The Obamas and the Status of Black Families
As the Obamas take their place as the nation’s First Family in the White House as well as history, they are also apparently stepping into the role of ‘model African American family.’ A recent CNN article (see below) articulates the positive possibilities for the African American community in seeing a loving and stable Black family. Though the media’s portrayal of African Americans has been caricatured and stereotyped as hypersexualized, welfare mothers, drug addicts, and gang members, the Obama family alone cannot ultimately change these images. The article claims that perhaps the Obamas as a role model could inspire changes within Black families themselves, in the ways that men treat women, in the appreciation of darker skin colors, in being married. Arguably, the Obamas have been a source for inspiration for the African American community in particular but it would seem somewhat demeaning and utopian to assume that the image of one family could alter the structural, cultural, and economic circumstances that have affected this population. As Patricia Hill Collins notes, the status of Black families and especially images of Black women today are not simply the result of media images and self-esteem within the community but rather a part of an interlocking system of race, gender, and class domination. By focusing blame on the Black community, we continue to ignore the structural, economic, political, and social conditions that have led to the disintegration of the Black family.
CNN article, Black First Family
Hi, I have got a lot of sympathy for your argument, but was wondering if the symbolic capital is included in the matrix of domination?
All the best, Paolo
This is a really interesting post. I am particularly intrigued by the presence of Michelle Obama’s mother in the family and what this model of an extended family might mean for all American families. Family structures are challenged by economic challenges, but this model might fortify struggling families and allow them to stay together in new ways.
Paolo and Keri, thank you both for your responses. The extended family is an important model that deserves more visibility and credibility in the United States. However, my concern is that we are placing too much value on the act of simply showing a “good” example of a family. By this I mean that even though having more healthy images of family, of women, of relationships is certainly important (think of the work of feminists in countering magazine images), it is not in any way linked to the attainment of that healthy image. Additionally, I am concerned with the ways in which a particular definition of family is being promoted as the most “natural,” “beneficial,” “stable,” etc. This model is generally heterosexist and certainly fuels the stereotypes of dual partner homes as preferable to single parents. And of course, it does not usually include the extended family network as one possible formation.
Finally, Pat Hill Collins does not directly work with symbolic capital in her theories although I believe she alludes to it. It is an interesting possibility for future work, to include social capital as an axis of inquiry. In a more recent book, Black Sexual Politics, Collins does consider the effects of class on the controlling images of the matrix of domination.
I am a white male aged 57.I am also a product of parents who divorced, growing up in a single parent home.The salvation of any nation or group of people within that nation is in the institution of marriage where the influance of both a male and female give balance to the maturing process.
THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THOSANDS OF YOUNG BLACK MEN AND WOMEN WHO HAVE NEVER HAD A STABLE HOME ENVIROMENT,AND SO THEY TRY TO CREATE THEIR OWN VERSION OF WHAT THEY MISSED GROWING UP.
This leads to gangs , drug use to mask the pain and other acts of social defiance that lead into a subculture that is unique.If you add to this volitale mix a history of enslavement then you have a cultural memory that cast its cursed shadow everywhwere they step,always in the background of their self image.
The 70% out of wedlock birth rate MUST STOP AND THE Church must role up its collective sleave and go to work reaching out to those who are in such dire straits or I see a social catastrophe coming that we can hardly imagine.
The only salvation for any community , including the Black community is the nuclear family that has a strong moral and leadership base consisting of a mother AND a father who continue to work through their relationship even when times are difficult.
Children are starved for such role models.The family as designed by God is our first introduction to problem solving, crisis management,and our introduction to spiritual values.
When circumstances dictate that one parent has to do the parenting job alone the church and extended family must fill in the gaps or outside evil forces will foster lewd conduct, filthy language and entice our children to gangs and violence at the point of a gun.
Marrige and sexual purity before marriage must be reintroduced as a goal to be valued above all else or we shall reap a terrible harvest in the next generation as we are now witnessing with this one.