Friday, May 02, 2008

Marriage and Slavery

This is another in a continuing series on the breakdown of marriage in America, its causes and effects. The previous post in this series can be found here.

I am Catholic. Culturally, Catholicism has a great effect on me and therefore my cultural heritage can be traced back 2000 years. Slavery was abolished less than 150 years ago. If I am affected by things that happened 2000 years ago, can one really dismiss the effects of things that happened far more recently than that?

I used to think so, but James Wilson’s The Marriage Problem changed my mind. Here’s a quick sketch of his research and conclusions.

The muddled notions of modern feminism aside, a man’s primary role in a family is to protect and provide. Because slaves did not own the fruits of their labor and because male slaves could not protect their families from being dispersed, the man’s value in the slave family was minimal. Marriage among slaves was illegal. For these reasons and others, slave families were primarily matriarchal.

After the Civil War, Jim Crow laws as well as other societal norms similarly diluted the man’s value in the black family. Additionally, for a variety of reasons, black women outnumbered black men, which as we have seen before, depresses the number of marriages in a community.

How many generations would it take to drive out the effects of my Catholic heritage upon me and my descendants? Blacks in America have a long cultural history of female-headed households. While the number of these has exploded in recent years, the effects of slavery and racism on the black family cannot be dismissed.

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