Good Example Of African American Families Today: Myths And Realities Book Review

Type of paper: Book Review

Topic: Literature, America, Sociology, Family, Books, Social Issues, Women, Mythology

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/12/07


“African American Families Today: Myths and Realities” is a book by Earl Smith and Angela J. Hattery. In this book, the authors conduct an exhaustive analysis of the contemporary political and social environment that faces African Americans. Some of the most common myths about African Americans are debunked, for example the belief that African Americans are lazy intellectually, that African Americas are the most at-risk ethnic group when it comes to engagement in crime and that they have limited interest in education. The author’s main thesis or conclusion in regard to the life of African Americans is that all is not well and that the status of members of this ethnic group has gotten worse than it was before the official election of President Obama.
Before delving into the actual content of the book, it would be wise to look at the authors and their background in order to ascertain their credibility. This is because this book falls within the sociology genre, a genre characterized by a lot of books written by unqualified authors who make assertions and assumptions about the social lives of humans that are not accurate. Therefore, it is always wise to look at the education and work background of any author who has written a book on sociology and who has made any general claims.
First, Angela J. Hattery is a Ph.D. holder in social studies which she obtained from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She had also obtained her Masters in Women and Gender Studies from the same institution some years earlier. Before that, she completed her undergraduate studies in the same subject at Carleton College. Currently, she is a member of the faculty at Wake Forest University and has been there since 1988. She is currently an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University with her major concentration being Women and Gender Studies. Hattery has conducted a lot of research on various social issues including gender, social stratification, race, and family. She has also authored numerous books, articles, and research reports. This expertise and credibility enables her to offer a significant contribution to the book particularly on matters to do with African American women. Her expertise is therefore related to matters to do with women. This expertise is, for example, observable in the explanations given on some of the characteristics or factors about African American women that may either be pushing away black males and thus their preference for white women or that may be inhibiting their chances of marriage. This is her unique contribution to the book.
Earl Smith is in his own right a similarly qualified author. He holds a PhD in Sociology and Cultural Anthropoly obtained from State University of New York. He also has a graduate and undergraduate degree in the same subject which he obtained from the University of Connecticut. He is a Sociology Professor at West Forest University where he is also a Rubin Distinguished Professor in American Ethnic Studies. He is, in fact, the director of this program (American Ethnic Studies) at the institution. He has previously served as the Department of Sociology Chairperson from 1997 to 2005. Other places that Smith has worked in include the Pacific Lutheran University where he was also the Department of Sociology Chairperson. Just like Hattery, Smith has also authored countless articles, and book chapters on areas such as family, social stratification and urban sociology. His expertise is observable throughout the book, for example in the sections of the book that explore the family life of African Americans. His unique contribution is providing explanations on how cultures shapes some of the myths and realities about the social lives of African Americans.
The book is divided into several chapters with each chapter exploring a certain fact or myth regarding African Americans and their social lives. For example, the first chapter explores the fact or the myth that black males seems to prefer to marry white women. Another myth or fact that the authors explore is whether corporal punishment is used more in black families than in white families. Other aspects include crime prevalence among blacks, childbearing characteristics among African Americans, black families’ access to health care and food, the impact of affirmative action among many others. Each of these aspects is explored in great detail by the author using various facts, statistics, research reports as well as the author’s personal experiences. There are particularly very many case studies and examples that the authors use to either prove or disprove a certain myth or fact about African Americans and their social lives. Regardless of whether a certain social aspect, such as higher levels of crimes committed by blacks, is a fact or a myth, the overwhelming observation and conclusion is that African Americans are far worse off economically and socially than was the case even before Obama took charge of the nation. However, it should be noted that the authors of the book do not explicitly mention that President Barack Obama’s administration is solely responsible for the observed decrease in the social achievement of African Americans. Rather, it is through a combination of various factors that this trend has occurred. These include persistent structural obstacles that range from subpar and segregated schools to discrimination in areas such as housing and employment. The effects of the recent great recession only makes the plight of African Americans much worse. However, the authors also point a finger at President Obama accusing him of failing to appoint more African Americans to his Cabinet in order to inspire fellow blacks.
As mentioned, the book is supported by various sets of qualitative and quantitative data. This data is obtained from a variety of sources including credible research reports from credible organizations such as the Department of Criminal Justice and the Department of Social Services among others. For every myth or fact about African Americans that is explored by the authors, data from such sources is used to either support the myth or to disprove it. In addition, the authors use small case studies with distinguishable data sets to make generalizations. One research institution whose research studies and findings on various issues have been utilized in large sections of the book is the Pew Research Centre.
