It annoys me to hear folks criticize the Black family. You have frequently heard many of those derogatory comments. A December 2017, Washington Post article by Tray Jan, titled “News Media Offers Consistently Warped Portrayals of Black families, Study Finds” identified many of the concerns heard and read regularly that present a distorted view of Black families.
Jan reports on a study conducted by Travis L. Dixon, a communications professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His study, “A Dangerous Distortion of our Families” reports on what is routinely reported by national news outlets. The study highlights some of the following beliefs: Blacks are overwhelmingly poor and live in poverty, they are lazy and rely on welfare, Black men are not involved in the lives of their children, and many black men are criminals. This study then portrays the Black family as highly dysfunctional.
I found Jan’s report to be quite interesting and had it included my friends and me, what was reported would have been significantly different. You see, the family in which I was reared was so different and contradicts the stereotypes outlined by Dixon. Many of you had experiences similar to mine which included a loving and caring family that emphasized treating others as you would want to be treated. Back in the day, this was the way of family life that we knew and experienced.
Many families had a member likely to become homeless. But, the spirit of the family prevented that member from becoming homeless. Some of you had an Uncle Buster or Aunt Mary that lived with you. These relatives were often down on their luck or experiencing health issues and were afforded a place to live with your family. In my family, my maternal grandmother and a cousin that she was rearing lived with us for several years. My grandmother was rearing one of three sisters whose mother had passed. My grandmother and her two sisters each reared one of the three girls. A neighbor, in my 43rd Street neighborhood, took a family of twelve into her home. In no way would this neighbor permit homelessness to become a reality. In today’s “dog eat dog” world, this type of sacrifice would be unlikely. I doubt if there are many people today with a big heart like this neighbor. In spite of limited economic means, homelessness was not a part of our vocabulary. This is the family life that many of us knew, back in the day.
There is also that sensitive situation that many families do not like to talk about, even though it may have occurred in the best of families. You may have known of a young lady who became pregnant and was sent south to live with relatives until giving birth. The child was reared by Aunt Jessie or Aunt Beulah and this relative was known by all as the child’s mother. The birth mother returned home to resume her normal life. Sometimes, there were situations where a baby was born to a young child and the baby was not just reared by the child’s maternal or paternal grandparents, but the grandparents were known as the child’s parents and in some cases, the grandparents legally adopted the child. I acknowledge that these are delicate situations but they speak to the type of caring and desire to maintain family unity that many of us knew, back then.
I do not know how Black fathers ended up being labeled as lazy and reluctant to work. My father, every male member of my extended family and most men in my neighborhood did not shy away from working. When they were unable to obtain a regular job, they became creative. You know of men that made a living as junkmen, handymen, “hacks,” or whatever they could do to keep a roof over their family’s head and food on the table. The Black men that I knew engaged in work and I mean hard work. Then there was housing.
Like many men that I knew, they were like my father; they struggled to secure enough money to purchase a home or to keep their family in an apartment. My father purchased our first home when I was four years of age. Saving $3900.00 to purchase our three story, semi-detached home was a huge feat in 1944, but he obviously was not like that image of Black men that appear in many of the studies that focus on those men that are the subjects of research studies. Our families’ homes, back then were neat and clean and family adhered to certain rules. Rules might have included no smoking or drinking; avoiding the use of foul language, attending church, not staying out too late as that might result in a strap across your rear-end and dressing in a manner that my father described as looking the part.
There is a long list of memories of the positive aspects of Black family life that I could revisit. Education is one that stands out for me and cannot be omitted. As many of you have read or have been told, Blacks, allegedly, do not value education. Well that was definitely not the case in the Kittrels’ household. Nor was this the case in the homes of most of my friends and associates. When we were growing up, it was college, trade school, the military or a job. Under no circumstances did you sit around home and do nothing. We learned at a very young age that a good education was the gateway to a better way of life.
I know that times are different and people are different but not that different as we have outstanding Black families today; families filled with Black family attributes of the past. However, the next time someone peddles some of that malarkey demeaning the Black family, as appeared in Travis L. Dixon’s study, share this column with them. Encourage them to speak with someone that grew up in a Black family in the past and perhaps you will cause them to worship and replicate the family way of life of our forefathers, back in the day.