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According to the data, black men and women are marrying at a decreasing rate, and although part of this is clearly a function of the growing incarceration of black men, that story is insufficient, as we see the same phenomenon among whites. In a context in which the black family increasingly takes a non-nuclear form, what are we to do? Some argue that we should fight hard to get back to that nuclear form. Each black family should look as much as possible, like the Obama family. A man, a woman, some kids.

Although this makes a great deal of common sense, I think this particular common sense is itself a political construction. When people argue that the racial achievement gap, the incarceration gap, and the “black male crisis” is itself a function of the lack of fathers, they are confusing cause and effect. All the gaps above are the function of POVERTY, which itself influences marital stability (as well as the tendency to get married in the first place). Poor tw0-parent households are not substantially better than poor one-parent households at navigating the various life crises black families find themselves managing.

Kris Marsh, University of Maryland sociologist is making a different claim. Rather than taking black families where they are and trying to recapture something they are not, she’s suggesting we actually redefine black families in some radically different ways. More to the point she suggests we think of single men and women without children as themselves constituting family.

The idea is provocative to be sure. Dr. Marsh and I talked about it yesterday on the Steiner Show. Listen if you’re able and let us know what you thought.

February 2, 2011 – Hour 2 | The Marc Steiner Show & The Center for Emerging Media.