically behind it. While African American folk tale very often has religious motifs, most often Christian, in it, it is not specifically a religious tradition and many stories have no religious motifs, or have religious motifs from classic religious indigenous to Africa.

What truly amazes me is how similar Jewish and African American folk tradition are for how typically distant we think of them. One tradition came out of the Middle East and Europe, while the other came out of Africa and the Americas. In many of our minds, Jewish and African American are mutually exclusive characteristics for a person. Jewish and African American are even two groups whose communities have been at strife at times in American history. Despite these differences, these two folk tale traditions are about as close as two traditions can get. In a way it reminds me of the origin of dragons, how they arrived in both far east Asian and far west European art long before the two cultures had any contact with each other. This really just goes to show that all over, people are just people, we go through the same experiences are gravitate towards the same ideas, no matter where we are from.

A traditional Chinese Dragon painting.

A traditional European dragon statue in Ljubljana.

Really, dragons are all the proof you need that we as a species are just not that original. These African American and Jewish folk tradition just back up this claim.

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