Identification of African American Families in Displaced Societal Structures

Comparative memory between family and society can be divergent or equally challenging. When that social structure upholds, historically and presently, barriers to freedom of movement, expression, livelihood, survival, or critical exegesis of life, the borders between the fragments social idioms and closeness of family can become entangled. Often and ontological proximity alleviates the distance the social order forces between the self and others. Feminist researchers have noted that when interviewing African American women, they were given “insider” access to their lives and circumstances, being Black women themselves (Few et. al, 2003, 207). Researchers made a forward, intentional effort to work within the localized cultural drifts of the community to put the subjects at ease. “Cultural competence involves the adaptation of approaches that reflect and respect the values, expectations, and preferences of those who the researcher is engaging,” Few, et al. write in “Sister-to-Sister Talk: Transcending Boundaries and Challenges in Qualitative Research with Black Women” (2003, 208). This speaks to a general unease with those might judge, condemn, or be general outsiders of the group and community. Those who would be viewed as unable to participate in the culture from a lived experience might be thought of as impractical for the occupation of engaging with the community. Insincerity is always easily stopped and always watched for, if not assumed. This speaks not just to researchers, but big media would certainly exploit these relational skills as well. 

Ann duCille cites and works from Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson to suggest that the very traditional foundation of the African American family evolved out of sequestered roles inherited from delegations and limitations from slavery (2009). This sense of social cohesion within and about African American families relies a bit on stereotypes about strictly involved Black mothers and disengaged Black fathers if not being dismissive of family units altogether, though it seems unlikely that was duCille’s starkest intention. At least not from a perspective that is dismissive of the cordial units of respect Black families bring into each other. This also functions as a sense of relational skills, that, in this manner, are exploited in the form of social patterns, not meant to exclude or isolate from those that might be deemed outsiders, but to strengthen the bonds of familial love in the face of disparities that are forced on these families. I would argue, unlike that which duCille stemming from Patterson seems to be focused on, it is the larger structural societal infrastructure that has inherited the most from slavery with society having far less plasticity than families, on the far end.

To quote a portion of Michael S. Harper’s poem, “The Militance of a Photograph in the Passbook of a Bantu under Detention,”

His father’s miner’s shoes

stand in puddles of polish,

the black soot baked

into images of brittle torso

an inferno of bullets laid

out in a letter bomb,

the frontispiece of one sergeant-

major blackening his mustache.

These are not the war-weary images of an individual committed to become displaced through an internal need to be broken, but are that which is of an external structural that is broken and being subject to participation in a hymn of sergeant-majors that are more flexible than the limitations imposed upon her or him. Harper writes, “I speak to myself as the woman / riding in the backseat talks / of this day,” denoting not an individual that reflects notions of disparity, but those inside a concrete jungle of disparaging concerns and fimble rhythms where it is the individual who is strong and not societal structures. Likewise, the researchers of the Few et al. paper find themselves being adroit by pairing with the individuals and not their own isolated socially sanctioned role. Likewise, it is not duCille and Patterson’s identification of the family that is hemmed to displacement, but laws that displace it. It is this image-making that is displaced like “the frontispiece […] blackening his mustache.” 

duCille, Ann. “Marriage, Family, and Other ‘Peculiar Institutions’ in African American Literary History.” American Literary History, Vol. 31. No 3, (Fall 2009): 604-617. 

Few, April L, et al. “Sister-to-Sister Talk: Transcending Boundaries and Challenges in Qualitative Research with Black Women.” Family Relations, Vol 52, No 3 (July 2003): 205-215.