African American Family Life: Ecological and Cultural Diversity

By Vonnie C. McLoyd; Nancy E. Hill et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
New Families, New Functions
Postmodern African American
Families in Context

M. Belinda Tucker and Angela D. James

One hundred years ago, W. E. B. DuBois presciently observed that the “color line” would be the problem of the 20th century (1903). As mounting concerns about the construction, maintenance, and validity of families vie with race for preeminence among modern social dilemmas, it is perhaps the intersection of complex notions of human identity and family that poses the most formidable societal challenge for the next 100 years. That is, the family has proven to be the primary engine of human organization and survival. Yet, in the United States, our conceptualizations of family and the perceived legitimacy of particular forms are fashioned in large part by the observer's and the observed's relative positions in a social structure shaped powerfully by race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. For example, the new, less overt articulations of racial discrimination (referred to by many writers as the “new racism”) and contemporary discussions of family are mutually reinforcing. As race has become increasingly “coded as culture” (Gann, 2000; Silverman, 1999), family structure is used as a central marker of cultural difference and implied status differentiation. Scholarly attempts to understand African American family forms and functions have long been substantially influenced by political interests and demands.

The focus of this chapter is the evolving nature of African American families and its implications for public policy. Building on the early, classic analyses of Black families offered by DuBois (1899, 1908), Frazier

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