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The main objective of this essay will be to look at the courtship practices between African Americans and Caucasian Americans. Courtship practices around the world have mostly been determined by the values and norms that exist in the society. Despite courtship being personal and intimate, each story of courtship usually has an enactment within a certain societal context.
Each society has an investment in the type of person one of their members marries or becomes involved in. Courtship has been practiced by the privileged and less privileged members of the society as well as the different races and classes that exist around the world. African American courtship practices differed from those of Caucasian Americans during the slave trade and over the course of American history.
African American immigrants brought with them practices that were different from those being practiced in America. Their experience with slavery and oppression had an impact on their perceptions of love and marriage as well as their courtship practices.
For several decades now, the society of African-American has expanded disjointedly from that of other American society due to the continued discrimination in race and also slavery. It is until recently that the African American culture became integrated into that of the American culture. Their general courtship practices differed considerably from those of Caucasian Americans as some of these practices had some element of ethnicity, religion and race incorporated into them (Cherlin, 2005).
History of Courtship Practices
Before humankind became more evolved and revolutionized, what passed as courtship was a raid on other tribes that saw the capture of women who were forced into marriage. True courtship practices did not exist during the early periods of man’s evolution and any feelings of affection or emotion did not exist during these courtship practices.
As human beings became more behaved and civilized, people of the opposite sex sought to make themselves more attractive and presentable to the opposite gender. Anthropologists and scientists involved in human history and social behavior studied the courtship practices that took place during the early periods of evolution and they noted that early courtship practices included ornamenting, painting and tattooing themselves so attract the opposite sex (Grouse, 2001).
While some cultures did not allow for people to choose their mates, other cultures permitted their young members to select their own spouses. In the event that two people selected one person, they had to duel it out which at times always led to the death of one person. Such duels were also seen as tests of endurance where the young men were required to demonstrate their agility and strength before they were granted any permission to marry.
“The underlying principle was that no man was allowed to marry until they proved that they were able to fend for the wife and children” (Strange customs and taboos, 2010). These duels were therefore seen to be tests in determining which males were ready for marriage within the community or tribal clan
As human beings became more evolved, courtship practices became more civilized and people were allowed to choose their spouses without having to go through endurance tests or duels. Mutual love was allowed in communities that otherwise frowned up love in starting up long term relationships. Members of the opposite sex were allowed to choose their marriage partner’s based on their emotional feelings.
Ever since the ancient times, the original belief of practices in courtship were that there will not be a relationship between a man and a woman until they could prove themselves to be worthy of marriage. Courtship later evolved from marriage by abduction to marriage that was founded on mutual love and relationships (Westermark, 2009).
Courtship Practices of African Americans
During the slavery period in America, slaves were not allowed by law to enter into any binding marriage contracts that would make it difficult for them to be sold to the white American masters. Laborers, immigrants and other lower class citizens in American societies were not included in the general courtship practices that took place within America.
Courtship during the slavery period was viewed to be a preserve of the civilized society. African American authors wrote about courtship practices during this period as being similar to the traditional languages of courtship (Brown, 2003).
African Americans who were slaves usually courted on Sundays during the church services and during walks after the church services were over. In the evening slave couples that were courting would join their family members for signing, dancing and poetry activities. Young African American couples attended parties and played kissing games such as fruit in the basket and fishing. The courting manners that were common during this period were mostly ritualistic and religion based.
Young girls who were being courted used cosmetics to attract the opposite sex. Courtship and marriage during this time was however difficult because the American masters at times sold the slaves, breaking the courtship or marriage. After the slave period ended, courting practices in the African American culture changed considerably (Brunell, 2001).
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At the turn of the 20th century, the working African American class residing in the urban areas spent most of their nights and weekends in commercial amusement venues with the sole aim of indulging with the opposite sex.
The working class courting culture during the 20th century helped in shaping the middle class practices in the 1920s (Cherlin, 2005). The courtship practices of African American men who were mostly in their twenties and lacked any form of employment or respect in mainstream society were characterized to practice deceit, violence and disrespect against women.
This was mostly due to the general perceptions that the Caucasian society had towards them. African American men who ended up getting married tended to be respectful, truthful, and honest towards their spouses. They also brought into the marriage their conservative beliefs towards women when compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Their relationships were however characterized by work related conflicts especially in the event their wives started working (Peters & Dush, 2009).
According to Clements, the politics of respectability played a major part in the African American courtship practices in the 1920s. African American families exercised little or no control over their children’s courtship practices during this time which was also similar for white American families.
