Constructing the Caribbean-American Family: The Influence of Middle Class Grandfathers over Their Grandsons

By J, Bert | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 31, 2001 | Go to article overview

Constructing the Caribbean-American Family: The Influence of Middle Class Grandfathers over Their Grandsons


J, Bert, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


CONSTRUCTING THE CARIBBEAN-AMERICAN FAMILY: THE INFLUENCE OF MIDDLE CLASS GRANDFATHERS OVER THEIR GRANDSONS

Black males are said to be noted for their absence from the family and are often portrayed as irresponsible, failing to live up to the expectations of being caring, providing fathers at the head of the household. This assessment seems to be consistent with the findings of M. Brown-Cheatham who reported in 1993 that 90% of black children spent their childhood in single-parent female headed households.(2) Further, in a study of black boys ages 13 to 17 in a Midwestern city, H. Rodney and R. Mupier found that 74% of the respondents lived in households without the biological fathers.(3) D. Blankenbar found that, in selected communities, less than 10% of black families have fathers in residence.(4) L.E. Gary reports that "black males have a higher morbidity and mortality rate, greater unemployment history..., earn less than [whites] and are more likely to become victims of homicides and are less likely to be married."(5)

Indeed, black males are continuously emasculated since they are perceived to lack the ability to be good providers or adequate parents. Curiously though, the statistics indicate that roughly 33% of black males between the ages of 21 to 30 is somehow involved with the judicial system either as inmates, parolees, merely awaiting trial or is about to be sentenced for a conviction. An alarming 13% of black males nationwide cannot vote because of felony convictions. The number on the same issue for the states of Alabama and Florida is 30%.(6) And a recent report reveals that the chances for black males born in 1999 of spending some part of their lives in a correction facility is 1 in 4.(7)

Little wonder then that it is generally assumed that black males can barely sustain a fruitful relationship with their children. And probably because the black male has such a high propensity to be absent from the family, may explain the tendency for the black family to be situated below the poverty line. Consequently, in certain circles, the discussion is about the possibility of losing an entire generation of black males since it is so much at risk.

But despite the prevailing wisdom that suggests that black males with no fathers at home are more likely to grow maladjusted and engage in anti-social behavior, the empirical evidence to substantiate such claims remains meager. M. Wilson and T. Tolson found that child rearing practices are more important than the presence of a father in a household to ensure the adequate upbringing of a black youngster. The research indicated that males in single households were no more prone to deviant behavior than others, as long as the single parent established the ground rules that are socially acceptable. Uncles, adult males and of course, grandfathers did play significant roles in the absence of biological fathers.(8) In other words, a black male child can be successfully nurtured in a mother headed household without the presence of a biological father. It would seem then that it is the quality of the relationship between black male child and the parent(s) which informs that child's subsequent behavior patterns.(9)

The same risk factors and more may apply to Caribbean immigrant families. Unfortunately, very little useful information is available about Caribbean immigrant fathers or grandfathers. Silvio Torress-Saillant/Ramona Hernandez and Michel Laguere have done work on the Dominican and Haitian family in America. Torress-Saillant/Hernandez found that 45% of Dominican families is below the poverty line for a variety of reasons. This unacceptable condition is exacerbated by the tendency for Dominican families to be headed by single mothers.(10) Dominican families are further impacted by dominant males who keep their spouses in virtual slavery by denying them the opportunity to become legitimate permanent residents of the US. These women are afraid of their men and the law, which leads to much dysfunctionality within the family. …

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