Resilience or Pathology?

Reflections on African American Family Dynamics in the Twentieth Century  “How does it feel to be a problem?” asked sociologist W.E.B. Dubois in the opening chapter of The Souls of Black Folk (1903). African Americans have faced a perennial struggle with “double consciousness,” he explained, seeing themselves simultaneously from the perspective of their own black communities as well as from the perspective of the dominant white race. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.[1] DuBois, the first black man to attain a Ph.D. from Harvard University, opened the eyes of white sociologists to the experiences of black men and women and of the families that they formed and the dreams they pursued. His groundbreaking study, The Negro American Family (1908), brought to light many of the challenges that black families faced in, or alongside, white America, for he wrote during the era of Jim Crow. By some accounts, black families have proven themselves extraordinarily resilient during the century following DuBois’s initial studies: adapting to survive industrialization, urbanization, and institutional racism; at times managing to thrive, even by white middle-class measures of success; and also offering unique approaches to family life that reveal deficiencies in the broader culture’s white middle-class norm. “Resilience,” however, is not the typ
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