In the previous article, of this parenting series, we explored why good parenting is so important in our community, my own experience working to help empower parents and families, and we defined and described a “dysfunctional family.” Now we will devote time to understanding how a healthy family operates, and societal factors that can impact healthy family behavior.
An empowered family operates (as you may imagine) much differently from a dysfunctional one. They experience arguments, tension, and other problems, as no one is without flaw. In general however, an empowered and empowering family:
- Puts family FIRST
- Can handle conflicts without yelling, cursing, fighting, or name-calling
- Demonstrates a sense of family pride
- Demonstrates respect for each member’s personal space and boundaries
- Sees itself as a team in which each member is important and has responsibilities commensurate to his/her age, health, and skill set.
- Willingly reassures, supports and protects its members
- Speaks to and works with its members at least as well as it does with outsiders, and often better.
- Creates an environment that facilitates work, rest, play and success
- Spends quality time together
- Does not allow any member to fail, shirk responsibilities, or negatively impact the family without intervention and consequence.
- Creates and maintains routines/expectations that facilitate growth and empowerment
As stated earlier, even members of empowered families argue, sometimes shirk responsibility, or fail to communicate effectively. The major difference between healthy and dysfunctional families, is that the former generally and consistently demonstrates the healthy qualities listed above, while the latter generally and consistently demonstrates the toxic qualities cited in the previous article.
No reasonable person wants to argue, fight, fail and be upset all of the time. What then accounts for family dysfunction? To understand this, we must recognize that families do not exist in a vacuum; Families live in a society with its own rules, expectations, definitions of success, messages, incentives and punishments. In sociological terms, we call these things societal norms.
All families, regardless of race, gender, or income, feel the impact of societal influences. However, families whose members represent groups that are oppressed and unfairly treated in society (i.e. “People of color,” women, and the poor) face greater negative influences and impact from the larger society.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Black families. The legacy of white supremacy creates great negative impact on Black people ( despite right-wing conservative claims to the contrary). Black people endured enslavement, centuries of racist propaganda, discrimination/deprivation in the arenas of education, employment, business and housing, and an unbridled war against our bodies, minds, culture, and institutions.
In this context, our people generally face challenges in our attempts to live freely, safely, or in a self-defined and self-directed manner. Psychologist and Social Worker Professor Joy DeGruy has coined the term, “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome to describe how the traumas of enslavement, brutality and discrimination have created negative behaviors and views among Black people which exist even today.
White supremacy theorist Neeley Fuller, who wrote an entire workbook about white supremacy, suggests that White supremacy/racism seeks to negatively impact and destroy Black people in every major area of human activity including:
White supremacy is so fundamental to Black life, that Fuller created the oft-used quote, “If you do not understand white supremacy (racism) – what it is and how it works – everything else you understand will only confuse you.”
If we also include negative gender and materialist messages from society, we understand how Black family members can think and embody the following negative and self-defeating beliefs:
- Black skin, hair, lips, noses, etc. are ugly
- Blacks are supposed to be violent and disrespectful, especially toward each other
- Black people should not trust or cooperate with people of their own community/race, who are positive, successful and trying to help me become the same.
- Money, financial success, and the material things I can obtain with them are more important than anything else.
- Black girls and women are the sexual playthings of men.
- Black girls and women – as producers of pleasure for men – should spend the majority of their money and time having fun and being sexy and physically attractive to/for men. Rather than developing their skills, intellect and character to be independent, women should use sex appeal, and the conspicuous display of their breasts, tummies, behinds, hips, lips and hair, to attract men who will “take care of them” and/or give them pleasure and appease their vanity.
- Black boys and men are receivers of pleasure whose power is determined by their physical strength/physiques, sexual prowess, and ability to produce pain, tolerate pain, or receive pleasure.
- Black people should strive to gain status and a sense of importance by giving/receiving pleasure, exerting sexuality/violence, entertaining others, and/or accumulating symbols of power (cars, shoes, jewelry) rather than power itself.
- Being intelligent, positive-thinking, purposeful and motivated in positive directions is “corny,” “weak,” or trying to be “white.”
- Black people, who try to empower other Black people should be feared, ridiculed, ignored, or not trusted. When such people attempt to correct, improve or empower us, they are really attempting to humiliate or look down on us because they are a “know-it-all” or think they are better than us.
- Since it is corny, weak or senseless to be purposeful and self-motivated, we should waste our time and money living for today, rather than investing in and preparing for our future. Therefore, using time/money wisely, taking/money time to acquire an education and learning how to empower ourselves in effective ways is foolish, hopeless, and a waste of time.
- Rather than wasting so much time/money/energy in positive empowering pursuits in our lives, we can get the sensation or feeling of being successful, important and powerful by living vicariously through the achievements or status of others (actors, entertainers, athletes either by meeting them or watching them on music videos, television broadcasts or in movies. We can also get these feelings by purchasing or wearing things these people buy and wear.
If you carefully review all of the above messages, and think about the high levels of frustration, disillusionment, anxiety, wasted resources, anger and distrust they create, you can images how these messages (if believed and embodied) might lead to dysfunctional behaviors and practices right in our homes. We should think about how this social conditioning and our internalization of it, leads directly to self-hatred, low esteem, irrational thinking/behavior, violence, abuse, feelings of false entitlement, misdirected energy, broken promises, failed potential, and generational cycles of failure.
Those in our community who find that these feelings and behaviors describe them have two choices. We can either make excuses, defend our behavior, stay in denial, and remain adversarial with our family members and those trying to help us, or we can begin to replace these negative messages and behaviors with empowering ones.
The next and last article in this Empowered Parenting series will provide tips and strategies to help rescue and renew our families through attaining empowering parental practices.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.”
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.