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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: January 2010

6 - Black Nationalism and the Ethnic Paradigm

Summary

Black nationalism of the post-World War II period differed from earlier varieties as it related to the ethnic paradigm. Where Christianity and civilization once represented the central concepts on which Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-African nationalism rested, modern black nationalism rested on a new set of assumptions: (1) that American culture is purely, or largely, Anglo-Saxon; and (2) that “culture” determines a group's social, political, and economic status in U.S. society. These ideas emerged over the course of the twentieth century to form a residual set of assumptions – a sort of social epistemology – that appeared to explain cultural identity and the processes of acculturation and economic mobility in the United States. Like all ideologies, the ethnic paradigm grew out of the need for people to make sense of social hierarchy in the United States, particularly in a land of immigrants and relatively great economic mobility. Like the civilizationist paradigm of earlier times, the ethnic paradigm rested on a view of social hierarchy according to which the “lower” groups rise and prosper to the extent that they become like those at the “higher” end. The assumptions about higher and lower cultures served as proxies for class, and also depended on Victorian, patriarchal conceptions of gender and social mores, again not unlike the civilizationist paradigm. Where Christianity and civilization once represented the central concepts on which Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-African nationalism rested, modern black nationalism rested on the ethnic paradigm.

Ethnic paradigmatic assumptions informed the enormous twentiethcentury body of thought concerning the culture, assimilation, and upward mobility of the poor, immigrant populations and blacks.