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These processes of inclusion and exclusion have frequently been rearticulated as a tension between “norm” and “deviance.” Family, it turns out, is not a private, but very much a public, affair. Working on topics ranging from gender and slavery to sentimentality and nationhood, they mined the archives—notably John Locke’s (1884/1972)—to trace the evolution of the family from the North American colonial period onward.In the 1970s and 1980s, feminist historians, anthropologists, and literary critics embarked on the critical process of questioning traditional norms by exposing the bourgeois family as a nineteenth-century invention (Coontz 1988; M. In the earlier periods, domestic home and workplace formed a single economic unit located in the household; whether working on farms or in trades, all of a family’s members—father, mother, and children—contributed to its sustenance.
Yet further analysis of alternative family structures complicates this opposition between norm and deviance, challenging conventional systems of classification and evaluation. law denied them the right to create families, rejecting both the legality of slave marriage and the legitimacy of its children. blacks in and out of slavery were able to form families, these were extended kin families, adapted from African culture (Sudarkasa 1988).
Consider the history of the African American family. Bent on economic profit, slaveholders refused to acknowledge that slaves could experience familiarity, or feelings of intimacy, thereby justifying the separation of slave families. In (1861/2001), Harriet Jacobs described her childhood family as composed of a brother, an uncle, and a grandmother.
The Beechers’ definition of family suggests additional clusters of keywords.
One is “blood,” “kinship,” and “lineage.” Family members are biologically related through blood (genetic markers), creating kinship ties and linking progenitors to descendants across generations to establish lineage.
Finally, “family” invites consideration of words such as “marriage,” “wife,” “husband,” “patriarchy,” and “property.” The man of the family acquires and controls property, while his wife ensures the orderly transmission of both estate and blood by producing legitimate heirs.
Raymond Williams (1976/1983, 131–34) argued in his keyword essay on “family” that both the reality and the image of this nuclear, bourgeois family were nineteenth-century “inventions” and that the term has a richly diverse prehistory.
If her role as primary provider challenges the gendered division of labor, her desire to use her earnings to purchase enslaved family members underscores her commitment to affective ties.
The post–Civil War era established the legality of African American marriage and family, which thereby affirmed U. blacks’ right to establish affective bonds just as it granted them the ability to acquire and transmit property.
This threat has echoed through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.
Even progressive public policymakers have not been able to discard binaristic notions in relation to the black family.