Our Family Curse

In these days of broken relationships and fractured families, it might be fair to ask why a sense of family—or, more romantically, a sense of family-at-large for black Americans—is a bad idea. After all, families are good things—social vehicles through which a sense of connectedness and support is fostered. 

Encouraging Co-dependency

Given America’s historical treatment of its black citizens, one might argue that it would be prudent to avail oneself of the potential benefits of a larger family. Families typically recognize their members, provide strength for weaker members, and offer direction.

However, members of families also grow and develop, and not necessarily at the same pace or time. Typically, for our black American family-at-large, those persons who grow and develop ahead of the mass are not accorded family status. To the contrary, growth and development for such persons has been too often met with derision, ridicule, and censure in reaction to their advancing a bit too quickly and a bit too independently. Oreo, Uncle Tom, and sellout are the epithets that have been reserved for such advancers. 

For black Americans, enmeshment and codependency are the vehicles that move the bulk of the community at too slow a pace while serving too often to crush the drive of the self-initiated. 

Race is Not Family

But, more important, members of healthy, well-functioning families grow and develop toward independence. They forge out on their own, seeking self-reliance, self-direction, and goals beyond the family’s horizons. Families are the nesting grounds from which we launch ourselves. However, without development of self beyond race, they become burial grounds for black individuals—where dreams and aspirations toward psychological freedom lie dormant and dying.

We are not all the same. We never were. We are not brothers and sisters. And we never will be. The sooner we recognize the fallacy of the black family-at-large and help disavow the world of its utility, the better will be our lives. 

I, for one, will not be yoked by history or melanin to bums, delayers, criminals, and other ne’er-do-wells. That’s ridiculous. They have chosen their paths and I mine. 

Each of us, individually, must explore why we would think otherwise. What do you get out of physically, emotionally, and psychologically joining the ranks of the dysfunctional? Being down with the browns? Safety? Assuagement of guilt for being successful? Affiliation? Increased relevancy? Ready-made identity without the pain of critical self-inspection? 

Our Most Critical Issue: Moving from WE to ME

Without question, the most critical and pressing issue facing black Americans today is our need to become individuals—to release ourselves from our racial yokes marks the end of our centuries-long journey toward freedom. 

We must learn to separate—to de-individuate, as social scientists term it. We must learn to take our final step. Otherwise, our advancement and psychological freedom will forever be stagnated by those who suppose themselves related to us and thereby deserving of our attention and efforts. While they drag their feet or lay motionless like dead weight, we continue to try to uplift them. `After all;’ they plead, “we’re your brothers and sisters. Aren’t we?” 

“Hell, no!” I say. Hell, no.

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. We’ll pick up again next week.

Until then:



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Dr. James Davison, Jr. is a licensed psychologist and university professor. He conducts a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and has appeared on several nationally-aired programs including The Phil Donahue Show, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and C-SPAN. Dr. Davison hails from Philadelphia, and is the author of several books – Prisoners Of Our Past and Sweet Release, and the upcoming Paid In Full – related to individuality and personal freedom for African-Americans.

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