Archive for October, 2010

A Family is Only As Good As its Parts, or Members

Ok, for starters, let’s be clear…the theme of all of our discussions is “reclaiming” the Black family, as opposed to restore or rebuild.  Reclaim is to “….demand the return or restoration of, as a right..” (as defined by  This was an intentional effort, on my part, to incite action from each of us to do something, to take affirmative action, to be emphatic about our stance, to invoke our right to have the foundation of family intact.  But these feats may be difficult to accomplish if many of us are oblivious to what makes up family, particularly Black family.  In the Black family, specifically, each of us usually have a particular role we play and the other family members accept, appreciate and respect those roles, while they maintain their respective roles.

In your family, what role do you play?  In your immediate family, your own family or your adopted family, which hat(s) do you wear?  Traditionally, in Black families, the father/husband was the provider, the authoritarian, the spiritual leader, the protector  and the one who taught his sons how to be men.   The mother/wife, on the other hand, is typically viewed as the nurturer, homemaker, the disciplinarian and the one who made the household run smoothly. The offspring have roles too, the eldest son’s being to help his father preparing to fill his shoes and the eldest daughter the same with regards to the mother.  These roles were, for the most part, clearly defined and adhered to unless a need for adjustment was warranted by loss.  Even during slavery, where the slave master dictated the dynamics of the Black family, within the family these roles were pretty much intransigent until the slave master ravaged it by selling off or trading its members.

As an aside, I recently came across an “expert” trying to answer a query about the roles of  African-American families.  Here is the exchange: (visit to read the credentials of the “expert” that provided this response)

Question:     I need to know what roles each family member plays and how they communicate.

Answer:  Cheryl;

Thank you for writing.  This is really a broad area to cover.  I am not african american so my answer will be based on my work with the african american culture over these 20+ years.

The head of the household is generally the oldest female – such as a grandmother/aunt.  She is generally the person who controls the living arrangements in the household and the finances.  If there is no “grandmother”, then generally the next oldest female is the head of the household.

If a couple is married, the male may be seen as the head of the household but this is usually only true if the couple is married.  If they are co-habitating, the female again is the head of the household and determines if the male remains a part of the family. This is determined by his fidelity to the female and economics for the household.

African American males generally do not have a strong role in the family. The males are basically used for procreation and financial support.  Once children are produced, the male can easily be displaced from the household – particularly if he provides no means of support.  African American males can be considered as “endangered” as they tend to display hostility to one another and the murder rate among black males is high.

Communication depends on the role of the person in the household.  Again, the dominant female makes the decisions for the household and there is little input from other members of the family. In a marital situation, the male can be the decision maker, but again this depends on the amount of power that the female has in the relationship.

I’m not sure if this is what you were looking for or not but if you want to ask something more specific, I will attempt to provide you with some information.  You may also wish to visit some websites about African American culture to obtain more information.


With each member having a clear understanding,  great appreciation and unconditional respect for roles, the family functioned and did so constructively.  Boundaries are not crossed, authority is not usurped, egos are not challenged nor is respect loss, which is pretty much the way many Fortune 500 companies operate, and so so rather proficient.  The contention arises when mother is trying to be the authoritarian while concomitantly trying to be nurturing, not they these roles cannot co-exist but they cause a problem when one of these clearly belongs to another member of the family.  That is what is common these days, with the single parent households making up more than half of the Black families, with more than half of those being led by the mother.  And although Black women tend to miraculously hold the family down despite the help of the Black man, this is not the ideal way to maintain a family.  Families, like institutions, tend to run much more efficiently where tasks are delegated, based on the role or position each person has.  So when mother has to both nurture and provide for the family, roles overlap which leads to stress, which ends up causing a breakdown.

Many of us are disillusioned, believing that roles are not as important as some indicate.  This is farthest from the truth, structure, discipline and authority are essential to a strong family and thinking that one person can do it all within the family is a misconception.

Listen Up Brother, You Are Man Enough!

I am not a big Steve Harvey fan, well of his comedy anyway, but I admire his dedication to being an example of a Black man, the kind that other Black men should be replicating.   Whether you are a fan or not, if you have any concern about the plight of our young Black boys and men, then you must admit that he is one of the most vociferous when it comes to getting the word out.   Steve, as I like to call him, was never really on my radar until I started to actually listen to him when he talks about manhood, his or anyone else’s.  It first started when I heard him mention his annual event, Steve Harvey Mentoring Weekend for Young Men, where he invite 100 Black boys to spend some time with him down in Texas,  to learn how to become emotionally, politically and economically stronger.  I instantly thought, “Wow! if I were a man, this is exactly what I would do!”  And regardless of what you think of him, or what you think a role model for young Black men should look like, no one is doing this, NO ONE! 

