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Family and Culture  

Drug  use/abuse attacks, at its core, the families of African Americans. Not  only does drug abuse lead to a suspension of attention to the  life-preserving mandates implicit in every culture (those learned from  history and the life-in-context of a living culture) but it also  undercuts drastically a family’s attention to the rudiments of communal  life that can preserve it as a unit. A number of studies [Mondanaro  1989; Chasnoff 1988; Nobels 1985] report that the quality of family life  and familial relationships are the victims of the plague of drug  addiction.professional writing services near me

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According  to Mondanaro [1989], the substance-abusing family is “characterized by  chaos, unpredictability, and inconsistency.” She also states that  children from drug-dependent families tend to learn to accept and expect  the unexpected. Thus, one can deduce that children exposed to drug  abuse and other self-abusing behaviors will themselves mimic what they  see, thereby continuing the cycle of destruction.

The  obverse is also true: Positive role-modeling, mirroring [Comer &  Toussaint 1976; Miller & Dollard 1941], empathie nurturing, parental  interactions, and appropriate expectations [Bavolek & Comstock  1985] are essential elements in the nurturing and rearing of children  and can lead to healthy, self-sufficient, and responsible adults.

Supporting  this belief is one of the core tenets of African philosophy: the  individual does not exist alone but rather cooperatively and  collectively [Mbiti 1969]. Thus, whatever happens to the individual  happens to the whole group, and whatever happens to the group has an  impact on the individual [Mbiti 1969]. This core belief is stated in the  adage: “I am because we are, therefore, I am.”

To  treat addiction in the African American community, and especially among  African American women with children, we must understand the spiritual  context of African life. Addiction is a pattern of behaviors that  undermine the physical and psychosocial well-being of the primary  addict. It also creates a correlative and respondent secondary addiction  that seizes and corrupts the entire family unit, as well as a tertiary  addiction that multiplies itself in all the interactions that the addict  and her family members have with the world in which they live. We must,  therefore, look at “family” in a much larger context.

Family  in the African American context does not necessarily carry a solely  nuclear meaning; it may refer to whoever resides in the “household” as  well as those who share an extended relationship within a given  community. Family may include a number of fictive relatives — persons  who are or become very close to a person or blood family and, to all  intents and purposes, are viewed as family and treated as such even in  essential features of family life.

Relationships  within the nuclear and extended families are guided by ethical  principles recognized by Sudarkasa [1980] and others in their research  into African kinship groups, discussed below. Here it is important,  however, to make the point that in the African context, the meaning of  family follows a design that, when overlooked, undermines the attempt to  treat addicted women who come from this community.

Aphorisms  such as “It takes a village to raise a child” and “If relatives help  each other, what evil can hurt them” are not taken casually in the  African context. They are indeed a constant reaffirmation of all  belonging to all [Leslau & Leslau 1962]. Kuhn [1970] describes a  natural family as an observed cluster of similar objects, sufficiently  important and sufficiently discrete to command a generic name, that is,  family. Comparatively, Akbar [1976] likens the African family to a  spider web in that one cannot touch the least element of the web without  causing a vibration of the whole.

The  separation and the mutual exclusion between the “drug addict” and the  significant others in close proximity is indicative of the lack of  understanding of the true meaning of key concepts like kinship and  collectivity in African philosophy. Many drug treatment programs are  based upon intervention strategies that continuously treat the addicted  mother as a monad, a single, singular being whose disease and cure are  located solely in the ability of the program to clean her up and refocus  her energies on the elements of life that bring her least obtrusively  to the attention of society, its mores, and its norms. This orientation  to treatment is inadequate to the needs of any person dealt with outside  of her or his culture. Its inadequacy and misplacement are dramatic  when applied to persons whose cultural orientation and instrumentalities  derive from the collective.

Unfortunately,  the intervention strategies of many drug treatment programs continue to  compartmentalize interventions into separate boxes marked “addict,”  “family,” “society,” and “underlying spiritual values.” These atomized  notions are clearly not empowering for women coming from a cultural  context in which strength, loyalty, oneness, and union are basic values.  These women are apt to resist the sorts of notions that come out of the  perspectives in which the African family is characterized as “weak,  disorganized, and vulnerable” [Moynihan 1965; Frazier 1932].

