Scholars Belgrave et al noted that American Psychology

Scholars Belgrave et al noted that American Psychology tends to focus on rugged individualism: a “focus within mainstream psychology on the experience of the individual..made independent of context” (Belgave et Allison 2019: 215). This inclination of psychology to focus on the individual is problematic because it does not accept how one’s sense of connection to a group may affect their health and wellbeing. Additionally, this focus emphasizes Eurocentric values because Afrocentric psychological studies have found that there is a correlation between positive community structures and African American mental health. In this paper, I will discuss the conflicting psychological studies about the the impact of the African American family on mental health. Additionally, I will provide information about studies which examine the relationship between adequate neighborhoods, adequate communities, and Black psychological functioning.

Problematic Studies about the African American Family:

Scholars Alexander Thomas and Samuel Sillen discuss a problematic bias in American psychological science: an “intense focus on the family as the determinant of pathology or health” (Thomas and Sillen 1993: 83). This misconception promotes the false idea that African American families are lower functioning than White families. The reasoning behind this claim are differences in family structures between White and Black families.

Many African American families in the 1960s consisted of mothers who took care of their children. This prompted prominent psychological scholar Daniel Moynihan to wrongly proclaim that Black families are worse off than White families because of a diminishing role of fathers (Neville 2009: 104). Scholar Moynihan argued that the lack of a male figure in African American children’s lives resulted in improper socialization and lead children to make poor decisions.

Moniyan’s study is flawed because it focuses on a deficit model of the African American family. It uses an exaggerated image of a stable White family as a measure to assess the productivity of African American families. This is problematic because it generalizes the outcomes of both White families and African American families. It is not true that all White families are prosperous. Psychologist William Ryan in 1965 found that “White divorce rates have zoomed almost 800 percent in less than 100 years..a rate greater than that of Negroes” (Thomas and Sullen 1993: 85). Additionally, American psychological literature found that drug and alcohol abuse has increased greatly in White families (Thomas and Sullen 1972: 86). Thus, more recent studies have noted that the African American family is more prosperous than discussed in previous literature.

More Recent Studies about the African American Family:

Scholars McAdoo and Younge discussed contemporary studies about African American families. The studies utilized an Afrocentric approach which emphasizes the strengths present in African American families. They also noted that old psychological studies about African American families were biased (Neville 2009: 105). These improved psychological experiments have focused on the positive parenting practices shared among groups of African Americans.

Psychological Scholar Baumrind explained a paradigm in American psychological research: “African Americans were characterized as having an authoritarian parenting style..highly demanding and low in warmth” (Neville 2009: 107). However, Baumrind found that an authoritarian parenting style had a positive impact on African American youth and a negative impact on White youth (Neville 2009: 107). Thus, Baumrind found a contradiction to previous psychological research which assumed that authoritarian parenting style in African American families is strongly correlated with poor outcomes for youth.

Additionally, psychologists Mandara and Murray expanded upon Baumrind’s research by conducting a study about African American family functioning. The results of their study found that children of cohesive-authoritarian African American families-- families which encouraged children to be assertive in a proactive fashion--held strong psychological functioning. Thus, Baumrind and Murray’s psychological studies are significant because they disproved old American psychological studies which wrongly assumed that all African American families are dysfunctional. Additionally, these studies--unlike Moniyan’s study--utilized an experimental method and backed their claims with reasons.

Adequate Neighborhoods and African American Mental Health:

Particular problems that plague individuals in African American communities have an affect on the mental health of African American children. For instance, African American children are more likely to be in foster homes than White children. A study by the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2015 found that “while African American children compose 16% of the total population under the age of 18..[they consisted of] 24% of the children in foster care” (Belgave et Allison 2019: 139). The high number of African American children in foster homes is problematic because there is a correlation between behavioral problems and experience with the child welfare system for African American youth (Belgave et Allison 2019: 138). 

Additionally, studies have found that African American females are more likely to be teenage mothers than White females. The birth rate for African American females between the ages of 15 and 19 was about 34.9 per 1,000 in 2014 (Belgrave and Allison 2019: 137). This is troublesome because children born to teenage moms are more likely to enter the foster care system. In turn, this can lead to decreased psychological functioning.

Luckily, neighborhood interventions have been found to improve the mental health of African Americans. A Plain Talk Intervention focused on preventing teenage pregnancy in African American communities was successful. Furthermore, mental health interventions for African Americans on the individual level have been successful in helping teenagers cope with social problems such as teenage pregnancy and difficult living enviroments.

Disability and Mental Health Functioning:

Studies have found that African American children are more likely to suffer from disabilities than their White counterparts (Neville 2009: 106). The leading cause of disability for African American children is poverty.

Additionally, breast cancer also disproportionately affects African American women. Scholars McAdoo and Younge found that African American women were more likely to develop breast cancer before the age of 35 than White women (107). They also listed a daunting statistic: while 84% of non-Blacks survive breast cancer treatment, 69% of Blacks survive breast cancer treatment. These medical studies are important because they provide evidence that inequalities in medicine affect the quality of lives of African Americans.

Conclusion:

Communities and families have a strong impact on African American mental health. Recent psychological studies have determined a correlation positive psychological functioning and interventions for struggling families. Additionally, these same studies provide that many African American families are already highly functioning. Thus, the idea that the African American family is systematically flawed has been disproven. Despite this, the functioning of African Americans could improve if the public tries to eliminate inequality between African Americans and Whites.