An Analysis of Black Political Behavior
Black identity has been tainted by years of stereotyping, racism, and oppression. But it has also lent a big hand in profiling the social, political, and economic standpoints of the African American community in today’s society. The African American’s development of identity is influenced profoundly by religion and a complex notion of self. In turn, identity development goes on to influence the political conduct of the black community in its entirety.
Religion has a big influence on the racial identity of black individuals and the black community as a whole. It plays an important function in structuring African American political life and lends accordance by providing the African American community with “common symbols, a shared collective identity, and systems of meaning and morality that manifest as a shared world view” (Mattis 263). These cultural symbols and traditions help to frame even the most basic of political perspectives and practices. For example, “critical readings of slave narratives reveal that enslaved men and women, borrowing from the imagery of the Old Testament, imagined themselves as soldiers engaged in a war against outrageous injustice” (Mattis 269). This similitude between the oppressed and biblical soldiers is still widely utilized by contemporary religious African Americans today and shapes their political goals and behavior. Religion has also given birth to “African-American religious nationalism” (Mattis 268). This particular branch of liberationist theology is derived from the belief that racism is so deeply imbedded within the very structure of our society that it will (even unintentionally) continue to create and support institutions that prevent the political progression of the black community. Although this appeal is somewhat separatist in nature, it has helped the black community to maintain a set of goals that have endured throughout its political history. These goals are to ensure that this nation lives up to its promise of freedom and equality to all of its citizens and to eliminate practices that depreciate African Americans. These shared survivalist goals are employed in black political decision-making and help to explain why most blacks “have and continue to be a critical constituency for democratic development” (Gamby-Sobukwe 780).
But religion is not the only reason behind black political behavior. The social identity theory introduced by Henri Tajfel and John Turner was developed to explain how an individual’s sense of self is based on his or her membership within a group. Social categorization between in-groups and out-groups leads to group norms of political thought and behavior. Consequently, black identity has just as much to do with how African Americans interact and behave within the political realm of our society as religion. The process of racial identification consists of 5 stages identified by William Cross: preencounter, encounter, immersion, internalization and commitment. Racial identity development is a critical element for individuals to understand who they are as citizens and their responsibility to politically assert themselves. W.E.B. DuBois proposes that this developmental process is interrupted by a manifestation of double consciousness. Double consciousness is a struggle with a multi-faceted conception of self. This struggle acts as a road block to the process of identity development. Although it is not proven systematically, it is evident that this dilemma negatively impacts African American political life by compelling the black community to “discern whether or not it is possible to be ‘both a Negro and an American’” (Mattis 264).
Even today, this double consciousness influences black political involvement especially in regards to political empowerment and constituent service. The question of whether blacks are citizens or outcasts is not only posed in the minds