Family  is that entity in which the individual personality is nurtured and  developed. It is the place where responsibility to the group is learned  through observation and practice; where self-esteem/self-worth is  developed; and where respect, restraint and reciprocity are observed and  learned. These qualities, in addition to reverence and humility before  elders, are internalized through observation and practice. Family is the  place where obedience is learned and group expectations of the  individual are continually clarified as the individual’s mission within  the family and response to the family are made evident.

Family  is also that place where children learn important life skills, such as  compromise, negotiation, styles of showing belonging, and building  intimacy. Family is that living organism in which are enshrined the  vital teachings of the elders, whose wisdom and experience are the  living endowment of the ages.

Familial  relationships within the extended family must, therefore, be understood  and made a part of the healing process called recovery. It cannot be  emphasized enough that it is not the individual alone who must recover.  It is that total world, in which the individual addicted mother has  lived out the pathologies of addiction, that must be brought into the  recovery process.

Culture  is the way people are in the world. It brings together all things into  what becomes for them “reality.” Amen [1992] defined culture as a set of  ideas used to influence and change behaviors in people into refined  social qualities necessary to bring about a harmonious, stable, and  prosperous society. Hence, it is only with a firm grasp on the living,  moving, and motivating power of African culture that the addicted mother  and her family can be moved to choose sobriety and ultimately familial,  communal health.

It  is to culture then that we should look for those healing elements that  can be applied in the process of recovery for African American women and  their families. These processes must be carried out in tandem and they  must be animated and guided by a set of principles that are an age-old  value articulation of African soul.

Relationships  within the extended family are guided by ethical principles recognized  by Sudarkasa [1980] and others in their research into African kin groups  in indigenous African societies. These principles are consistently  identified from group to group and found among the seven principles of  Maat[ 1]  [T’Shaka 1995]. They are “principles of wholeness” from ancient Kemet  (Egypt) to which many African historians trace the roots of more  contemporary African indigenous groups. These principles are, as noted  earlier, restraint, respect, responsibility, and reciprocity.

The  traditional structure of African American families is obviously not  what it was 40 years ago. Each decade within the past 40 years  introduced some new challenge to the traditional family structure that  persisted in some form through and since the Maafa[ 2] period [Richards 1989].

The  1980s and the 1990s have witnessed such a change in African American  families that what were traditionally considered the family’s wealth,  that is, the children, are now too frequently given over to the force of  public assistance, which values neither the notion of family nor its  need to endure as a self-sufficient, self-perpetuating articulation of  African American humanity. We are witnessing the intergenerational  transmission of antifamily values. We are witnessing two or more  generations of families addicted to illegal substances. And we are  witnessing two or more generations of families who, as a result of these  addictions, are unable to pass down cultural wisdom. We are witnessing  families that are so dysfunctional that disrespect between parents and  children, between children and children, between both and the many  articulations of an invasive social structure, are the norm rather than  the minuscule variant.

The  depth of dysfunction challenges, at its most profound level, the  ability of significant numbers of African American people to pass on  “core culture” or even to experience family in the manner ideally  described above. It is balanced, perhaps, only by the powerful  embodiments of African American values in culturally functional  institutions in the community.

The  call of Sankofa, an Adinkra symbol and proverb from the Ashanti people  of Ghana, West Africa, has been sounded loud and clear, and responded to  by many among Africans from every walk of life in the diaspora. Sankofa  is represented visually as “a bird who wisely uses its beak, back  turned, and picks for the present what is best [seen] from ancient eyes,  then steps forward, on ahead, to meet the future, undeterred.”  [Kayper-Mensah 1978]. Sankofa tells one that it is not taboo to go back  and fetch what one forgot. It tells Africans in the diaspora to look to  their traditions to correct challenges that face them today. This  concept is applicable to the development of programs for women (and  their families) who are recovering from substance-abuse.

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