What is Black Culture? The Value of Family

In the late 1960’s the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced the results of a study he commissioned on the black family. He concluded that the black family was suffering from “cultural dysfunction.” The black woman was so dominant that they emasculated the male producing a family more prone to crime and welfare. His solution was for black men to enlist the military to learn how to be dominant male. The solution was convenient since black men were being killed in Vietnam at twice the rate of white men.

No one can debate that the black nuclear family is in dire shape, but a significant portion of whites also fall into this categories. Single parenthood, children born out of wedlock and divorce are problems in America as a whole. Writer bell hooks states there has never been a time that love between black men and women been easy. The generations that have come of age during the crack cocaine epidemic have seen the African American family disintegrate. Only 32 percent of black women are married and over 60% of African American children are born outside of wedlock. As a therapist I had ex-addicts who admitted to denying their maternal instinct in order to get another hit of crack. Drugs, violence and addiction is the scourge that has destroyed familial ties not the “cultural deficiency.”

African Americans maintain very strong ties to their extended families. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and family friends can be as close as those in the nuclear family. I grew up in a close knit Caribbean family I did not know that some of the women I called “aunties” were not blood relatives until I as about seven years old. Mainstream American may introduce someone as “like an uncle to me” while African Americans would say “this is my uncle.” The idea of step or half siblings is foreign to most African descended individuals. European family ties are influenced by inheritance laws therefore these terms make sense in that culture. If an African American introduces a family member in this manner, it often denotes a troubled family. Extended families often take over parental duties if the need arises. A large group of extended family members are now taking care of children who are displaced or orphaned by the drug and AIDS epidemics. Elders often live with their children and do not go to nursing homes until they are absolutely necessary. Immigrants often leave their children with extended family members until they are financially stable enough to bring them to the United States. The scourges of the last three decades have eroded both the nuclear and extend families. It is sad that less and less children will know the warm embrace of strong ties that the extended family provides.


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