The term Black matriarchy is used in reference to the cultural phenomena of African-American households with children being largely headed by mothers, with the children's biological fathers mostly absent from the household.
The issue was first brought to national attention in 1965 by sociologist and later Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in the groundbreaking Moynihan Report (also known as "The Negro Family: The Case For National Action". Moynihan's report made the argument that the relative absence of nuclear families (those having both a father and mother present) in Black America would greatly hinder further Black socioeconomic progress.
In 1940, the illegitimacy rate for Black children was 19%. A study of 1880 family structure in Philadelphia shows that three-quarters of black families were nuclear families, composed of two parents and children. In New York City in 1925, 85 percent of kin-related black households had two parents.
At the time of the Moynihan report (1965)
When Moynihan warned in his 1965 report, on the coming destruction of the black family, the out-of-wedlock birthrate was 25 percent among blacks. In 1991, 68 percent of black children were born outside of marriage. In 2011, 72% of Black babies were born to unwed mothers.
Cosby and Poussaint's criticism of the single parent family
Bill Cosby has criticised the current state of Black families being dominated by single-parent situations. In a speech to the NAACP in 2004, Cosby said "In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on". "You have the pile-up of these sweet beautiful things born by nature—raised by no one."
In Cosby's 2007 book Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors, co-authored with psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, Cosby and Poussaint write that "a house without a father is a challenge," and that "a neighborhood without fathers is a catastrophe." Cosby and Poussaint write that mothers "have difficulty showing a son how to be a man," and that this presents a problem when there are no father figures around to show boys how to channel their natural aggressiveness in constructive ways. Cosby and Poussaint also write, "We wonder if much of these kids' rage was born when their fathers abandoned them."
Cosby and Poussaint state that verbal and emotional abuse of the children is prominent in the parenting style of Black single mothers, with serious developmental consequences for the children. "Words like 'You're stupid,' 'You're an idiot,' 'I'm sorry you were born,' or 'You'll never amount to anything' can stick a dagger in a child's heart."
"Single mothers angry with men, whether their current boyfriends or their children's fathers, regularly transfer their rage to their sons, since they're afraid to take it out on the adult males". “If they hear their mom say, 'Black men ain't worth s—-,' the boys wonder whether that includes them. When their moms yell, 'You're no good, just like your father!' all the doubt goes away."
Cosby and Poussaint write that this formative parenting environment in the Black single parent family leads to a "wounded anger—of children toward parents, women toward men, men toward their mothers and women in general".
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The weaknesses in today's black family are directly tied to the atrocities that were thrust upon them during the time of slavery. Being owned by another human being transformed black men and their families and most have not recovered from the indignities and injustices that came along with that ownership. The most devastating problem to stem from slavery and the practices of slave owners is the problem of the absent black father. Black male absenteeism in homes and families is a casualty of the war of slavery that continues to be felt long after slavery was legally abolished. The disproportionate crime rates in black neighborhoods and amongst the black race, the lack of education, divorce rates and number of unwed mothers in black communities can all be attributed to the lack of strong black men available and willing to head black households. Studies have shown that children who live absent from their biological fathers are more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married parents. <Newburn>
- Mammy archetype
- Research on the African-American Family
- The Negro Family: The Case For National Action
- Is Marriage for White People?
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