Many Americans abhor racism today, but one expert on black families says that even people who denounce it are likely prejudiced in some ways.
Afesa Adams, associate vice president of academic affairs at the University of Utah, has studied for many years issues facing black families. She spoke Tuesday at Brigham Young University as part of a series of family-living lectures."I'm sure you would be offended if anyone suggested you were racist," Adams told a group of students in the Wilkinson Center ballroom. "It is almost impossible to have grown up in American society and not be racist in some ways, because racism is such an integral part of the fabric of this nation."
Some positive characteristics of early American slave families exist among blacks today, she said, but whatever blacks have accomplished has been after a struggle. They started their history in this country with the distinction of being the only group that did not come to America freely.
"That became important, because black people are the only group that in a systematic way has not been allowed to profit from their own labor," Adams said. "The reason a significant portion of blacks live below the poverty line is because of the remnants of slavery. Race has been used to attribute inferior qualities to blacks."
Because blacks were considered subhuman, whites tried to destroy the culture that blacks brought with them from Africa, but some traditions survived, she said. One of the most important of these is a strong attachment to church.
"The black church provided opportunities for autonomy, social interaction and for the development of leadership, which still prevails today," Adams said. "One of the reasons the church is so important now is that at this time it is the only social institution controlled by black people. One of the best ways to get a sense of the black community in any city is through black churches."
Church fellowship contributes to a sense of belonging in black communities, she said. Many white people don't understand the brotherhood among blacks, but it is something that is actually taught to black children, who are told to acknowledge people of their race wherever they go.
"One of the reasons for this is that black people want to identify people in the immediate environment who might come to their aid should the need arise," she said. "There is an assumption that black people's patterns of behavior and beliefs are like white people's. That has led to a lot of misunderstanding of the black family.
"The black family is a cooperative unit. Everyone is expected to participate and delay their own gratification for the good of the group."
Such characteristics have helped keep black families strong, but they can also be destructive, Adams said. "One major problem is that individual fulfillment is seen as self-centered."
Other characteristics common among middle-class black families include an expectation that children honor their parents, authoritarian discipline, the idea that children's successes are a reflection on the whole race and a tradition of teaching children to overcome racism through personal achievement.
Adams has developed and evaluated training programs designed to help school teachers and administrators eliminate sexual and racial discrimination.