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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

Black Men and Divorce
Erma Jean Lawson & Aaron Thompson

(Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1999)
259pp. Index. Bibl.

Black Men and Divorce cites an absence of research and the need for a "holistic" theoretical approach to the study of divorced Black men in a postmodern racist US society as the authors' incentive to write the book. It proposes developing a theoretical model to assess the impact of historical, cultural, social, economic and political forces on this marginalized and maligned group. Interviews with 50 recently divorced Black men, all working class and middle class, furnish data for analysis.

The men's accounts of their own experiences, described by the authors as storytelling, gives voice to African American males. Revelations of the men's attachments to children, ex-wives, and extended families contradict pervasive stereotypes and stand as the book's greatest achievement. Theoretically, however, the book falls short in its efforts to develop an alternative theoretical model and to relate those 50 personal experiences to a meaningful structural context. Shallow references to the capitalist system, consumerism, and hedonism not only fail to critique the system that marginalizes Black men, but also fail to offer an analytical framework for the men's experiences. Consequently, despite the book's criticism of pathological deficit models for the study of the Black family in America, it does not provide a much-needed alternative.

The book oversimplifies the Black historical experience in America and the continuing social consequences of that experience. Assumptions that black family problems date from the time of slavery ignore historical evidence challenging myths of weak family structures (see Fogel and Engerman, Time On the Cross; and, Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll). The authors also ignore their own data showing a dramatic increase in divorce since 1970 (p. 2). They fail to explain the effects of economic restructuring and deindustrialization that has occurred since the 1970s.

The book may be useful for family scholars looking for evidence to refute negative stereotypes of Black males and Black families. Those who seek innovative theoretical and methodological strategies to improve their understanding of Black men in American society, and to achieve social justice, will be disappointed.

Wanda Rushing
University of Memphis, Center for Research on Women.

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