Features Issue 5 Magazine

The Black Family and Its Struggles With Stereotypes

By Brooke Killgore
    This is a special month for Las Lomas because we, as a school, come together to appreciate minority voices in the world and in our community. The 2021 Black History Month theme, set by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, is the black family. Our student body has witnessed in our equity training, conversations about race that are both important and difficult. As a white student, excited to learn more about black history, I chose to allow the voices of black individuals and experts to steer the angle of this article. Kurtis Reese, Allyson Hobbs, and seven Las Lomas students were approached and did not respond before The Page went to print, but I found a number of resources online to answer the questions regarding this month’s theme. After some conversations in journalism class, I decided to approach this topic from the stereotype perspective. What are the pigeonholes of black families and how are they harmful?

    The definitions of stereotypes. They influence our assumptions and/or judgements about a person, or group of people.  Stereotypes have changed perceptions of black families. One of the most common preconceptions regarding black families is a single parent head of household stereotype. 

    The Century Foundation contributor Kimberly Quick and director Richard D. Kahlenberg, authors of “Attacking the Black–White Opportunity Gap That Comes from Residential Segregation,” dove into the potential components that surrounded the issue, differing incomes from white and black households. “Black–white residential segregation is a major source of unequal opportunity for African Americans: among other things, it perpetuates an enormous wealth gap and excludes black students from many high-performing schools…the separateness of African-American families and white families has contributed significantly to two entrenched inequalities that are especially glaring: the enormous wealth gap between these races, and their grossly unequal access to strong public educational opportunities…” They then elaborated on this topic and said, “[it’s a] rise to a substantial income gap…African Americans make, on average, about 60 percent of what whites make…Stunningly, African-American households headed by an individual with a bachelor’s degree have just two-thirds of the wealth, on average, of white households headed by an individual who lacks a high school degree.” 

Dani McClain, contributor at The Nation magazine, discussed the need for everyone to understand the issues African Americans face both throughout history and present-day “Through a shared desire to balance a critique of structural racism with a call for personal responsibility, liberals and conservatives have been united in looking with exasperation at the black family, which dares to persist even where male breadwinners and wedding vows are in short supply…” A data table provided by National KIDS COUNT shows that over 64% of black children in America were raised by a single parent throughout 2019, rounding to about 5,988,000 kids without two parental figures in their life. From the same year, children in Asian/Pacific Islander homes reigned in at about 15%, children in Latino homes reached 42% and children in white households ranging around 38%. 

Understanding society’s definition of a black family is important for unpacking the societal views, as McClain continued on in her report, “It was Dorothy Height, longtime leader of the National Council of Negro Women, who drove home this point and situated it in a specifically black understanding of family, writing: ‘Some social analysts…define a “family” as a social/economic/political unit with a man at its head, and they continue to insist on this definition even at a time when divorce rates and serial marriages, resulting in merged families and increasing numbers of female-headed households, reveal how archaic it is. For black people, this definition has never applied.’” 

An American Experience article, written by producers at PBS, added more definitions to Height’s argument. “In the 1960s, many African Americans around the country deeply distrusted the motivations behind government funded birth control clinics, fearing it was an attempt to limit black population growth and stunt black political power. Their fears were well grounded… In the South, black fertility had a long history of being controlled by whites…African American women were encouraged to have children to increase a plantation owner’s wealth. After the Civil War, when African Americans were no longer valuable property, the view among white supremacists abruptly shifted. It became desirable to decrease the African American population in the South. Sterilization abuse of African American women by the white medical establishment reached its height in the 1950s and 1960s. Women who went into the hospital to deliver children often came out unable to have more.” 

 A junior at Las Lomas, who wished to remain unidentified, debated their views of what they considered the black family to be: “I believe the media portrayals of black families cultivate an inaccurate stereotype or motif and reduce the black experience. Black representation in all media is an important issue because for many years, it was either inaccurate and hostile or non-existent, all of which had a harmful impact on the perceptions of what a black family could be or look like. Not only in media but in real life, the world had an impact in shaping this because of the multifaceted systemic racial inequalities such as redlining, hiring practices and the prison industrial complex, to name a few.” A sophomore discussed their points of view as well, “The world has had an impact on shaping the definition of everything, including the supposed typical black family. This definition, of course, varies from person to person, depending on what [students or adults] have learned from said world.”

Regardless of what society claims a family to be based solely on skin color, the growth of communities and the open-mindedness within them have allowed the narrative of what a black family should look like to change into something we view today as strength. By not being held down by harmful stereotypes, it allows others to come to realize that no standards should be set to hold down a group of people based solely on their skin color but how they choose to show themselves to the world.