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 www.dictionary.com).  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 http://en.allexperts.com/q/Family-Relations-1514/Family-roles-african-american.htm 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.

1 Comment »

  1. terry@breathinggrace Said:

    What a wonderful exploration of how families work best. I agree completely!

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