Resiliency in African American Families

By Lawson, Erma Jean | Journal of Marriage and Family, August 1999 | Go to article overview

Resiliency in African American Families


Lawson, Erma Jean, Journal of Marriage and Family


Resiliency in African American Families. Hamilton I. McCubbin, Elizabeth A. Thompson, Anne I. Thompson, & Jo A. Futrell (Eds.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 1998. 357 pp. ISBN 76191392-0. $65.00 cloth, $29.95 paper.

Based on a conference at the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin, this book examines the strengths and resources of African American families. It emphasizes the role of culture in the families' development of positive coping strategies and reveals the resiliency of African American families in overcoming disadvantages in ordinary family life. The book is organized into two parts: Families and Communities and Family Relationships. The chapters provide up-to-date qualitative and quantitative research on neglected topics such as the level of satisfaction in African American marriages, perception of fatherhood among African American adolescents, healing forces in African American families, and African American military families. The book's content is timely, rich, and relevant to academics as well as to students and policymakers interested in African American families.

Alex Kotlowitz (Chapter 1), provides an excellent, engaging, and powerful discussion of African American poor families who live in urban areas. He points to the extraordinary qualities of a 10-year-old who witnessed the shooting of a young girl who was caught in crossfire while skipping rope and an older boy who had been shot in a gang war and died on the stairway outside the apartment. One of the most important points Kotlowitz makes is that to build African American families, it is crucial to view problems as interrelated. Thus, problems of law enforcement, health care, and housing must be addressed in order to strengthen families. This chapter sets the tone and direction for the following chapters.

Chapter 2 explores the strengths and realities of African American families. The author states:

It is very tempting to move into a problem-oriented focus when one looks at African American families, for the problems that we face are life threatening and overwhelming. Yet one must avoid this orientation as much as possible, for it will force us to focus on the disproportionate representation of families who are in trouble. (p. 19)

Chapter 3 suggests that the study of resiliency in minority families also involves confronting racism and exploring mutuality or "a bidirectional movement of feelings, thoughts and activity between persons" (p. 33). Studying resiliency in the context of relationships highlights how people overcome barriers to connection. Chapter 4 examines the resources that African American families and communities possess and how those resources remain unappreciated but contribute, nevertheless, to the survival of the community. Chapter 5, an interesting and thought-provoking article, investigates the resiliency of African American military families stationed in foreign environments.

Chapter 6 investigates housing and neighborhood satisfaction among single-parent mothers and grandmothers, a neglected area of research. Chapter 7, "Healing Forces in African American Families," examines how African Americans employ the resources of the extended family, religious supports, and caregiving supports in their communities. This chapter also presents an excellent discussion of cultural competency counseling for African American from various social classes. Chapter 8, an informative phenomenological study of postpartal women, explores the experiences of 15 poor, urban African Americans who received no prenatal care.

Part II, Family Relationships, examines marital satisfaction, variation in adolescent pregnancy status, African American couples, who experience infertility, mother-daughter interaction in African American and Asian American families, resiliency and coping skills of at-risk youth and their families, and resilient families in an ethnic-cultural context.

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