Is it a Cultural Thing, the Black Family That Is

A discussion came up recently about the cultural differences amongst Black Americans and Blacks from other parts of the world.  I was talking with a few of my girlfriends and we got on the topic of dating, love and relationships within the Black culture and how the perspective we have on each of these varies from region to region.  On the one hand, I could relate (because I think I dated a Black man from almost every part of the world) and noticed that there were some differences in my experience with each of them.  However, I thought about the fact that the destruction of the Black family is something that is ubiquitous, not just happening here in the United States or with Black Americans.

When the topic is raised be it by discussion, in the news, etc., many experts, philosophers, or anyone who has an opinion, state that the destruction of the American Black family is really based on our slave history and thus is a plight that non-American Blacks cannot necessarily relate to.  Not that I don’t agree with American slavery having a significant impact on the state of the Black family, or the Black community in general, but I don’t think that that is the sole basis for what we are experiencing.  Not to mention, Americans are not the only ones who went the horrific experience of slavery, being mentally and spiritually broken down for centuries by it.  Blacks in the Caribbean, Europe and South America (not to mention African countries where many slaves were captured from) were also traumatized by the brutality of slavery.  Ironically, though, Black families are not being annihilated in many of these other countries as they are here in the United States.  For instance, in South African although the number of out-of-wedlock births have increased, the nuclear family still remains intact on a large scale with the father being the patriarch.  (Read,

I will say that economics, urbanization, employment, religion and education, all have a profound effect on the composite of the Black family since these influences vary amongst different Black cultures.  In Third World countries, for example, the Black family is more likely to remain intact in order to sustain, relying on each of its member to contribute financially to their existence.    So essentially, it may be circumstances in the varying regions that causes the incongruity among Black  as far as family is concerned.  Unfortunately, there is very little comprehensive data on the number of intact families amongst Blacks in other countries, particularly the countries that make up a substantial portion of that country’s population.  However, living in a diverse city like New York, one can certainly get a feel for their beliefs and ideals from merely interacting with other Black nationalities within the city.

Family dynamics and composition are inevitably impacted by heritage, but I don’t think that is the end all.  We all know someone who has migrated to this country and has become “Americanized” to the extent that they no longer acquiesce when their mate engage in behaviors that used to be culturally acceptable to them when they were in their country.   I guess depending on your stance on the topic, you can make the argument either way based on this observation alone.


  1. Unfortunately, Black people in America did have a unique experience. While, in let’s say, South Africa, there was apartheid, Black families for the most part remained intact. Even more significant in some ways was that they were able to maintain their identities and connections to their community.

    In many “Third World” countries, like Jamaica, they were able to get independence and gain control over their lives. Never the case in the US.

    In the US, where we were asked to eliminate connections even to our own names. This is powerful psychological warfare that persists in many forms today. And pretty much sends the message to the person that they are worthless. I think men often feel disempowered to maintain families.

    We have fought to have a positive sense of self in the US. We have fought to keep our families together even if they do not always fit into the idea of a “typical” family. And we have had some great sucesses.

    I think this is because even though so much was stripped away from us, we still had basic values of community and survival and building networks.
    As a result, with all the hoopla about Black families falling apart, I know many families that are intact. We are just not talking about them.

  2. Meg_WGBH Said:

    2010 marks the 45th anniversary of the publication of The Moynihan Report, a controversial document analyzing the conditions of black families in America. The goal of the report was to communicate ways in which our nation can achieve “the establishment of a stable Negro family structure.” In light of this blog, how have we accomplished or failed to accomplish better conditions and resources for black families? What is the true underlying reason for the destruction of black families? Can it be attributed to just one source?

    Tonight on Basic Black, our panelist will examine the state of black families over the past nearly half-century since The Moynihan Report. Join us tonight at 7:30 on WGBH (Channel 2) or online at, where you can also tell us your thoughts on our live chat.

  3. The Moynihan Report was flawed in the sense that it made comparisons between Black and Caucasian families in the US, assuming that Caucasian families, often nuclear, were the higher form of functioning. Black families have functioned differently out of necessity and out of just a different way of doing things in this country. We often utilize a network of extended family and friends. You cannot put a value of good or bad on those types of ways of functioning.

    I take major issue with this whole idea of the Black family being “destroyed”. I don’t see it as destroyed at all. Some may be, but this is the case for many Caucasian families as well. There may not be a typical Caucasian way of functioning in black communities, but that doesn’t mean they do not function.

    I think Caucasian researchers tend to miss the great capacity for actual survival that is apparent in the Black community (not that there are not problems).

    I am not sorry I missed that show if the focus is on how “destroyed” we are because it that is the foccus they are starting with flawed assumptions.

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