Cross-Pollination Between African Americans And Jewish Americans In Producing Popular Culture

The interaction between African American and Jewish American cultures is often not discussed by scholars and the public, however, it has had a significant influence on the development of popular culture in the United States. The cooperation of African American and Jewish American artists was mainly reflected in the field of music in the form of the blues and hip-hop, which today are the important elements of pop culture. Because of their disadvantaged social statuses and geographic neighborhood, Jewish and American cultures were constantly interacting, which has led to the development of new music genres.

Both African Americans and Jewish Americans are the so called ‘traditionally’ discriminated groups, which was a factor that enforced the cooperation between the two. In order to acquire a better understanding of this type of cooperation, it is important to trace back to the history of the development of African-Jewish relationship in the United States. Specifically, urban areas of the United States were often the destination for Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and African Americans who were trying to escape from the post-slavery oppression and violence that was still common in rural areas. Given the close geographical location and the fact that the Jewish people tend to assimilate to their host culture, Jewish and African American cultures were closely intertwined and were thus constantly interacting. This cooperation between the Jewish people and African Americans was further supported by the civil rights movement. More specifically, Jewish Americans and African Americans finally got the opportunity to organize their joint efforts and represent themselves as a collective agency in order to fight oppression and racism. This political cooperation was supported by cultural interaction reflected in the artworks of Betty Bop, Chuck Berry, Howlin Wolf etc.

Cross-pollination between African Americans and Jewish Americans led to the development of blues and hip hop as the new genres of urban music. It is important to understand that in the mid-twenties and up until mid-fifties music was marketed to distinct racial identities. Whilst black performers were predominantly blues artists, white Americans were country music singers. Therefore, there have also been inequalities within the field of music, where ‘black’ music had a subordinated status. Given the above-mentioned cross-pollination and the fact that Jewish Americans were not considered to be ‘fully white’ back then, Jewish artists have also found their reflection in the blues and hip hop. There was a whole concept created to mark the Jews assimilated to African American culture, which is a Jewish white negro. A very demonstrative is the example of Mezz Mezzrow, who was an American Jew who insisted that he was black. It is important to note, however, that today some experts argue that the blues and hip-hop today have become a means of empowerment of black individuals. Therefore, the cross-pollination of African American and Jewish cultures made a very full contribution to the establishment of the blues and hip hop as subcultural movements that later has become the elements of popular culture.

The geographic neighborhood of African Americans and Jewish Americans and the experience of discrimination and oppression were the factors that influenced cultural interaction between the respective ethnic communities. Given that the blues and hip-hop were considered to be the ‘black’ genres of music, Jewish Americans also assimilated to these African American cultural elements and made a very full contribution to the development of the respective genres. The concept of a White Negro is used to emphasize the adoption of African American cultural elements by Americans of Jewish descent.


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