The University of Texas at Austin

A New Look at Black Families, 6th Edition (with Dr. Charles V. Willie)

A New Look at Black Families, 6th Edition cover

Hear me discuss A New Look at Black Families, 6th Edition, on NPR’s Talk of the Nation (March 24, 2011)

This study offers a more refined answer to the question: What is it like to be black in the United States? The more refined answer we try to give disaggregates the black population into affluent, working-class, and low-income family groups. We, then, proceed to answer this question for blacks, according to their varying socioeconomic status categories. This approach prevents stereotyping a whole group for behavior applicable to only one or two population sectors.

Descriptive information is something of value. We offer such data in ten case studies of black women and black men of achievement and in six case studies of black family life in low-income, working-class, and affluent populations, prepared by students in a course taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education by Charles Willie on “Adaptation and Learning in Majority and Minority Families.” Names of students who prepared the case studies are mentioned in the text. However, pseudonyms are used for family names in case studies; other identifying information (such as place of residence, job titles, etc.) has been changed to protect the anonymity of each household. In all instances, substitutions are equivalent to the real features of a family.

To enhance our understanding of the descriptive features of family life, we analyze the family case studies according to well-documented theoretical and conceptual approaches in sociology, particularly those having to do with socioeconomic status-attainment. However, our study goes beyond theories of social stratification and explores three other important adaptation strategies such as alternative routes to excellence exhibited by individuals affiliated with different kinds of families, power-sharing practices among spouses in households of black people, and the cross-gender effects of fathers and mothers on achievement of their male and female offspring.

Finally, we conclude our analysis by determining whether race continues to be significant in the adaptation of families to society at large. Our data about the closing but continuing gap between black and white people regarding education, employment, and income show a diminishing but continuing racial difference that is significant. We also believe that some of the unique adaptation strategies of black people to the U.S. society are significant because they can benefit other households, including households of brown and white people. Among such strategies, is the equitable distribution of social power increasingly found among male and female spouses in egalitarian black families.