Keeping with the legacy of American history, the African American family is a topic of controversy and concern. While other aspects of the family are studied, it could be argued that the area of African American motherhood receives the most attention. Unequivocally, African American mothers are depicted as matriarchs, crack-mothers, and welfare queens. In addition, Black mothers are often portrayed as lazy, irresponsible, destructive, and even worthless. These stereotypical images of African American mothers are important because they have powerful implications for African American moms, and for their families at large.
Myths influence policy-makers, as well as how these mothers are viewed and treated by society. Although these stereotypes were formed in past decades, many, if not all of them, are still alive today. In order to understand why these labels continue to exist, it is useful to examine the rationale and reasoning behind their creation and the characteristics that are associated with each false image. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Dorothy Roberts both discuss African American mothers and are therefore important viewpoints to consider in this analysis.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an American politician and sociologist, states in his report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (1965), that matriarchy is the main contributor to problems within the Black family. He argues that the matriarch prevents the African American family from achieving equality since it exists in a family system that does include a strong presence of a father-figure. Moynihan contends that “the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which … seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole” (Moynihan 21). As this excerpt illustrates, Moynihan assumes a negative view of matriarchy. He probably could not accept a family system that varied from the more accepted system of patriarchy found in most white families during the time the report was written.
The ideas presented in his report helped foster the creation of stereotypes about black women, namely, the idea that black women should be blamed for black poverty. Moynihan posited that the matriarch was detrimental to the black family, especially in the case of single motherhood. He maintained the idea that “the absence of a father is destructive to children…it means that children will lack the economic resources, role model, discipline, structure” (Biblarz & Raftery 321). In addition to characterizing these women as domineering and detached, Moynihan also stated that this phenomenon of matriarchy strengthened itself over generations.
It could be said that Moynihan labeled this cycle as a “pathology of matriarchy” that strongly contributed to his idea of the “tangle of pathology” that kept African Americans from achieving equality and a higher place in society. He stated that “a national effort towards the problem of Negro Americans must be directed towards the...