The politics of respectability came into play when race, religion or social class became a challenge when accepting their children’s spouses or partners (Cherlin, 2005). While the white working class families intervened when their children committed themselves to interfaith or interracial courtships, the African American parents opposed dating across social class lines (Clement, 2006).
Courtship Practices of Caucasian Americans
American culture has considered changed during the 20th century and an area that has undergone significant changes is courtship or dating. Since arranged marriages were never a standard practice in America, courtship customs and practices were deemed to be the most important aspects of commitment and marriage in the country.
Traditionally Americans were allowed to choose their dating partners on the basis of a variety of factors that included religion, race, wealth, occupation and social classes. These criteria were usually applied in assessing and selecting prospective partners.
In early America, dating was considered to be a step towards marriage where the parents granted their consent on whether the marriage would take place. The 19th century was mostly characterized by formal courtship where gentleman callers paid visits to family homes that had marriageable women (Watts, 2007).
The traditional courtship practices of Caucasian Americans differed between the northern and southern states of America during the 1920s and 1930s. In the northern states, the parents had control over the type of spouse or mate their children decided to have. The suitor’s father usually had control over the marriage and the timing of the marriage which was usually related to the release of an adequate amount of the family’s land.
In the southern states, the courtship practices differed from those in the north where parental consent was required during the beginning of courtship. Marriage was considered to be a civil ceremony in the south because Anglican ministers were required to officiate during the marriage ceremony (Burnell, 2001)
In these societies the acceptable age for courtship was usually sixteen. Young couples in the Victorian societies attended social functions with chaperones who were usually married. The common courtship practices included playing piano duets with other young couples, or enjoying leisurely strolls/walks within the neighborhood and also sitting in porch swings during the evenings.
The concept of dating emerged in college campuses where couples could be in a relationship without necessarily being committed to marriage. The invention of automobiles changed the dating scene from that of taking long walks and sitting on porch swings to that of taking long drives and out of town vacations (Hicks, 2010).
The courtship practices during the 1970s and 1980s changed considerably as the traditional dating practices became more obsolete. These changes came about as more women became more economically and socially independent.
The wide availability of birth control measures and the legalization of abortion in 1973 saw more American women postponing marriage and commitments so that they could pursue their careers and single lifestyles. Urbanization during this time also saw many young people relocating from their homes to go to the city in pursuit if employment or higher education (Watts, 2007).
Young people during this time attended disco and night clubs in pursuit of relationships. Drugs and alcohols were a common feature in these discos as the young people interacted with each other. This trend saw the traditional courtship manners being disregarded completely as both sexes became more confident in terms of exploring new relationship frontiers. The courtship period of the 70s and 80s marked the beginning of Caucasian courtship practices in America (Brunell, 2001).
The current courtship practices between the African Americans and Caucasian Americans involves the use of verbal and nonverbal cues that are used to signal the interest of one person. People also flirt with each other to show that they interested and available for commitment.
In both cultures, dating is not considered to be a long term commitment or a step to marriage. The practice of courtship between the African American and Caucasian cultures has changed over time where people are now more free to explore relationships without any fear of commitment or reprisals from their parents, the society and other social institutions (Watts, 2007).
The African American and Caucasian courtship practices have undergone various practices over the years as the course of American history underwent through various changes. The slave period saw courtship practices amongst the African Americans being confined and limited by the American slave masters while those of the Caucasians were limited by their parents and the Victorian society.
Young people were not allowed to go out by themselves with members of the opposite sex which is a different trend today. Urbanization led to women and young people in both the African American and Caucasian cultures becoming more liberalized and independent when it came to courtship and dating.
Brown, W.W. (2003). The President’s Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States. New York: Penguin Publishers.
Brunell, M.F. (2001). Girlhood in America: an encyclopedia, Volume 1. California: ABC-CLIO Inc.
Cherlin, A.J. (2005). Public and private families, 6th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Clement, E.A. (2006). Love for sale: courting, treating and prostitution in New York City, 1900-1945. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press.
Grouse, L. (2001). Native American courtship and marriage traditions. New York: Hippocrene Books Inc.
Hicks, C.D. (2010). Talk with you like a woman: African American women, justice and reform in New York, 1890-1935. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press.
Peters, E., & Dush, M.K. (2009). Marriage and family: perspectives and complexities. New York: Columbia University Press.
Strange Customs and taboos (2010). Courtship and marriage. Web.
Watts, L.S. (2007). Encyclopedia of American folklore. New York: Infobase Publishing.
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