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Marisa Ruiz

October 10, 2008

Sociology 251

Question 9: How have Black. Families been misrepresented in the research? What-are some

common experiences of Black families in this country?

In recent years, social scientists have become increasingly interested in studying African

Americans. Based on their own perceptions and using the White American family ideology,

researchers have presented biased studies that emphasize a stereotypical image of the low

income impoverished African Americans habitually prevalent in geographically specific areas of

the country. The lack of using a theoretical approach to study African American families has had

a great deal of repercussions inflicted on them as individuals, as families, as well as their

population as a whole. This negative representation is largely evident in how they are portrayed

by the media.

This negative and inaccurate impression has prompted Ronald Taylor, an African

American from the south, to further investigate the previous research leading to the deficient

information and further dispel these myths. He states that as he”… became more familiar with

the growing body of research on African American families. It became increasingly clearer that a

source of a major distortion in the portrayal of African American families in Social Science

literature and the media was the overwhelming concentration on impoverished inner city

communities of the northeast and Midwest to the near exclusion of the south where more than

half the African American families are found and differences among them in family patterns,

lifestyles, and socioeconomic characteristics are more apparent” (Skolnick 399). In his article,

“Diversity within African American Families,” Taylor ascertains some of the problems posed in
previous research and offers his particular findings from a holistic approach that represents

modern African American families in its entirety.

In his inquest, he found many discrepancies in or lack of the theoretical approaches that

are implemented in sociological family studies. Much of the previous studies did not characterize

African American families in their own context distinct from other ethnic groups; instead they

were evaluated against the White American family model. He concluded that, “Using White

American family structure as the norm, the earliest studies characterized African American

families as impoverished versions of white families in which the experiences of slavery,

economic deprivation, and racial discrimination had induced pathogenic and dysfunctional

features” (Skolnick 400.) Aside from the predisposition to idealize White American families as

the poster child from which all other families are compared to, there other obvious problems in

this extremely inadequate approach. For example, there are obvious ethnic and cultural

differences between African Americans and White Americans. Historically, each group came

from different parts of the world (voluntarily or involuntary) in which they brought their own

distinct culture, beliefs, and experiences. If we apply the cultural approach, account for each

population’s distinct characteristics, historical experiences, social-economics, and their own

individuality (for starters) and apply the sociological imagination to the research, the findings

would clearly indicate widely divergent differences. Additionally, using the “cultural variant”

perspective when further examining these differences between racial family units, the diverse

forms including their differences are considered as legitimate functional forms (Skolnick 402.)

Another problem that has become apparent in is the scholarly assumption that the

consequence of slavery has detrimental and demoralizing effects on African American families.

This presumption gives means for researchers to impress upon the deterioration of these family

units (in comparison to the norm) and the prevalence of matriarchal families in the African-
American community. This assumption was met with substantiate differences in the recent

research. Taylor reports that the results of these studies “provide compelling documentation of

the centrality of family and kinship among African Americans during the long years of bondage

and how African Americans created and sustained a rich cultural and family life despite the

brutal reality of slavery” (Skolnick 403). The interpersonal relationships between slaves were in

constant states of disruption. Essential to their survival under these deplorable conditions, slaves

established close knit groups that collectively formed diverse social and family arrangements that

included various compositions of nuclear, extended, and augmented households.

In the recent past, prejudicial sociological studies from assuming “authorities” and the

inaccurate scientific literature it presented have unfairly depicted African Americans as an

impoverished population of unorganized dysfunctional social units suffering from the residual

effects of historical adversary. Across the country, the media glamorizes this ghetto life and

urban living prevalent with images of African American youth. As a result, African Americans

are unfortunately faced with some stereotypical images that have negative connotations. In

changing the way research is conducted and study African Americans in their own context, in

which their own distinct culture, beliefs, and experiences are examined from a cultural approach,

researchers could offer a much more accurate account of their population as a whole.