The African Family The traditional African family has faced many tribulations, as it has not remained static since the beginning of the diaspora. It has faced Eurocentric hegemony which has obscured and distorted conventional cultures, which originally united the African family through a network of strong traditions (Azevedo, 2005).
Other various external forces such as geography, religion, influence of colonialism, intercontinental migration, political and economic structures have affected families in characteristics uch as polygyny, balance of roles and responsibilities amongst males and females, urbanization, and adaptation of western culture amongst children (Sweet, 2000). Subsequent to the slave trade and obtaining their freedom, African American families have yet to conquer their battles: they face greater obstacles that threaten to loosen family ties.
One of the most distinguishable characteristics of traditional African families has been the existence of polygamy. It has served as a basis of African culture, and has significantly impacted African social groups, tribes and clans (Aretha et al, 2011). Prior to the spread of Islam and Christianity, an African man, with his multiple wives and children was essentially acceptable in all cases. The reason for this is that marriage in the African world is universal (Azevedo, 2005). Every man must marry a woman, leaving no bachelors or spinsters.
Therefore, unlike Western culture, the bride and groom did not have much personal knowledge about their partner before committing themselves to marriage. To compensate for the overall greater number of females and the required labor for maintaining farms via children, it was usual for one man to have multiple marriages, although each needed to be receded by courtship and consent for marriage (Degbey). If a man was to have multiple wives, he had to make sure that favoritism for a single woman or her children was not shown, because it would disrupt the overall balance of the household and affect the children mostly.
Forwarding to 1866, with the emancipation, the act of polygyny was abolished by many states, and many male ex-slaves were compelled to choose one wife (Azevedo, 2005). Over the years, polygyny has changed within the African-American family. Due to the large marital and familial dissolution due to economics, families had to adopt alternate survival strategies and cultural alues to ensure that the labor system did not obliterate their traditional way of life (Campt, 2009). Amongst the structure of family, patrilineal societies were amongst the most popular (Campt, 2009).
Although matrilineal societies did exist, patrilineal assured that the man was the head of the household and was responsible for providing for the entire family. Upon the colonialism era, Africans were utilized extensively for wage labor, which drove men away from their families to work within cities to be able to afford taxes. Women who were left at home were required to tend o farms, whose crops were also ultimately consumed by economic trade within the continent (Aretha et al, 2011). Due to the separation of women and men, the roles (Campt, 2009).
If men were occupied by laboring far away from home, the woman had to assure that the crops were viable enough to be sold. On the other hand, women were also affected by wage labor because they had to participate in labor demands as well. Women were forced to neglect their household duties to work for the Europeans (Azevedo, 2005). This led to a decrease in cultivation, which posed another problem on its own. Overall, the roles that were formerly fulfilled by men were gradually becoming the responsibilities of women as well, while they struggled to find a balance between labor and their traditional household duties.
Prior to colonization by the Europeans, Africans were closely knit with small societies belonging to relatively small towns and cities arranged into rural villages that were largely dependent on agriculture. Upon the empowerment of the Europeans and Arabs (for Eastern Africa), urbanization spread rapidly amongst these small towns, turning them to urban centers for rapid economic and religious growth (Campt, 200). Urban living resulted in changes with the resident norms, activities and occupations, and it changed the way Africans thought, often challenging their traditional beliefs and social practices (Azevedo, 2005).
The group of Africans that were affected the most by the quick urbanization were children, as they slowly drifted away from African culture and adopted Western traditions, which were taught to them via educational institutions that were built during the spread of religion within the continent (Sweet, 2000). When the slaves arrived into the Americas, they were split p individually, and families were purposely broken so that the chance of rebellion was minimized (Azevedoo, 2005).
Marriage amongst slaves was commonly used as “entertainment for the master’s household,” and was to be completed only at the discretion of the slave-owner (Azevedo, 2005). Prior to the emancipation, lack of prenatal and postnatal care, a characteristic that was strong within traditional African families, was to be neglected because women were assigned to provide for their masters before their children. This also aided in an increase in infant mortality rates, which further destabilized African slave families (Sweet, 2000).
After the emancipation, African slave families were significantly altered, going from being subjugated to self-sustainable (Campt, 2009). To allow for a smooth transition, polygamy was gradually banished and males were allowed to choose one female to start a family with. Churches and missionary schools aided in this effort and helped stabilize many families, as well (Sweet, 2000). Despite the newly obtained freedom, the psychological effects of racism and violence that the Africans had to face was still engraved into their minds, and this impacted the family structure that was now slowly establishing itself into the American community.
Child welfare systems did not become available to African Americans until the late 19th century (Azevedo, 2005). Children under the age of 18 were abused or neglected in the United States. As a result, many teenagers were found to have deviant behavior. Also due to lack of opportunity and high rates of unemployment, African-American male populations were found to be affected by drugs, crimes with subsequent prison sentences, lack of education, and higher disease rates (Waites, 2009). This resulted in an increase in female-headed households because the males were preoccupied with the forementioned problems.
Despite the obstacles that African families have had to importance of children and the close ties that Africans have with each other. Family structure was the primary means of development and appropriate socialization for the child (Aretha et al, 2011). Dating back to traditional African culture, a man was not considered masculine until he had offspring to prove it. Children had to undergo “initiation” which included observation of parental duties, direct experience in the fields and lessons in the form of stories, legends and songs (Azevedo, 2005).
This romised a respectable wellbeing of the child and to ensure a productive life. As mentioned above, African marriages were universal and were considered more public than private, because it included ties between the bride and the groom’s families and often consisted of the newly-wed living with the parents of the groom (for patrilineal societies) or vice versa in the case of matrilineal ones (Aretha et al, 2011). Even when practicing polygamy, a man had to ensure than none of his children were favored over the other, because it would impact the other children and inhabitants of the house negatively.
Everything was ordered to ensure that the upbringing of children and the family balance was optimal. During colonialism, when the man had forced to leave the household to earn a living for the family further from home, Africans families and communities helped wives that were left behind to assist them and to provide moral support (Aretha et al, 2011). Slave owners were well aware of the closeness of the African family; therefore they split them up when merchandising them off to potential buyers (Azevedo, 2005).
Forwarding to the post emancipation era, groups which united Africans, such as the National Association for he Advancement of Colored People, which struggled for greater economic opportunity and civil rights for African American families, helped to bring African American groups together and to unite them to fight for a cause (Azevedo, 2005). It is human nature that people with similar interests and common characteristics are more likely to come together and to help each other out when in need.
Similarly, Africans helped each other out when necessary, and this can be dated back to the traditional African family, far before Europeans or Arab slave traders even stepped onto the continent. Therefore, the existence of kinship bonds and a sense of community have prevailed despite the constant struggles and threats to the traditional family. Over the years Africans have had to face numerous amounts of hardships which affected them physically, socially, psychologically and economically.
To this day, all these obstacles have not been wiped out, but they have dramatically decreased in intensity. African American families will have to endure a few more generations before they will not be Judged based on skin color, or accent, or the way they carry themselves; to eliminate all sorts of generalizations and stereotypical udgments. However, one cannot deny that they have not evolved greatly when it comes to culture, traditions and independence. The black family is quite vibrant, and in my opinion, very respectable as well.