Well, just a few days ago I just happened to catch the last few minutes of his radio show here in NYC and I heard him implore each and every Black man to take just one Black boy under his wing, to show him what being a man is about.  Not a church leader, or a school teacher, or lawyer, or doctor, just a Black man!  His thinking is this:  for every Black boy out there that  has no clue, no knowledge of how to tie a tie, or how to dress for an interview, or merely how to change a tire, any man regardless of what he does for a living or how well he does at least have some insight on how to do these things.   Many times, many Black men think they are not good enough, not good enough to be the provider, not good enough to be the leader, not good enough to teach a young boy anything about life.  These limitations are not random, they become a sort of “learned thinking”  the result of racism, violence and emasculation….very little to do with the actual lack of ability or skill.  This ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ only stifles Black men which in turn stumps the growth of those young Black men around them.  This needs to be exorcised, each and every man has experiences, if nothing else, that can help a Black boy in his own journey to manhood.

I persistently beseech Black men to do something, no matter how big or small, to guide a Black boy or young man in their journey to becoming.  I routinely remind the men that I know, that they have one up or me and every other Black woman, that is that they know what it is like to be a Black man.  I always talk to young boys and young men about my travels, mainly professional, and the things I experience along the way.  I do this as a means to encourage, uplift and inspire them to want to do good.  But at the end of the day, I know that how they relate to me is limited by the difference in our biological makeup, I can never be nor will ever experience things the way the do.  I think that they hold the key to reclaiming the Black family, which restores the Black community! So we should all be a Steve Harvey, or a Stephanie Harvey, and incite every Black man to do more.

Should We Allow Our History to Dictate Our Future

It is no almost undebatable that African-American history is unique and has had significant impact on the psyche of Black men and women, on the economics of the Black community and the structure (or lack thereof in the eyes of many) on the Black family.  And although many scholars, historians and everyone who has an opinion, differ on the facts of our history, the fact that we can all agree on is that no other race has had such a remarkable history.  The problem with ascertaining the verity of facts or confirming many of the stories being disseminated, is that records to support any of our history is shoddy, if not downright non-existent.  Since our African ancestors were considered “less than a whole” or “property” of the White slave owner, the need to keep birth records, marriage certificates, and the like, was considered futile.  So be it based on anecdotes, the paucity of records or an analysis of other available data, those who study African-American history have managed to give us all a sense of what occurred in the past 400+ years.

The question often raised, however, is what do we do with this information?  How and to what extent should our history affect our decisions, behaviors and beliefs…particularly when it comes to the Black family.  Depending on which source you refer to, the history of  the Black family (specifically the slave family) directly correlates to the state of the modern day Black family  or has some tangential connection to how the Black family is being destroyed.  In The Willie Lynch Letter, for instance, Willie Lynch, a formidable slave owner, wrote about and portended what we are currently experiencing and cleverly constructed this annihilation of the Black family from day one.  And whether any of us believe in the legitimacy of the letter, the parallels in the letter to what we are witnessing today, is very difficult to dispute.  On the other hand, many who refute the causal connection, do so based on the fact that chattel slavery ended  many generations ago,  and thus, the passage of time contributed to the dilution of the mental, psychological and spiritual effects on today’s Black community.  Many are of the mindset that, we should not harp on those facts and allow them to pervade our will to forge ahead in all respects.  Young and old, take the position that our history is just that, that we have the ability to see our future shaped as we would like it to if we stop allowing those negative accounts from the past determine how we perceive our economic, familial or psychological state.

The way I see it is this: we have a history that not one of us can deny no matter what has been confirmed.  I think it is essential to know exactly who we are to give each of us a clearer understanding and appreciation of who we would like to be.  So when it comes to the Black family, I do think that our confidence pervades each of us on some level and that is partly because a lot of us have no clue about our history.  I think that when you have no trust in yourself, it is difficult to have trust in a spouse, partner, paramour, brother/sister or family.  Many of us walk around today looking externally for some understanding, satisfaction and self-worth and this, in turn, extends to how we view family.  So our collective past does serve as guidance for the future, but self-determination, will and commitment can only be found in the present day.  I am always proactive and believe in taking action, and since knowing, understanding and appreciating our history can ignite us into doing something, I think if nothing else it should serve that purpose.