Observers of American society have long noted the distinctive contribution of African Americans to the nation's cultural life. We find references to African American music and dance, black forms of oral expression, even a black style of playing basketball. But what do such terms really mean? Is it legitimate to talk about a distinct African American aesthetic, or is it simply a vestige of an outmoded racial essentialism? What makes a particular form of cultural expression ""black"", other than the fact that some African Americans may practice it? These are some of the questions addressed in the readings gathered in this volume. The essays spring from a variety of disciplines and cover a range of topics, from the communal ritual of the ring shout to the evolution of rap to the improvisational genius of Michael Jordan. While each piece focuses on a different aspect of African American expressive culture, together they seek to reveal a set of creative principles, techniques and practices - a cultural aesthetic - that is consistent and resilient.