In recent years, multiculturalism, tolerance and political correctness have been integrated into how American society thinks. America seems to be trying to learn more about the ingredients of her melting pot. These efforts can be best understood by examining post-modernism. Post-modernism is especially important to breaking down stereotypes such as those that exist surrounding the black family.
To understand post-modernism we must first understand modernism. Modernism is the philosophy that began with the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was an era when science and art flourished. European society used the Enlightenment to object to the oppression of the church. This era emphasized only those things that are observable or measurable (Smith, 1995). The scientific method developed at this time became the standard to which everything is measured. Modernism, although moving away from the confinements of religion, was limiting in its own way.
Post-modernism can be viewed as an expansion of modernism. It does not limit the idea of truth to only that which can be observed. Post-modernism is all encompassing. Post-modernism does not allow for only one definition for anything. There are several explanations for phenomena. Where modernism emphasizes racial classifications, post-modernism emphasizes cultural and ethnic classifications. Post-modernism sanctions differences from family to family and person to person within the parameters of one culture.
This multiculturalism is being used to educate from primary education through higher education. In Percival and Black’s study with sixth-graders and multiculturalism, they realized that, although they were examining a specific Native American tribe, stereotypes of that tribe or people can develop (2000). For example, all African Americans from the South eat collard greens and corn bread. So, educating oneself about other cultures cannot be used to generalize to the entire group. Post-modernism is, thus, very important to understanding the concept of a black family.
Post-modernism reveals that circumstances cannot be explained in one way. Modernism has clear procedures and criteria for defining phenomena. The question of truth is determined by science. Scientists control the worldview or meta-narrative of the dominant group (Western society). Much of the way current societies view the world is dominated by Western culture. The meta-narrative for the black family is defined by the Western standards: income and education and any other quantifiable unit.
The history of the black family is difficult to research according to Barnetta McGhee White because there are few written documents to substantiate the oral history (Staples, 1991 p.50). In terms of the prevailing meta-narrative, familial ties must be documented by family trees. Black families, due to the breakdown of the family through the slave trade, rely on oral history to tell the story of their lineage (Staples, 1991, p 51). The genealogy of author Barnetta McGhee White helps illustrate certain points. The first is that since a majority of the research into genealogy is dependent on written documents dating into the founding years of this nation, these documents are only telling what the writer wants the reader to know. The history of black families is told through the story of the slaveholder and, thus, gives information relevant to the business of slavery—everything that measurable. Another point is that those in power in the past control the future. If current society is viewed in chronicled terms, there is little control blacks can have over the account of their family history because it will always be in terms of the dominant meta-narrative based on modernity. The conclusion to be made by the former points is that modern thought is to blame for stereotypes against blacks. Post-modern thought allows for the black family to be viewed by criteria other than income and education.
Post-modern thought must be applied in discussing the black family in order to form a complete opinion or analysis for combating the problems of the black family. Senator Daniel Monyihan posited that the problems black society faced are a result of a breakdown in the black family (Staples, 1991, p250). A factor that may not have been considered in the 1965 thesis was the fact that there was a nationwide deterioration of the family due to social factors, such as the Vietnam War. From 1960 to 1970, the percentage of married couple families—defined by the Census’ Current Population Survey as “…two people or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together.”(1980)—dropped four percent, and it dropped even further from 1970 to 1980 by ten percent (1999).
Postmodern theory also helps us to understand while according to the Census’ definition of family blacks have a higher percentage of families of four or more people with female householders, the assumption that that black mothers are solely taking care of large families is false. The reason for the five percent difference between black and white families headed by females cannot be taken at face value (Census 2000). The female may live with other adults who contribute resources to the family. Furthermore, the householder may be providing in contract only; she signed the lease, deed or mortgage but does not live there and provide the everyday (other that pecuniary) support.
Other factors weigh heavily in understanding the plight of blacks. Two correlated elements, which affect blacks, are income and education. The percentage of black families in poverty in 1990 was eleven percent higher than that of white families, which was eight percent (Census Statistical Brief, 1993). It is not surprising that thirteen percent more whites were college graduates that same year (ibid). The difference dropped to twelve percent for the year 2000—twenty-eight percent of whites were college graduates and sixteen percent of blacks were college graduates (Census 2000).
These two factors are important because one of the meta-narratives in America stresses making as much money as possible. In order to make money, you must have an education. In order to receive the higher education needed for better employment, you need money. The idea of this cycle does not permit blacks to succeed according to the standards of this particular meta-narrative. However, there are black families who succeed by these standards through various means such as community help, financial aid and their own volition. Some families would not rate success according to income or education. Post-modernism allows different reasons and ideas to determine the truth. Therefore, in a postmodern world, truth is an opinion that is flexible to change.
Staples, R.(Ed). (1991). The black family: essays and studies. California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Percival, J. and Black, D. (2000). A true and continuing story: Developing a culturally sensitive, integrated curriculum in college and elementary classrooms. The Social Studies, 91 no.4 151-8.
Smith, R. (1995). The question of modernism and postmodernism. Arts Education Policy Review, 96 2-12.
United States. Census Bureau (2000) Current Population Survey, Racial Statistics Branch, Population. Retrieved February 24, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/race/black.ppl-142.tab06.txt
United States. Census Bureau (2000) Current Population Survey, Racial Statistics Branch, Population. Retrieved February 24, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/race/black.ppl-142.tab07.txt
United States. Census Bureau (1999) Statistical Abstract of the United States. Retrieved February 8, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.census.gov/prod/99pub/99statab/sec31.pdf
United States. Census Bureau (1993) Black Americans: A profile. Retrieved February 15, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.census.gov/apsd/www/statbrief/sb93_2.pdf