Date of Award

Spring 1991

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 1991 Margaret L. Cooley. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Black Studies, English Literature


The idea that lower-class black families are either deviant or variant forms of the accepted norm denies the validity of a cultural network differing from the white, nuclear family structure. The term "alternative" is preferable to either deviant or variant, because it implies that there is a choice involved (i.e. the black family structure exists as it does because people are comfortable with its nature and because it serves their needs more efficiently than other structures might) and that the black family structure is not defined by the dominant white norm, but exists as an entity equivalent to, and separate from white family structure. According to the author, a major mistake has been made by looking at the black family in terms of a white family perspective—that is, measuring the black family’s efficiency by white middle-class standards. Though addressing issues which arise out of the realities of these families (and not out of comparison to conventional white American standards), sociologists, and society in general, will be able to begin addressing many of the shortcomings and inconsistencies of both formal and informal policies in our nation as a whole.