Assimilation Blues: Black Families in a White Community

Assimilation Blues: Black Families in a White Community

Assimilation Blues: Black Families in a White Community

Assimilation Blues: Black Families in a White Community


"Assimilation Blues contributes to an expanding body of comparative family studies. . . . a springboard for the development of more directly comparative analysis. Family research involving issues of race and class should flow naturally from insights suggested by this work. As a significant contribution to the way we think about families, black-white relations, and social change, the book is well worth serious examination by scholars, as well as individals who find themselves in similar circumstances." Contemporary Sociology


What does it mean to be a middle-class black parent living, working and raising children in the midst of a predominantly white community? Does it mean opportunity, success, the "American Dream" realized, or is it rootlessness, isolation, and alienation? Is it some combination of all these things? These questions hit at the core of the experiences of upwardly mobile black families, yet to ask such questions is to make a significant departure from traditional black family research. Although what has often been erroneously referred to as "the black family" has been the subject of scientific inquiry since before the turn of the century, the black family that has been most often investigated has been the poor black welfare family that lives in an urban ghetto or, on occasion, the poor black family that lives in the rural South. There is no one black family, yet families whose life patterns have varied from those just described have been "invisible" to family researchers and social scientists who have largely overlooked their lives and experiences.

The omission of these invisible families in the field of black family study stems from the social and political context in which the research has been done. Historically, black families have been treated as a social problem for which a solution must be found (Billingsley, 1973). The view that black families are different from white families in very negative and potentially destructive ways, a view that has been labelled the "cultural deviant" perspective (Allen, 1978), dominated the literature, resulting in the research emphasis on the "problem" black family.

Other perspectives, such as the "cultural equivalent" and the "cultural variant" approaches, have also been represented in the literature. The former approach assumes that black families are essentially the same as white families, with the effects of social class accounting for any apparent differences.

The latter approach assumes that black family life is culturally distinctive due to its particular historical and sociocultural context, but does not assume those distinctions to be necessarily pathological (Allen, 1978). The cultural variant perspective has been used increasingly in the more recent black family research. While both of these perspectives are conceptually less problem-oriented, even those who incor-

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