By Lyke, Andrew; Lyke, Terri
The Catholic World , Vol. 236, No. 1414
Although there are many negative perceptions of the African American family (from outside the commuruty and within), there are good things happening in the community and family life. Still, there are social and economic factors that put African American families especially at risk. To name just a few:
* The underemployment of black men.
* The disproportionate number of black families at and below the poverty level.
* There are more black men in jails than in colleges.
* The average American family has nine and one-half times the wealth of the average black family.
* There are pervading negative expectations among black men and women.
Along with the problems of teenage pregnancies, drug abuse and other maladies, these problems have brought about a sense of hopelessness in the community. Those on the front line fighting for the survival of the African American family often feel over-whelmed by the profusion of issues that negatively affect the family. In our ministry to marriage, we have felt the frustration of seeing relationships falter, succumbing to slings and arrows aimed at family life in the community.
We believe that the relationship between man and woman is the cornerstone of the family, whether or not they are married. Our mission is to decry the negativism and proclaim the good news that is within African American family life, particularly the marital relationships between men and women.
Much of the negativism stems from the attitudes and perceptions that men and women have about each other. Stereotypes of black men as insecure, unfeeling, irresponsible brutes contribute to the low expectations of husbands and fathers in the community. Stereotypes of black women as emasculating shrews who thrive on put-downs contribute to gender wars that exacerbate the difficulties of maintaining lasting relationships.
Such stereotypes of black people contribute to the complexities of race relations in the United States. When whites hold negative stereotypes about blacks to be true, American society is further polarized along racial lines. However, when black men and women negatively typecast each other, the internal turbulence in the community is such that the fundamental organism around which the basic needs for procreation, humaruzation and sustenance are met (the family) is put at risk. These stereotypes and others that many black men and women hold against each other contribute greatly to the breakdown of the African American family. The survivability of the male/female partnership hinges on the belief in the possibility and plausibility of a permanent, sacred union. As African American women and men prostrate themselves in sensual pleasure, there must also exist between them a sense of holiness that transcends their sexual dance. That holiness is in their commitment to the marriage despite the character flaws they respectively bring to the relationship.
This problem is not unique to the African American experience. However, because of the many other social factors that put the black family at risk, having such "self-inflicted" wounds worsens the black family's at-risk condition.
There is a direct link between the alienation between black men and women and the deterioration of the African American family. There is also a connection between the breakdown in the black family and the pervasiveness of drugs, crime and chaos in the African American community. The attitudes black men and women hold against each other are reinforced by the lack of role modeling of positive, thriving partnerships among ordinary marriages in the community.
However, that's the down side. On the up side, we have found much encouragement in the growing support that the church is giving in ministering to marriages and families in the African American community. The Seventh National Black Catholic Congress, held in New Orleans in July of 1992, had workshops that focused on strengthening marriage and family life. …