This post was written with the help of the author: Olivia Onil is a master in English philology and literature at California University. Olivia is currently working as one of the best writers at the ExclusivePapers.net She also studies feminine psychology.
Family has always been the most important element of human social structure. During prehistoric times, people used to form different types of families basing on their cultural and moral values. The most basic type of family in prehistoric times was a tribe. In the course of time, the structure of family changed due to social and cultural development of humanity. Such factors as region, culture, and social development of certain society have seriously affected family structure. But the factor that had the most drastic influence on family formation is slavery. In most cultures, slaves were deprived of any human rights and therefore could not form normal families. In time, further development of human society led to abolishment of slavery and granting of equal rights to all social and racial groups. All of these facts are especially topical for African Americans who were stripped of essential human rights for centuries. Today, African Americans account for a large part of population of the U.S. and have a serious impact on its cultural, social, and economic life. Therefore, it is significant to analyze the way African American family changed over time and what form it may take in the future.
The institution of family has always played a large role in development of social relations. Family has always been a stabilizing factor that positively influenced all spheres of human life. This is explained by the fact that family people tend to be more responsible, reliable, and sensible, as they can take care of other family members. They also usually try to achieve maximum financial success in order to provide their family with everything that is required for high quality living. Therefore, it can be stated that family people contribute to financial, social, and economic development of the society. That is why, due to rising social awareness, full families that lead happy lives is one of the major priorities for any country in the modern world. Regretfully, things have not always been the same. Human history witnessed the time when slavery, racism, and inequality of rights posed a serious threat to the institution of family and therefore to the development of human society. These problems have heavily affected the lives of African Americans. This social group nowadays composes considerable number of the U.S. citizens therefore contributing to the cultural and social development of the nation.
The history of African American families starts in the 17th century with active colonization of American territory. Colonization of America started right after the war between Europeans and Native American population. In a massive armed conflict, Europeans defeated Indians due to major supremacy in weapon technology. The reason for the war was obvious – Europeans came looking for financial benefits including gold, gems, and especially new territory to inhabit in order to create new colonies that would provide resources for their sovereign countries. The purpose of inhabiting new territory required adequate means to be fulfilled. Therefore, massive relocation of white Europeans to America started. It is important to remember that slavery was a common practice at that time. Slaves were the main source of labor force because there was no need to pay them; it was only required to provide them with minimum food and low quality housing. The majority of slaves were Africans or their descendants that had black color of skin. Therefore, for the purpose of colonization of America and developing its industrial potential, white Europeans brought their African slaves with them in great numbers. Those slaves became the first African Americans and that is when their history truly started. It is completely understandable that African American slaves lived in poor conditions. They received minimum food from their masters that was sufficient only to keep them alive. Moreover, that food was of poorest quality and could be considered more fitting to feed pigs than people. According to historians, African American slaves lived in poor housing conditions that consisted mostly of shabby shacks that provided almost no protection from weather conditions and were could serve only as a roof over one’s head. In those desperate times, the quality of medical treatment was also very low, and in most cases slaves did not receive any proficient medical treatment at all. According to Williams, African American slaves had their own medical practices inherited from their African ancestors. That was some kind of tribal medicine based upon herbal treatment and shamanic rituals. African American slaves were also deprived of decent education. All of this evidence shows that slaves were treated like property by their white masters. The attitude towards African American families was fitting to this principle. Slaves had no human rights and could not express their opinion or marry officially. Despite this fact, African Americans had families that were either formed by them in secret or by their white masters in order to achieve certain goals. Slave owners had several reasons for forming slave families. The most important goal was breeding, and in this case slave families were formed against the will of sexual partners. Due to this, African American families usually had a lot of children. Some slave owners also thought that forming families could ensure slaves’ good behavior and would stop their members from running away in order to become free people. Selling members of African American slave families was also a common practice. For example, father, mother, or children could be separately sold to different owners. This has greatly contributed to formation of partial families and general sense of fear, hatred, and despair in African American families. Therefore, slave families were fully dependent on their white masters and cannot be regarded as independent formations.
The attitude towards African Americans in different American regions was not the same. In the South they were deprived of any rights until 1865. On the other hand, in the North some slaves gained their freedom much earlier, starting from 1830. In the American Civil War that lasted from 1861 to 1865 the forces of the North were victorious. As a result, slavery was abolished and African Americans at last gained their freedom. Despite this joyful fact, African Americans still did not possess equal rights with white American citizens. These historical events opened the era of emancipation that lasted until approximately 1960. The era of emancipation was characterized by a permanent struggle of African Americans for their rights and dignity. Former slaves and their descendants were treated as second-rate people. African Americans were socially isolated from Europeans. They were not able to work on many positions and were mostly engaged in agriculture, basic manufacturing, and other jobs that did not require education, hard brainwork, or high skills. Schools, medical facilities and social places, such as libraries and even bars were also completely segregated basing on the skin color. African Americans were restricted from visiting places designed for white people. These factors contributed to low quality of education for African Americans and growing social tension between them and white American citizens. The structure of African American family was also seriously affected by such inequality. Black families used to have a big number of children and it was common for them to lack a father. This can be explained by the fact that African American men were often separated from their families because they worked in another area to earn enough money. The crime rate among African Americans was also high because of hard financial situation and total lack of money for leading a decent life.
In 1960, African Americans received equal rights with white American citizens. Today, the U.S. has entered the age of tolerance and prosperity. African Americans can get any education, hold any jobs, and receive high quality medical care. These opportunities have improved the quality of living for them, but have not solved all their problems. According to recent research, crime rates among African Americans remain very high. It is still common for African American families to lack a father. The rates of unemployment and low quality education among African Americans are also much higher as compared with white Americans. It is also very illustrative that over 73% of children in 2009 were born in unmarried African American mothers. The number of unmarried African Americans is also high and this tendency continues to increase. This situation can be explained by negative historical traditions that contributed to the development of partial families and the fact that young African Americans tend to search for a better life without bothering to form a full family. Such situation could pose a serious threat to future development of African American families. According to scientists, the best way to solve this difficult situation is to promote family values among African Americans by emphasizing that family is the primary element of social capital and an essential basis for successful future. It is also necessary to completely eradicate all displays of racism towards African American citizens. This would help to reduce social tension and could lead to major decrease in crime rates among this ethnical group.
In conclusion, it can be stated that African American families had a lot of serious problems in the past. They were mistreated for hundreds of years, lived through slavery and inequality, but still managed to prevail and enter the modern era of tolerance and prosperity. Of course, historical problems have affected modern African American families in a negative way, but their influence can be rectified. In order to do so, it is essential to promote moral and family values among African Americans and eradicate the remnants of racism and intolerance in modern American society. Consequently, all citizens of the U.S., despite their social or ethnical status, may enter a bright and successful future.