Where is the black 'New Normal' in primetime?
America, it seems we have turned a corner. As a culture, we have finally accepted that the Leave it to Beaver model of family life is a thing of the past. Turn on the television today and we see that the new modern family is indeed, just like the ones on ABC’s Modern Family, in which blended families, families formed by adoption, gay parents and family members from foreign countries are all a part of the mix. Of course, I know that network television and Hollywood blockbusters aren’t the best gauge of what’s really going on in American households, but they do reflect the trends. It is true that in real life we are seeing a rise in international and transracial adoptions. We are seeing a rise in divorce and remarriage rates. We are seeing a surge in alternative responses to infertility – from egg donation to surrogacy—and we are seeing more and more households being led by single parents. Welcome to the new normal of family life.
But where are all the black people?
I hate to rain on any parade of diversity in media, but this isn’t just a matter of believing black actors should have a shot at making it big in Hollywood by having our modern families equally portrayed. I’m talking about historical accuracy here. On the one hand, it is absolutely wonderful that sitcoms like Modern Family and The New Normal and dramas like Brothers and Sisters and Parenthood are expanding the definition of the nuclear family on the small screen. Yet, by only featuring white families taking part in this redefining family movement, they are completely ignoring the fact that black people are leading the way in this revolution.
Not only are we leading the way, but we’ve been the supreme architects of family reconstruction in America since, well, before the Reconstruction, when we were having our families ripped apart before, during and after slavery. Black Americans, through sheer desperation and the circumstances of our experience in this country, had to be masterful at redefining family when forces of nature – or Master himself – got in the way. Who among us doesn’t have play cousins and aunties who are no more blood kin than Barack Obama? Many blacks — for decades if not centuries — have been very creative when defining who is included in one’s “family,” out of social and economic necessity.
And this talent for creating family when blood ties and traditional structures aren’t in place hasn’t diminished over time. Everyone knows, for example, that 72 percent of black children are raised in single-family households. But this isn’t the whole story. Black “single parents” are also leading the way in the new trend of co-parenting. Deesha Philyaw, 41,is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer and co-author of the forthcoming book, Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive After Divorce (Harbinger, May 2013). She is also a divorced mom of two, who remarried a divorced father of two. Philyaw embodies the new normal among all American families, and a continuing trend in family life for African-Americans.