Following Dr. Patton’s lecture yesterday about the origins of slavery in America, I started thinking about how this barbaric institution still impacts Blacks today. In this post, I want to dissect the Black American family structure and explore the cause and effect sequence of how and why, in 2016, the Black family is the way it is. I will explain the physical and psychological barriers that affect and break apart the modern-day Black family as a result of a long history of white supremacy in this country.
First, let’s discuss a brief history of slavery: “…Vile and brutish parts of mankind”. According to Dr. Patton, this is how the elitists in America described poor whites years before slavery was introduced. Before African slaves, America started its proud, rich history with indentured servitude- a system in which poor whites were promised an all-expense paid trip to the “New World” in exchange for 5 to 7 years of unpaid labor. Some 50,000 immigrants were shipped from Great Britain to the colonies to begin their sentence. Indentured servants, some Black, were poor and often mistreated by elite whites. Black and white indentured servants often formed alliances in attempts to upset and even overthrow their oppressors. The most famous revolt of this kind was Bacon’s Rebellion in 1670, resulting in the near destruction of Jamestown in Virginia. These types of alliances, extremely dangerous and threatening to the elitists’ way of life, were brought to a halt with new laws. A three-tiered caste system was put into place, with the elitists at the top, poor whites right below them, and Blacks at the bottom. This was a way to ensure that ALL whites looked down on Blacks as inferior, not just the rich ones. Slavery went hand-in-hand with this new system, as Blacks were forced into lifelong servitude and unimaginable abuse while working on and developing plantations and several other institutions that have become the America we see today.
Let’s fast forward to the Civil War. The Union in the North won, and therefore slavery was abolished (even though the slaves were the last to find out). Fast forward again a few more years and we have Jim Crow- slavery by another name. White supremacy was reconstructed, Blacks had no rights, no job opportunities, and we were mercilessly killed. Years later, during the Civil Rights Movement, Blacks in America made tremendous strides in fighting for equality. But was this enough? The “War on Drugs” and mass incarceration of Blacks following the Civil Rights Movement proves that no, this was not enough. Tougher laws, longer sentences, and stripped liberties are what Blacks experienced during this period, as well as today.
One in three Black men are incarcerated today. If and when they are released from prison, they have lost the right to vote, the right to a student loan, they are unable to get a job- at least a decent one- and they often return to society unable to care for themselves and their families. The Black family is torn apart, or worse, never even created. Women are left to run single-parent households, which largely contributes to the 50% of Americans who are living in poverty. According to the 1970 U.S. Census, about 65% of African American households in 1970 that had children under the age of 18 consisted of a married couple. Recall that around 1970, 1971 to be exact, former President Nixon began the “War on Drugs” and the mass incarceration of Blacks followed as a result. Skipping ahead to 2015, about 35% of African American households that had children under the age of 18 consisted of a married couple, also according to the U.S. Census. Compare that number with the nearly 70% of white households that consist of a married couple with kids under age 18.
The agenda of the white supremacist continues to be fulfilled, and in the process, it feeds stereotypes that reinforce the stagnation of equality and overall success of the Black population of America: No fathers, uneducated, violent criminals, immoral, addicts, hopeless. Numbers don’t lie. The Black Family is endangered. Now that we are not “cash cows” working on plantations and developing this country from the ground up, Black lives hold no value to those who support this supremacist agenda; an agenda that is fed by those either pushing it or denying the fact that it even exists. Steadily, systematically, and worst of all, legally, America is still killing off Black men, and the women and children are following.
I do not have the solution for reconstructing the Black family. I do know, however, that the process must start with the reformation of the very institution that oppresses and unfairly targets its men, women, and children. Nothing and no one can truly thrive in captivity. It is time to legalize being Black.