The definition of culture is one that can be difficult to express in exact terms. Culture has different meanings to different groups or peoples. It typically includes more than the customs, language, artifacts, and physical environment of the group (Stewart, J. B., & Anderson, T., 2015). It also includes the group’s history, social experience, values, and beliefs of the group (Stewart, J. B., & Anderson, T., 2015). Popular culture is a culture of the ordinary people, as opposed to the elite strata of society. When one refers to the popular culture, it is typically referring to the culture as it stands in modern time. Traditional culture includes iconic symbols that connect people of a certain culture with their past and roots. Now, let us use African-American culture to explore the differences between popular culture and traditional culture, as well is any overlaps that can be found in today’s society.
Popular African-American culture today centers around icons such as Michael Jordan, rap stars, African-American movie stars, and the ever-changing world of music, dance, and fashion (Simien, 2014). When one listens to the music selections of African-American youth today, it is difficult to make the connection to African traditional culture. When one thinks of African-American traditional culture, it conjures images of slaves traveling on ships from West Africa to America to become slaves. It also conjures images of West African cultural icons such as drums, bright colored West African fabrics, and a social system where elders are revered, and families are strong (McCoy, 2011). It may be difficult to look at the rap stars of today and see any trace of traditional African-American culture in them, but if one looks more closely, one will see that traditional African-American culture is still alive and well.

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Kinship ties have always been important in traditional African-American culture. The elders are the keepers of the traditions and the foundation of the culture, as they have been since the times of slavery through mandated racial segregation (McCoy, 2011). Family reunions and family ties still hold a special place in African-American families (McCoy, 2011). Keeping family ties is still an important part of the traditional African-American family. Popular African-American icons often express gratitude for their family supports them publicly. Strong kinship ties are a part of African-American culture that has not disappeared with the changes in popular culture.

If one were to pick two words to describe both African-American traditional culture and African-American popular culture, they would be dynamic and vibrant. African-American popular music is still dominated by driving rhythms and fancy dance moves. African-American youth love to come together to share songs and dances. The songs and dances may look different from those of their traditional elders, but the meaning of them and their purpose in maintaining ties between the African-American people remains the same. African Americans continue to retain their cultural identity through the clothes that they wear, the music that they listen to, and dancing in social gatherings.

African-American popular culture has evolved throughout the decades through struggles and hardships shared by the people. Cultural icons have been an essential part of keeping cultural ties and building communities that are strong and able to survive good times and bad. An examination of African-American traditional culture and popular culture reveals that even though things may have appeared to change significantly, particularly over the last 50 years, many things still remain the same. One of the best examples of this remains the tendency to retain strong kinship ties and a social hierarchy where the elders are revered and honored. When society threatens to undermine these values, the African-American culture reverts to his traditional family structures and customs to remember its roots and the values that continue to serve as their foundation.

  • McCoy, R. (2011). African-American elders, cultural traditions, and family reunion. American Society on Aging. Retrieved from cultural-traditions-and-family-reunion
  • Simien, J. (2014, February 25). 5 things to know about black culture now. CNN. Retrieved from
  • Stewart, J. B., & Anderson, T. (2015). Introduction to African American studies: transdisciplinary approaches and implications. Baltimore, MD: Inprint Editions.