Cheryl Mattingly: Aging and the Excessive Ethical Demand: Family Care and The Moral Plight of the Superstrong Black Grandmother in Los Angeles, USA.
In poor African communities, women elders have traditionally been key figures in the multi-generational households. The matriarchal household, with mothers or grandmothers at the helm, is a well-known configuration of black family life. Extended networks of care allow for pooling scarce resources and greater flexibility for childcare. Impoverished black families face daunting challenges, including care for multiple members with significant health problems. Aging in this context provides a stark contrast to the dominant American mode of "successful aging" in which the good life for the eerly has been reframed as a medical problem that can be successfully controlled. The good old life for black female elders is less about the denial of death or decline than the problem of how to manage one's own health problems and leave behind a structure of care for vulnerable family members still under one's charge. The existential excess of the ethical demand is acutely evident. This study asks: how do projects of home-making in the face of body precocity and structural inequality shape the possibilities for the best good old life? It builds from a longitudinal ethnography of African American families raising children with disabilities that began in 1997.