The shaping of the Afro-American Family

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The shaping of the Afro-American Family

The roots of Afro-Americans can be traced way back to the coming of slaves in the United States. Their numbers had continued increasing from around 750,000 in 1790 to close to four million in 1860. However, the foundation of the Afro-American family was built in mid and late 18th century, around which time the slaves blended African and American cultural practices and beliefs into unique Afro-American system of kinship and family, a system that had its own rules pertaining to marriage, courtship and sexual behavior. Their system did not resemble their African roots or even those of the Southern white families (68). While their familial ties had been broken by slavery, the slave families established extended kinship networks aimed at assisting one another (69). Theirs was the traditional nuclear family with a slave father and slave mother, mostly owned by different masters (70). The families underwent varied phases with men initiating courtship with the permission of their masters, before having weddings presided by white or black preachers. The next phase was child bearing and rearing with most children getting into the labor force. Slaves did not live to old age, thanks to the horrible living conditions and abuse from their masters (73).  Some slaves decided to get married again after being freed following the civil war (76). Most adopted sharecropping, where they tilled lands with the produce being shared between them, their former masters who provided land, and providers of faming supply (77). Even after being freed, they maintained two-parent families, although a significant percentage also had single-parent families (78). However, their kinship ties continue even today enhancing mutual support and assistance (79).

Chapter 5: Industrialization and the Working-Class family

A large percentage of U.S population worked in the industries, farms and coalmines prior to World War II (84). These jobs were unstable and could be lost after economic downturns, poor weather, technological displacement or variations in consumer demand (85). The earnings were barely enough for subsistence as evidenced by their poor living conditions (85). Despite the dislocations and disruptions from industrialization and urbanization, the adverse conditions usually strengthened the familial bonds and promoted the re-adoption of the earlier systems of interdependence and mutual assistance (86). In late 1830s, the Northeast saw the appearance of a new form of manual laborers mostly composed of immigrants who were running away from the economically distressed Europe and attracted to the U.S by the promise of land, and jobs. These immigrants replaced the natives in the nation’s factories (86). The migration did not destroy kinship relations or render the immigrants rootless, rather it strengthened the kinship and familial ties (87). These ties came in handy in times of distress as the people supported each other (88). In most cases, people had to sacrifice their personal wants for familial needs (88). While women contributed to the family income through piecework, their primary duties remained caring for the home and family. Child labor was also common as families had to supplement their income (90). Either way, most families had abysmal living conditions thanks to the prevalent unemployment and wage cuts that characterized the late 19th century. These families guarded against financial insecurity by buying houses (92). Immigrants were obviously different depending on their origin. While their marginal economic situation brought insecurity and conflict, it also enhanced family loyalty and cohesiveness (94).  In the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, parents were allowed to work alongside their kids or even select them as apprentices (94). This allowed kids to stay with their parents for longer periods (95). However, the role of extended kinship in industries was constrained after the introduction of scientific management in early 20th century (96).

Chapter 6: The Rise of the Compassionate Family 1900-1930

The 19th century saw a modification in the expectations and functions to which the middle-class American family had been assigned (107). The family was now not only as source of economic security or stable environment for the growth of kids, rather it was also expected to cater for the psychological and emotional needs of the members (108). The last quarter of the 19th century had seen an increase in divorce rates, which led to a drop in the birth rate (108). More stringent measures were taken to reduce the rate of divorce, with fewer grounds being permissible for divorce but this did not lower the divorce rate (109). This was mainly predicated by the increased economic empowerment of women where they became immersed in careers and education. The natives feared that the aliens would eventually dominate the country as the latter’s birth rate was high with lower divorce rates (110). Women also changed their mode of dressing and brand of sexuality, gaining more boldness in their sexual acts. Their participation in paid labor increased while morals took a nosedive especially concerning sex before and outside marriage (112). In response to this phenomenon, some people came up with the “companionate family” where parents and their kids would be pals while husbands and wives were to be “lovers and friends” (113). This was a shift from the conservative and patriarchal family that was incompatible with modern ideals. The companionate family emphasized on sexual gratification (115), which was impended by the women’s deficiency of instruction in sex (116). Fathers had a significantly reduced role even in the family front, thanks to women empowerment.  Children became more undisciplined while their relationship with parents became more intimate (). Concerns on the deterioration of the children discipline resulted in the first efforts to offer day nurseries for kids of working mothers (129). Medical and financial assistance was also provided to poor families as it was acknowledged that mothers usually neglected kids out of financial needs (129). Laws were made to cater against inadequate childcare, while improved obstetrical and prenatal care was enhanced to protect the unborn.

Chapter 7: America’s Families Face the Great Depression

The Great Depression brought uncertainty, as well as loss of sustenance and support in American families. The income of families had contracted by more than 46% in the period between 1929 and 1930 (134). The depression created poverty and exposed preexisting poverty (134). The increased poverty and un.............


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