CLIMBING JACOB'S LADDER by Andrew Billingsley


The Enduring Legacy of African-American Families
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 Here, Billingsley (Sociology/Univ. of Maryland; Black Families in White America--not reviewed) challenges the worth of studies of dysfunctional black families. Asserting that ``no true reform can be based on a people's weakness; it must be based on their strengths,'' he uses history, anecdote, and statistics--with varying effectiveness--to pattern the values and success strategies of the functional majority of African-American families. Billingsley argues that the breakdown of the African-American family is overstated and its causes misunderstood. He points out that, while African tradition does favor blood ties over marriage ties, female-headed households as well as new family structures are also now appearing in white society and represent adaptations to a changing economic environment; black families--the most economically vulnerable in our society--simply feel the impact of structural change first. Marriage is a valued goal among blacks, Billingsley says, with husbands and children taking on more household responsibilities than do their white counterparts. The perceived success of Caribbean-born blacks--frequently cited to prove that racism is not an obstacle in American society--seems to the author to be largely myth: Caribbean black men--though more educated than non-Caribbean blacks--are, he contends, more than twice as likely to be unemployed. Billingsley considers capital accumulation, black entrepreneurship, the threat to the black working class (which, he says, has been the backbone of the community), and the continuing influence of African-American churches. Nationally representative data on blacks of all social classes is scarce, so Billingsley's analysis is hardly definitive; moreover, his discussion is dry, his profiles too general, and his writing often awkward. Still, he indicates important avenues for study, and frames an intelligent approach for addressing the social and economic trauma of black America.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-67708-X
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1992