Black History Month 2021: Exploring the Meaning & Value of Family
Jacques Hebert, Sr. IT Business Relationship Manager
At first glance, you might guess the pictures below are a group of students and faculty, or maybe coworkers, or even just unrelated stock photos.
The reality is that each person pictured is a member of one extended family. In fact, they are my family! More specifically, pictured are a niece and nephew, my sister and a brother (I have four), and my son. But what makes us a family? The Teaching Tolerance program at the Southern Poverty Law Center uses the beautifully simple definition that “a family is a group of people going through the world together.” In 2021, we recognize that family bonds and composition span limitless combinations of single and multi-parent, biological and adoptive, domestic partners, LGBT, interracial, blended, extended, multigenerational, and even multi-species (can’t forget our pets)!
As for my extended family, while a few of us are separated by an ocean or were born in a different country and may have had a different first language — a story we share with many American families — we’re all blood relatives and one family. We’re connected by common ancestry, a link to the African diaspora, and we share elements of cultural, spiritual, and familial identity. And regardless of what might separate us, ultimately it’s our bond of love, a sense of genuine concern and caring, and a commitment to mutual support that, no matter how far apart we are, keeps us connected as a family.
This partial snapshot of my family is merely a glimpse into the unexpectedly complex and richly diverse story of the Black family. Mosaic, the Bank’s Black employee resource group, is proud to celebrate our families as part of the national theme of Black History Month (BHM) 2021: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity, as published by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
Like me, I expect many of you have thought a lot about family over the past year. For better or for worse, it’s been a time of prolonged and concentrated togetherness — or possibly a time of forced separation, isolation, and maybe even personal loss. Stark changes in normal family dynamics have brought into sharp focus our fundamental reliance on chosen family groupings. Without hesitation, I also include community and organizational groupings in my definition of families. Because we spend a large part of our waking hours at work (physically or virtually), our connection to work friends and colleagues undeniably shapes, and hopefully nurtures, our lives.
Like most families, our Fed Family thrives on shared values and a commitment to a common mission. And like other families, we have a family culture from which we draw strength and a sense of confidence that each day our public service mission supports families everywhere, no matter their identity or how they choose to go through the world together.
This Year’s Black History Month Theme
ASALH, the founders of Black History Month, describes this year’s theme:
The black family has been a topic of study in many disciplines — history, literature, the visual arts and film studies, sociology, anthropology, and social policy. Its representation, identity, and diversity have been reverenced, stereotyped, and vilified from the days of slavery to our own time. The black family knows no single location, since family reunions and genetic-ancestry searches testify to the spread of family members across states, nations, and continents. Not only are individual black families diasporic, but Africa and the diaspora itself have been long portrayed as the black family at large.
While the role of the black family has been described by some as a microcosm of the entire race, its complexity as the “foundation” of African American life and history can be seen in numerous debates over how to represent its meaning and typicality from a historical perspective — as slave or free, as patriarchal or matriarchal/matrifocal, as single-headed or dual-headed household, as extended or nuclear, as fictive kin or blood lineage, as legal or common law, and as black or interracial, etc. Variation appears, as well, in discussions on the nature and impact of parenting, childhood, marriage, gender norms, sexuality, and incarceration. The family offers a rich tapestry of images for exploring the African American past and present.