In chapter two of African American Families the authors focused on analyzing the family dynamic. The definition they thought fit African American families best is “Family is a set of people whom you love”. During slavery, African Americans had no legal means of creating a family so, they made families with non biological people. This is also known as fictive kin. The authors refrain from using it in this book because some find it offensive. The term can come across as someone assuming that some relationships, those based on biology or law are real and those not based on biology or law are “fictive” or not real.
In order to study African American families they use two theoretical approaches, the social pathology approach and the strength approach. The social pathology approach is rooted in the belief that there is something different and wrong with African Americans and their families. This approach identifies the origins of these deficiencies as the “savage” and “uncivilized” manner in which African Americans were brought to the New World. The strength approach was a direct response to the social pathology approach. The strength approach interpreted these same behaviors and patterns as evidence for the inherent strength of African Americans, especially women. The authors believe that both of these theoretical approaches suffer the same flaw: they focus singularly on either the strengths or the deficits of African American families. They think that these approaches have become tied to political agendas (either racist or Afrocentric). The second reason they criticize these approaches is that they are inadequate because they were developed with the singular intent of explaining variation in the family patterns especially, family formations of African American families. Neither one of the approaches can be applied to other racial/ethnic families, including whites and other minorities. They also cannot be applied to other parts of family life, such as intimate partner violence.
African American families are in trouble. Only 50% of black children graduate from high school and an estimated 64% of black teenage girls will become pregnant. Also, slightly more than half 58%, of African Americans will get married. African American families often don’t include people of other races. Even when they do the children in those families are identified as African American or black. According to the census less than 5% of all African Americans marry out of their race. One of the strongest predictors of poverty for adults but, particularly for children, is the number of adults in the household. Children and adults living in single-parent households are significantly more likely to live in poverty than are those living in two parent households. Family structure, which is directly linked to poverty, has a serious and detrimental effect on African American children. The African American community and family is in dismal. Looking back on the individual African Americans over the past 50 years that have made a difference, the overall picture is in a wreck. The overall access to the American Dream, incarceration, and health, the situation has gotten worse.
Another issues on top of all the others African Americans have to face is the problem with intimate partner violence. At least one in four African American women are affected by intimate partner violence. It is the biggest threat to the health and well-being of African American women. Health data indicate race/ethnicity and gender are two of the most significant predictors of health and well-being. The primary factor that is driving all of these health and well-being disparities is wealth and its converse, poverty.
Adding on, unemployment and underemployment are significantly connected to the likelihood of living in poverty. The strongest predictor of access to financial resources but also to health insurance that is vital to healthy living, reduced infant mortality, longer life expectancy, and overall life chances. The strongest predictor of employment is education attainment. The explanations for why African Americans are unemployed and underemployed are racial discrimination in hiring, different levels of educational attainment and the relationship between incarceration and employment.
In addition, nearly one fourth of all African Americans live in poverty. In order for the authors to discuss people who are poor, they must focus on those who earn 1.5 or 2 times as much as those who fall below the official poverty line. There are many ways of measuring poverty. On many measures of poverty and its converse, wealth, African Americans as a “people” and their families fall behind other American citizens, including whites and Asians.
The authors discuss race and ethnicity in regards to how the census changes terminology. The definitions of race and ethnicity are so contentious and so powerful that the U.S government has changed the way it categorizes people by race and ethnicity every decade when the census is taken. The census changes in response to the political climate at the time. The authors believe that the the designations are symbolic of power. They argue that the categories of race and ethnicity are based on the underlying need to seperate those who should be awarded priviledge and those who should be excluded from it. Therefore, sociologist in the 21st century defined race as a social construct. By defining race as a social construct, they recognize physical characteristics and other important traits are inherited and passed down from one generation to the next. What they mean when they define race as a social construct is that a racial variation is significant and the designation of an individual into a certain racial category changes over time and can change across generations.
Lastly, the authors specifically use the race, class, and gender paradigm because they believe the most efficient way to analyze and explain the situation facing African American families is through the lens that focuses our attention on the context of a web of intersecting systems of oppression, and patriarchy. The data they used in this book is from 40 African Americans (20 men and 20 women) in the Midwest and the South. The subjects were all selected because they had experienced at least one incident with intimate partner violence that had come to the attention of either the criminal justice system or social services. However, the interviews focused mainly on their experiences growing up. The authors collected histories of family life, relationships, dating, work, and so on.