The Attitude of Slaves Toward White Culture

Though African-Americans were forced to adjust to white culture during slavery, they chose to adopt elements which fit in with their former way of life in Africa. 


Christianity–the religion of the dominant culture–influenced African-Americans. Slaves were especially drawn to its teaching of a community of believers. Christianity gave them a sense of community, something that they could share beyond the common humiliations of slavery. While African-Americans adopted many elements of this new religion, they still retained many of the religious beliefs and practices from their homelands. In Africa they had accepted the notion of one supreme Creator who ruled over other gods, so in America they were able to consider the Christ and Holy Ghost of Christianity as lesser gods. The slave Nat Turner used a combination of the religious beliefs of both cultures as justification for revolting against whites. Though he believed in the God of Christianity, he felt that certain signs in the heavens foretold his destiny to lead slaves in an insurrection. Not only did Turner claim that the Holy Spirit had spoken to him, but also that a solar eclipse sent from heaven was “positive proof, that he would succeed in his undertaking…as the black spot had passed over the sun, so would the blacks pass over the earth.” While many African-Americans fully adopted Christianity, others like Nat Turner clung to a mixture of beliefs which distinguished them from the dominant religion.    


Another part of the dominant culture adopted by African-Americans was an Americanized view of the role of the sexes. Although African-Americans were not always able to establish nuclear families, the successful ones regarded the father as the head of the family in imitation of white family structure. This adaptation of the white culture’s view of women as domestic creatures and men as planners or fighters was in stark contrast to the matriarchal society that existed in their homelands.  Slaves copied this model not merely because they admired whites but in order to build a family unit which would allow them to create a sense of identity and belonging. 


 Education was a value of white culture which African-Americans used to their advantage. Like religion, education was sometimes used against white culture. A self-taught slave, Nat Turner learned to read the Bible at an early age. Other people recognized his intelligence and assured him of his greatness. In prison he states that, “my master, who belonged to the church, and other religious persons who visited the house…remarked I had too much sense to be raised, and if I was, I would never be of any service to any one as a slave.” Turner was certain that his intelligence made him unfit for slavery. Whites as well as fellow slaves reinforced this impression. Believing he was superior to his situation, Turner tried to change his circumstances. It was not only Turner’s religious beliefs but also his intelligence which was ultimately responsible for his rebellion against the white culture.