Monday, January 9, 2012

African Americans Assonance and Alliteration

There’s something poetic about the prevalence of assonance and alliteration in African American history and cultural life. Here’s a quick checklist and notes.

The New Negro Movement is the alternate name of the Harlem Renaissance. A couple of decades prior to the movement, W. E. B. DuBois helped popularize the phrase "the Talented Tenth."

In music, jazz folks are familiar with a style known as bebop, and these days, folks are aware of the music and artistic culture hip hop. In addition to those things, consider what assonance and alliteration mean for the names of popular civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, SNCC, and the Black Panther Party. The largest gathering by the Nation of Islam would have to be the Million Man March.

In governmental realms, there’s Affirmative Action and the digital divide. In the community, we rarely refer to two of our most revered historical figures as King and X, opting instead to call them simply “Martin and Malcolm.” And one reason you remember Jesse Jackson is because his name is Jesse Jackson.

The assonance persists throughout the culture. Think about terms like "Afro-American" and "African American." Aren’t the most memorable characters from those old-school shows What’s Happening!!, Good Times, and The Jefferson’s, Rerun, J.J., and George Jefferson respectively?

That 60s and onward phrase "Black is Beautiful" was memorable for folks. People also recall Malcolm's statement "the Ballot or the Bullet." 

Bill Cosby, in his show Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (note Cosby Kids) displayed interest in assonance and alliteration with his key characters Mushmouth and Dumb Donald. Years later, Cosby starred in his popular The Cosby Show as Heathcliff Huxtable.

Beyond their lyrics, there are a few rap personalities here and there that drew on the assonance and alliteration. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the guy whom ladies love...LL. Remember J.J. Fad? Or, Kris Kross? Method Man. Big Boi. Silk the Shocker. Rick Ross (or Ricky Rozay). Jim Jones. Diddy's record label Bad Boy and Jermaine Dupree's label So So Def.. In R & B, Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, and Tony Toni Tone. Rihanna is often referred to as Ri-ri. In gospel, Mary Mary and singer J. Moss's recent album was Just James.

If you're into contemporary African American poetry, you've likely heard of Cave Canem. Black arts folks are well aware of Sonia Sanchez and Amiri and Amina Baraka.

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