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THE BLACK FAMILY: Yesterday, Today + Tomorrow

It’s widely believed that the terrors of the Middle Passage and the time of bondage have overwhelmingly afflicted the Black Family up until today. But is that really the case? Didn’t we largely restore the traditional African family within a few generations after emancipation? Could it be that of much greater impact were the upheavals of migration and adaptation to life in the city?

On the land the Black woman and the Black man were presented with a clear division of labor. The men hunted, cleared the fields and did other heavy farm work. The women tended the vegetable garden and the home and looked after the children. The family farm was the locale wherein we produced our sustenance and reproduced ourselves. There and then we were about the business of raising good food and good children in a countryside laced with all our kin.

Since then we’ve largely forsaken the familiarity of the country for the anonymity of the city, and we’ve adjusted accordingly. For one thing, whether in the Caribbean or on the mainland, we came to town not in extended families but in nuclear units. And children, instead of being an absolute asset, became a distinct liability. Whereas on the farm everyone, even the very young, had chores that were productive and profitable, in the city children generally did not, and could not, contribute to the family’s wealth. Each child added an additional burden without a corresponding benefit. Furthermore, left without productive chores, or adult supervision, children could, and often did, get into serious mischief.

Hence, the less children a family had, the better off the family became. The more we limited our offspring, the more “successful” we became. But were we thereby abandoning the very reason for the family? Over time, as the cities became ever more crowded and costly, and our average family size began to drop, increasingly even the nuclear family was no longer the norm. It became just one of a number of optional family styles.

For example, men who didn’t marry were no longer looked upon with disdain, and women who didn’t wed were no longer frowned upon as “spinsters.” Each achieved a somewhat glorified status. And divorce became more and more common, as the gay lifestyle lost its taboo. Single motherhood increased, and it’s stigma waned to the point where today it has all but disappeared. Abortion was made legal and widely employed. And in the nuclear families that are left, men and women have seen their roles blurred. Today, the working mother is not a rarity but the norm. And at the workplace, men and women compete for the very same jobs, as women have become “liberated” in every sense of the word…

Are these changes for the good or for the bad? Should we go back, can we go back, to the way things were? Or is it that we have “progressed” in tune with the changing economic times? Or is it that, economic concerns notwithstanding, there are certain hard and fast fundamental rules that must always govern our behavior? In short, is the Black family collapsing or is it evolving into multiple alternate forms?

( by Dr. Arthur Lewin, author of Read Like Your Life Depends On It, www.readlikeyourlifedependsonit.com )


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