As it was mentioned, the book has several chapters with each either supporting a particular reality or myth about African Americans or disproving it altogether. All the chapters are indeed very interesting, but there is one chapter that is particularly very intriguing. This is the first chapter of the book that debunks the myth that a large proportion of black men are marrying white women. This is a very interesting issue to look at given the tension and controversy that has existed in the United States on the union between a black male and a white female. Back in the days of slavery and through the Reconstruction period, it was not uncommon to hear of interracial unions involving white men and black women. However, unions between black men and white females were unheard of. White women were considered to be a no-go zone for black men and there are several documented instances of black men who were lynched for having affairs with white women. Therefore, it comes quite as a surprise to find that more black men are marrying white women these days.
In exploring this issue, Hattery and Smith go into detail about the institution of marriage itself, particularly looking at why marriage is not a priority in African American households. The authors, for example, attribute this trend to slavery, claiming that because blacks did not marry much during the days of slavery, the preciousness and indeed the sanctity of the marriage institution never fully rubbed off them and consequently, they never fully grasped its importance. In addition, many African Americans do not respect marriage, something that is rooted in their religious understanding about the goals and purposes of marriage. In regard to interracial marriages, the authors show that the attitude of Americans towards this kind of union varies significantly. For example, there is overwhelming evidence that many people would support a family member if they decided to marry out of their race (80%). However, the support is higher and more genuine if this intended partner is white. Another interesting statistic revealed by the author is that a huge percentage of Republicans (46% to be precise) believe that interracial marriages should be legally banned. The authors show that the rate of interracial marriages, specifically between black men and white women, has been increasing since the 1990’s. However, the myth that many African American women are not finding husbands because all the black men are getting marry white women is not entirely true. The authors insist that although the rates of interracial marriages have increased, the greatest percentage of people who chose to get married, in fact, marry partners from their own race. Therefore, although there has been increased rates of black men marrying white women, it cannot be the sole reason why rates of marriage among African American women are low. The authors claim that social class is indeed the biggest predictor of whether black women marry or not. Normally, the chances of marriage for black women from lower social classes are significantly lower when compared to their counterparts from a higher social class.
The book connects to current issues some of which are even visible and applicable to my own life. Aspects such as interracial marriages between blacks and whites, racial prejudice and discrimination, the effects of affirmative action and crime committed by blacks are things I have observed in my contemporary environment and therefore, it is safe to conclude that the book is indeed very realistic. There is a significant portion of the book’s content that I can connect to my agency internship experience.
For the past few weeks, I have been working as an intern at the Cape Atlantic Integrated Network for Kids. Cape Atlantic INK, as it is popularly known, is a non-profit organization that coordinates and facilitates the care of children with complex and extreme behavioral and emotional needs in the counties of Cape May and Atlantic in New Jersey. The initiative ensures that families with such children receive the supportive services needed to ensure the wellbeing of their children.
During my internship, I have had the opportunity to travel across the two counties where I have observed a lot of aspects related to African American life. For example, a significant section of the families I have visited are of an interracial nature. One aspect that is consistent with Hattery’s and Smith’s assertion is the book is that most of the interracial couples that I usually come across belong to the high class and upper middle class section of the society showing that a higher social status facilitates or at least increases the chances of one marrying out of their race (for instance, an interracial marriage between a black man and a white woman). Another aspect of the book’s content that I have observed is in relation to crime rates among blacks. I particularly recall several black families which I visited recently and whose children have complex behavioral and emotional needs. These kids were showing some criminal tendencies. After some research I discovered that there was at least one family member who was currently incarcerated or who had been incarcerated in the past because of engagement in crime. These included figures such as fathers or elder brothers.
There are several new strategies and interventions that I have discovered and that I might employ in my social workplace. I have, for example, learned that elements of racial discrimination prejudice still exist within the American community. Therefore, in trying to assist children or individuals from minority families, I should take time to investigate whether there is a racial discrimination or prejudice element related to the problem that may be ailing them and, therefore, attempt to weed it out. In addition, I have learned that family factors among African Americans such as high rates of crime engagement may be rubbing off on family members. Therefore, in dealing with issues such as crime and deviance among African American children, it would be wise to look for any underlying issues, such as whether there is an influence of a family member who has engaged in such behavior. Once that is done, sufficient strategies to help the child or the individual can be developed.


“African American Families Today: Myths and Realities” is a brilliant book by Earl Smith and Angela J. Hattery that touches the core of the African American social life. The book lays bare the social fabric of African Americans by exploring and debunking some of the myths and realities that are associated with this ethnic group. Ultimately, it emerges that some of the myths about African Americans and their lives are indeed true while others are not true or accurate. One aspect that cannot however be contradicted and that the authors go to great lengths to prove is that the lives of African Americans have not changed or improved much even after one of their own became the president  of the nation.


Hattery, A. J., & Smith, E. (2012). African American families today: Myth and realities. New York: Rowan & Littlefield

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