Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

What African American Mothers Perceive They Socialize Their Children to Value When Telling Them Brer Rabbit Stories

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

What African American Mothers Perceive They Socialize Their Children to Value When Telling Them Brer Rabbit Stories

Article excerpt

For centuries, Brer Rabbit stories have communicated the values and experiences of enslaved Africans and of indigenous African American culture (Abrahams, 1975, 1985; Stuckey,1987). According to Blassingame (1972:127), Brer Rabbit stories are "a projection of the slave's personal experiences, dreams, and hopes." Dunn (1979:103) observes that the stories are "paradigms dictating how to act and how to live," and Stuckey (1977:xviii) claims that they reveal more about slave culture than whole books by experts. Levine (1977) maintains that Brer Rabbit stories survived slavery and urban poverty because they were a vehicle by which African American cultural values could be shared by the masses of African American people. Faulkner (1977:xiv) writes that "parading through almost all of these popular narratives was Brer Rabbit, who was adopted by the American Negro slaves as their culture-hero." In these stories, Brer Rabbit-a skilled musician, dancer, singer, accomplished lady's man, and clever strategist-engages in struggles with adversaries, such as Brer Wolf and Brer Fox, as well as conflicts with friends, such as Brer Possum and Brer Squirrel. Whether Brer Rabbit contends with Brer Fox over who gets "tops" and "bottoms" in a crop they plant together, pretends a cyclone "is-a-comin" to help small and defenseless animals against bigger, more powerful ones, or feigns illness to get on Brer Wolf's back to convince Sis Possum that Brer Wolf is merely his riding horse, Brer Rabbit usually wins (Harris, 1955). Brer Rabbit wins through tricks which include complicated schemes to convince others, usually adversaries, that a thing is one way when he knows it is not.

This article examines what thirty low-income African American mothers perceive they socialize their children to value when telling them stories of Brer Rabbit's trickery. The study addresses three major concerns in Black child socialization literature: (I) what African American mothers socialize their children to value, (2) whether African American mothers' teachings are "cultural motifs" or "informed values," and (3) whether African American mothers' teachings reflect an Africentric or Eurocentric heritage. By Africentric and Eurocentric, the author simply means that the women's teachings reflect African or European values and ways of thinking and behaving, regardless of whether the women are aware of the African or European nature of these teachings. Although the study reports on the women's perceived, not actual, socialization of children, the study contributes nonetheless to the development of a conceptual framework for addressing what African American children are socialized to value vis-a-vis indigenous storytelling.

RETHINKING THE INDIGENOUS AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

African American Child Socialization

Sociologists and psychologists have observed that the socialization process is complicated for many African Americans in that African American parents must racially socialize, their children to live in hostile environments as well as to negotiate simultaneously different, sometimes conflicting, social experiences. Boykin and Toms (1985) refer to the socially conflicting experiences of Black parents as a "Triple Quandary," in which the minority experiences of institutional racism and poverty, the indigenous experiences of the African heritage and slavery, and the Euro-American experiences of self-realization and individual achievement sometimes conflict with one another and constrict Black child development. Thornton, Chatters, Taylor, and Allen ( 1990) highlight the racial socialization strategies and teachings of Black parents who attempt to instill racial pride and a sense of self and group identity in young children; and Peters and Massey (1983) compare the problem of being Black in America with war, famine, and other extreme circumstances. In light of the problems associated with the African American child's passage to adulthood, researchers note that indigenous Black family relationships should be studied to understand Black child identity and socialization (Boykin and Toms, 1985; Thornton et al. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.