Indigenous Systems-100 Black Men: Celebrating the Empowerment and Resiliency in the African American Community

By Marbley, Aretha | Black History Bulletin, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Indigenous Systems-100 Black Men: Celebrating the Empowerment and Resiliency in the African American Community


Marbley, Aretha, Black History Bulletin


African Americans have waded through the trenches of racism, poverty, and discrimination of all kinds, and have continued to stand tall despite the numerous obstacles and attacks that society has launched against them. The mistreatment as well as the negative portrayal of African Americans is an ongoing saga that began with slavery nearly 400 hundred years ago and continued on through the civil rights era and to the present day educational apartheid and technological divide in America. At the moment Africans set foot on American soil, the very essence of the African culture was altered and assaulted.

African slaves in America lost functions, social power, and authority over their own destiny and self-governance. Slavery forcibly altered traditional marital roles, the traditional family structure, and the value of its children. This assault has continued with the high incarceration of African American men and women, welfare and school segregation laws and policies, social work, disenfranchisement, urbanization, and lack of employment and medical benefits that undermine the strength of the family. Yet, African Americans have found creative ways to endure and retain some African values and structures while still contributing to our country and our world. Although many of the above political, social, and economical ills do exist in the African American community; most research gives a very narrow, limited, and biased framework for acquiring a broader, truer understanding of African American life.

Sadly, Eurocentric paradigms continue to present data on African Americans from deficit, pathological frameworks. Scholarly works continues to depict African Americans with stereotypic description such as welfare recipients, convicts, drug addicts, and at risk for academic failure and dropping out of high school, and adjectives such as violent, uneducated, and unemployed. According to Billingsley, this type of research often contributes to the distortions and excessively negative characterizations of the African American family life. (1)

Though not always acknowledged in the research or the empirical data, over the years, African Americans have responded with amazing resiliency and there is good news. The survival of African Americans keeps hope alive for all Americans, and there is some overlooked high-quality research from African American scholars on the endurance, fortitude, and resilience of African Americans. (2) In fact, some of the same literature that has been written about pathology within African Americans can actually be useful for the ills plaguing American families and communities in general.

Through their strength, resiliency, and refusal to fall down, African Americans, as a people, are a real testimony that apparent negatives can he turned into positives. Therefore, it is the responsibility of educators and researchers, specifically those who are African American, to investigate and to teach children how the African American community uses indigenous support systems for its fortitude and resilience.

Indigenous Systems

The African-American family, unlike the White family, has had to make massive adjustments to fulfill its functions in society. Parson believed that the function of the family is the socialization of children, providing its member with nurturance, affiliation and care, and economic and financial support; therefore, according to the Parsonian view, the African American family was always crippled and in many ways unable to carry out its function. (3) Yet, the African American family succeeded against the odds and with amazing resiliency, due largely to the help of indigenous support systems within the African American community.

Indigenous systems have not only supported and protected the African American family, but have strengthened the social bonds that are essential for the African Americans' health, both mentally and physically. In fact, research shows that indigenous systems positively impact every aspect of African American life with adolescents (4), elderly people (5), single parents (6), unemployed (7), and upwardly mobile middle class professionals. …

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