Week 5

Diamyn Franklin

This week’s reading focuses a lot on some of the statistics and theories that affect African American families, including what defines a family as African American. Again, the book uses  the race, class, and gender paradigm to have a wider range of all the various systems that are oppressive but also privileged that can affect an individual or others that fit that similar mold.

Racial identity is defined as a social construct due to the fact that if, for example, we are going on just skin color alone, there is too much of a variation in each race to simply say someone who has darker skin than the person next to them is ‘black’ and the lighter person is ‘white’. There are patterns and features that different races do share and pass along to their offspring, but what and who defines a race can also depend on the political atmosphere at that time. My mother for instance, is lighter skinned with very loose curls, but she has a wider nose, fuller lips, and dark eyes and hair, features that are passed from her black mother, and who she got from her black parents and so on. My mother considers herself black, though her skin is fair.

For race and ethnicity, the census changes nearly every decade since the definitions seem to change constantly. In its past, the census used to just be white and non-white for discriminatory reasons, but once more immigrants began to pour in, a further distinction had to be made so they can separate the right people from each other. Although those categories had since been removed, the censuses still use categories and are adding new things to it, all the time. For example, the “Hispanic” ethnicity option and then the choice of race. This makes sense due to the fact that there are white, black, and I’m sure there are others who speak Spanish and share that culture. The authors themselves argue that race and ethnicity were created on the basis that there was a need of separation so that those who were worthy of privilege can be awarded while the others are excluded.

The book also mentions interracial families and couples since a majority of them are in a sense, “African American”, or at least the partner will be, and their kids will most likely identify and “appear” African American. I didn’t realize this, but apparently the rates for African Americans marrying outside of their race is very low, or at least, according to the census, there is less than 5% of interracial marriages with one partner being African American. It’s a surprise to me because I seem to see a lot of black men with white women, but people aren’t getting married as much anymore, either, and what I see doesn’t necessarily mean the stats match up. Each area of a city is going to be different than the overall country statistic.

There are five definitions for what a family can be, at least, listed in this book. There is a definition for the “nuclear” family which we talked about last chapter; extended families; family who you share various forms of support with; family that you share a residence with but may or may not be related to or legally bound to, and then the definition that family is who you love. As far as who the authors claim fits African Americans more, it seems to be that many families, “specifically with regard to the African American family” (11), will have children that they are raising which may or may not be directly related to them. I can somewhat relate this to my cousins being involved in my childrearing when I was much younger and my mother and grandparents had to work during the summers. Two cousins had a daycare and one or the other would keep me and other kids during most of the days.

  The book also brings up that regarding our history, family being who you love no matter how they are (or aren’t) related to you is pretty important to African Americans, especially when we couldn’t legally even have families. There are terms for this, like “fictive kin” that refers to families that are not made up of biological or legal connections, but because there is a negative connotation to the term, (the implication that family who isn’t blood related isn’t actually a ‘real’ family) the book refuses to use it.

There are various percentages that affect black families: one is teenage pregnancy. 64% of black teenage girls will become pregnant. Though from what I have studied (and at this moment am not sure if the book will mention this or not) ‘teenage’ can up to age 19, and a large number of those teenage mother are in the 18-19 range, although that is still young, they are at least finishing their high school career and aren’t explicitly children having children, and that the fathers of these young girls are often times very adult (25+) and should be held even more accountable. I do like that the book answers the question “are white racists forcing black teenagers to drop out of school or to have babies?” (16) With both a “yes” and “no” due to the fact that there is personal accountability, but there are limited choices and paths that a person who grew up improvised with little to no resources can end up. For teens graduating high school, only 50% of them will actually do so.

As far as black women who are the on the bottom of the list of what predicts well-being and health (being a woman and black),  the biggest threat to both of these factors are intimate partner violence, with 1 in 4 women being battered. The book will later go into more detail about the 40 black men/women they interviewed for the qualitative data, but they all have experienced intimate partner violence at one point or another.

Poverty also affects black families, with 1/4 of them living in poverty.  Children living in single-parent homes are more likely to grow up in poverty.  The issues with looking at just the poverty line is that the defining factors for being under the poverty line are so dramatic that they are worse off than those in third world countries. Employment is correlated with poverty, and the strongest predictor of employment is “educational attainment” (21) which means the more accessible education is, there will be less unemployed people. This and racially discrimination play major roles in the high under- and unemployment rates black people face.

There are two theories that most researchers use when they want to examine African American families: The social pathology approach works under the ideas that African slaves were “savages” and “uncivilized” thus having no real idea of what a structured and organized family is like, since they brought their ideals over with them when they were taken from their homes. Slavery only kept them from developing further, and thus, explaining why there are such low marriage rates and non-marital childrearing. African Americans and our “culture” are just naturally predisposed to pathological behavior—in a mostly negative way and systematic issues play no real part since it’s just us as a whole, though the institutions do not help. We are simply victims to them but most of all to ourselves.

The strength approach instead sees how strong and determined African Americans are, especially African American women. The issues we have faced and how we react to them is us showing our “strengths”. Women as the only head of their house-holds and raising their children? Not deviant, but an attack on racism and the patriarchy. Our need to still produce families and try to keep them together (like during slavery when people would walk miles to see each other) is a strength. Families all look different, but that doesn’t make them inherently bad. However, we have to look at negatives when there are indeed negatives. Critiques aren’t always attacks—if they are actual critiques—and they can be useful for positive growth. This theory doesn’t necessarily look at a lot of those negative critiques.


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