As we come to the close of yet another Black History month, what better time to reflect on the health and well being of black families in America?
The black family unit, while as precious and important as any family unit, continues to be disproportionately plagued and imperiled by economic, educational, and social conditions. These conditions seem to be entrenched and perpetual.
While many Sociologists might proclaim that those conditions could accurately describe the state of the family unit in contemporary society, period, they would also have to readily acknowledge that whatever plagues society generally, whether economic problems, educational problems, divorce, single parenting, poor housing, etc., the impact on African Americans is much more severe and the ramifications more far-reaching and long-lasting.
In many ways, the black family unit still suffers from the ravages of history. While there are many strong black families, headed by one or both parents, there are many others reeling from some indelible scars which originated with the institution of slavery — an institution that did everything in its power to rape and destroy the family unit, separating mother and father, mother and child. There was simply no value and no nurturing of the black family unit. Such utter disregard went on far too long. And even though it has been well over a hundred and fifty years since that wretched institution supposedly died, the many negative effects are still seen today.
The black family has been imperiled by one destructive force after the other. And the impact can be seen throughout communities across the country. You need only to review a few grim statistics: the vicious cycle of black on black crime; higher rates of unemployment during economic prosperity, even worse during economic decline; and poor health and limited or no access to the best healthcare available. By comparison, the black family still, disproportionately, lives in poor housing and blighted neighborhoods. And the feelings of helplessness, complacency, apathy and general lethargy, is much too high.
Essentially, the black family unit is plagued by entrenched and broad spread societal forces that make it difficult to improve and stop the vicious cycle that divides and destroys.
For example, in addition to higher rates of unemployment, the alternative is to take part in a welfare system that encourages separation and dissolution of the basic family unit. Girls and women can have babies and continue to get financial support for those babies as long as the father is not around to help raise them.
Perhaps, the greatest and long-lasting impact of these destructive forces is on the children. They are the ones who find it difficult, if not impossible, to have vision, to see beyond their immediate living environment. They are the ones who are more vulnerable, who are likely to succumb to drugs and a life of crime to escape their deprived and disheartening condition. They are the children having children, in part out of ignorance and a lack of direction, in part out of hope and the need to feel important to someone, to show love, to receive love. The result is double jeopardy, double loss. A young girl may never reach her potential; and the child she brings into the world starts out at a disadvantage. For a family unit that is already frail and weak, this can only make it weaker, more vulnerable.
Where do the answers lie? Where do we begin to stop the destructive forces?
First, we must refuse to believe they are beyond our control. We must commit ourselves to do whatever we can to strengthen the family unit. The answers are neither simple nor easy. Nor can they be achieved overnight.
We must tackle, and we are, some very tough problems, like the perpetual dependency on welfare. Welfare is a complicated subject, with complex causes. But relying on welfare breeds more dependency. Welfare is like a pain reliever, temporary and somewhat comforting, but it offers no ultimate cure for what is causing the problem. Long term, it does more harm than good. Fair employment practices and job training must be a part of the long term solution
As we continue to work for better housing, better education, equal access to jobs and other economic opportunities, we should invest a substantial amount of time with our young people. We must help them overcome many hurdles and misconceptions that can destroy their future — even before they have any idea of what that future can be.
We must continue to emphasize the absolute need to get an education. Without an education in today's society, the odds of improving your living conditions are firmly stacked against you. We can not continue to have low expectations of the children, put poorly prepared and uncaring teachers to educate them, and dismiss efforts to get parents involved in their education, which is inexcusable in the age of technological options.
World War II was won because it was waged on multiple fronts, with multiple forces. Most all successful wars are. The war that must be waged to strengthen the black family must be waged on multiple fronts simultaneously. Concerted and sustained efforts must be taken to kill the stranglehold of poor education, sub-standard housing, chronic unemployment, and the insidious reach and impact that these enemies have on achieving a level playing field to make ones life and condition better.
What plagues the black family unit did not occur overnight. It will not be solved overnight. But a realistic change will not occur until the problems and conditions are tackled honestly by all and on all fronts.