Black Matriarchy: Deconstruction of the Black Family

To consider an ideology of the African-American family, one should first recognize the scarcity of the existence of any "nuclear family", black or white. The "nuclear family" consisting of the father, mother, and children is progressively heading toward minority status. A statistic obtained from the Internet states that by the year 2000 over 60 percent of American families would be headed by single parents. This does not apply to African-American families alone, as one would stereotypically tend to believe. One can not deny that largely, single women are steadily heading African-American families. This does not refute the fact that there is indeed an existence of an African-American family. Middle class African-American families, with the presence of both men and women, are as much a reality as existing white middle class families. However, a major deception that has been transferred to modern society is that black single motherhood has become a satisfactory and valued way of living to African-American young women. Accordingly, it projects the image of the black single mother as the malefactor in the deconstruction of the "Black family ". Throughout the 60's advent of the Moynihan report, leading into the Reagan era, and throughout the nineties into the twenty-first century, American society has utilized such influential methods of representation as politics, media, and popular culture, to unjustly reflect this false belief. These false notions, that objectify and stigmatize black women, are manifesting themselves into the minds of white and black Americans alike. It is from this perspective that I believe the Ransby and Matthews article works to display the disparity in believing in this obviously questionable idea. The black female matriarchy is not the sole reason that there is not an overwhelming existence of Black families. Most of the blame lies in the hand of how society represents and infiltrates into people's minds the myth of the African-American female culprit in the deconstruction of the black family.

The authors first convey that African-Americans, youth especially, despair in their future prospects. Black America longs for a "hopeful alternative" to their internalized negative conceptions of their futures. Ransby and Matthews use three genres to delineate reawakening and redevelopment in African- American cultural influence. "There are three major components of this resurgence of which have triggered heated debates within the halls of academia and on the streets of black America. They are: first, the cultural and intellectual movement known as Afrocentrism; second a growing interest in the commercialization of the memory of Malcolm X; and third, the provocative and popular lyrics of certain subgeneres of rap music, which have emerged within the larger context of what is termed hip hop culture (526)."

As an African-American young black female, I too was personally affected by each of these genres. As the authors say each influenced my personal outlook of being African-American. Although Afrocentrism was an older concept in my youth I remember the first time I heard James Brown's pop tune "I'm black and I'm proud". I felt the most incredible sense of pride that enabled me to visualize a concept of how these words are intended for all Black peoples to instill in them the greatness of being black or brown skinned. However, as Ransby and Matthews reveal as with most genres of society, black or white, this racial empowerment move of Afrocentrism resulted in masculinized tactics. "A masculinized vision of black empowerment and liberation resonates the literature of on Afrocentrism, the lyrics of male rappers, and the symbolic homogenous black community, the class biases and the rhetoric of the Afrocentric behaviorists is obvious. (526)"

The authors then show how there has been a cry for black male role models, to further the cause of this male centered Afrocentrism and to counteract the so called deconstruction of the black family by black matriarchy. This black matriarchy, so termed in the sixties by Daniel Moynihan, projects the idea of the black single mother role as public enemy number one. The effects of which appear in both society and the deconstruction of the black family."The struggle is defined as one to reclaim and redefine black manhood. Ironically, this is also the point at which the politics and positions of some cultural nationalists, liberals, and right-wing conservatives seem to converge. Consistent with the view that the problem with black people is culturally based, and centered around an alleged crises in black manhood, their arguments are again framed by the use of certain race-, class- and gender-coded terms that blame poor people for their own oppression. (527)"

As stated earlier, the supposed instigator of the crises in "black manhood" is the black woman. Therefore the young black male projects his anger on being oppressed onto his black female counterparts. If one were to even remotely consider any of this theory viable one must first attain the root of the problem. The root of this problem lies in the undeniable and obvious fact that a black woman does not often become a single-mother with intent. In most cases it is black single motherhood is the result of the black male father abandoning the black mother. Black men have habitually chosen throughout history to abandon their pregnant wives and girlfriends. What has not been considered is the fact that we are raising our daughters to believe that a male without a "daddy" produces more psychological harm than a female without a "daddy". This so obviously is not true. When both parents are not present in families it affects women as much as it affects men. The major question is why are black women not encouraged to seek out positive role models as well? A possible answer garners in the fact that black women are still personified in roles of the protected not the protector in the black patriarch.

This black patriarch continually objectifies black women in both black hip-hop culture as well as the idealization of Malcolm X as revealed by Ransby and Matthews. The idealization of Malcolm X, on a more personal perspective, was a grassroots movement in the promoting of a strong black figure to black male youth. During this time the media began projecting images of black men and violence. The black community began loosing countless black male youth to senseless acts of violence. There was a need for the black community to design ways of providing alternatives to black men. One such method was to promote the transcendent and praised black leaders, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Manufactures were readily producing these Malcolm X t-shirts and other marketable paraphernalia to black consumers. As the authors' allude, Malcolm X was an honorable figure for black men, but in all honesty the complete opposite for black women. "… Malcolm endorsed most of his life, suggests that black women should be "respected and protected," confined to a domestic sphere, and serve a subordinate role relative to their husbands. (530)"

This quote appropriately takes into account the deception black society projects onto black men about relating to black women. The ensuing results of these ideas are that black rap artists justify themselves in producing demoralizing music against black women. Ransby and Matthews gave examples of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, two rap artists who use their music as a medium to debase black women. Ice Cube is the pimp who doesn’t take back talk from his women. Dr. Dre represents all men believing that criticism by a female sanctions a public physical abuse. These are black men who follow the examples and ideals conveyed by men such as Malcolm X.

"The flawed and erroneous assumptions about gender and liberation provide a perfect rationale for the continued subjugation of black women, almost as a matter of principle. That is, if Black Power is defined as redeeming black manhood, and black manhood is defined uncritically as the right to patriarchal heads of black families, and the exclusive defenders of the black community, black women are, by definition, relegated to a marginal status. (532)" To consider this quote we as the authors' show we must accept the fact the rage in black men is warranted but it is misdirected by making the black woman the object of this rage. Therefore the answer lies in the hands of black women to show society, black male counterparts, and black women that they should no longer mutely accept this erroneous misrepresentation. Black woman now have women of powerful voice and mind producing musical lyrics, movie and cinema, writing novels, producing art and so on which more accurately reflects the black woman. Ultimately if society and black men chose not to accept this truthful representation than the duty lies in the hands of black women to use each of these mediums as resurgence to female empowerment.

The authors' mention such female rap spearheads as Queen Latifah, M.C. Lyte, and Salt & Pepa. Each of these women have produced and continue to produce music that inspire black women to take pride in being just that a black woman. Ransby and Matthews mention how Queen Latifah challenges both the white male patriarchal powers as well as her male rap counterparts. M.C. Lyte's music has transcended time about black women in sexual and emotional relationships and coping with the disappointments they to often encounter with men. The rise of artists such as Lauryn Hill who at age 23 years old took home five Grammies demonstrate to black women that they can no longer accept the unwarranted attacks of black men and male centered society. Adding to this, the music of Lauryn Hill speaks to women like, Queen Latifah's music does, about empowering themselves against subjugation. She speaks about relationships, love, motherhood, and careers all issues that relate women's daily lives. There has also been an rise in cinema where we have witnessed black female producers and directors. Although most are being backed by men or are making small movies it shows how they are on the move and breaking through the walls of this male-centered industry. The same can be said for art and literature alike. Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou are all renowned black women that American society recognizes positively for their respective works.

To conclude, as a black woman I don't feel at all susceptible to falling into this trap of black matriarchy deconstructing. What I have attempted to do in this paper is to show how the very idea of black women bearing the sole responsibility of the breakdown of the black family is nonsensical. The black family exists, but there is no real nuclear black family as there is really no nuclear family at all. Black women for centuries have supported families without the aid of men. One can not deny as Ransby and Matthews' point out, that single parenting can lead to the deconstructing of black men but it leads to the deconstructing of black women as well. These issues of desperation and the need for black role models are not fundamental for black men alone. Black women need role models as well. Black women need encouragement and that sense of hope that black men seem to believe is their fight alone. Otherwise Black women will continually be trapped in the subjugating and demeaning role as public enemy to the state, to the black male, and to the black family.