Black fatherhood. This is one of the most talked about issues within and outside African American, Caribbean and African circles.
"Why do black men leave their children Akua''?
This is a painful question I've pondered for several months and have had thrown in my face by people who seek to undermine Black people. The answer is important and essential to the thriving of our communities.
Initially in my research I came across information like this
A perfect example is NDP leader Andrea Horwath. She has been cohabitating with the father of her child for 25 years without being married. She may be classified as a single mother under census data.
It's important to note that Black men who are married to the mother of their children are just as likely or even more likely to be involved in the lives of their children. For example, the National Center for Health Statistics, "found that 70 percent of African-American fathers who live with young children bathed, diapered, dressed or helped their kids use the toilet every day, compared with 60 percent of white fathers and 45 percent of Latino fathers".
The study also found that "while all fathers, regardless of race, who live away from their children tend to spend less time with them, the study found that black fathers are no less than other dads. More than half of black fathers talk to their kids about their day several times a week or more.That’s a higher percentage than white or Latino fathers who live apart from their children".
Nevertheless, a considerable amount of our families are headed by women because black fathers are more likely to live apart from their children. And men who live apart from their children are less likely to play an active role in their lives.
Black women are holding it down willingly and unwillingly. They deserve our continued praise and admiration but they cannot do it alone. If you are serious about supporting black women who are single mothers then we must speak the truth: men are essential to human flourishing. And their diminished presence has consequences for the communities they belong to.
Fathers are necessary to the wellbeing of their children and uniquely equip children for success. The facts overwhelmingly demonstrate this. Fathers tend to 1. encourage children to take risks and be independent 2.offer physical protection or the appearance of physical protection and 3.establish discipline. In fact many of the social ills that plague society are underpinned by a lack of active fathers (this is true in all cultures). Barrack Obama echoed this sentiment in his 2008 Father's Day address before a black congergation when he said, "we know the statistics – that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.”
My goal is not to patholgize families that are headed by single women. Like writer and lawyer Jamil Jivani said, “recognizing the importance of fathers doesn't dismiss the importance of mothers in the lives of young men. It's about acknowledging that male role models are important and that their absence has consequences.”
Moreover, the question remains why are many of our households headed by single parents?
Many on the right argue that black people have cultural values that result in black men leaving their kids and shrinking from their responsibilities as fathers. They also believe single parenthood particularly in the case of African Americans was caused by the expansion of the welfare state during the 1960s. On the other hand, many on the left would argue that single parent households are different from two parent households but just fine. I repudiate the later and think the former doesn’t provide all the details.
So what are the causes you ask?
Initially I thought it was a remnant of Chattel slavery. Chattel slavery suppressed the institution of marriage for African men and women. Culture is partly composed of common practices and Chattel slavery made it a common practice for men not to be in their children's live. I'm not saying men are not involved in their children's lives because of the past. However, I thought it perhaps created a culture that normalized men not being involved in their children's lives which we see today.
For example- Frederick Douglass said this about fatherhood in his biography:
I say nothing of father, for he is shrouded in a mystery I have never been able to penetrate. Slavery does away with fathers, as it does away with families. Slavery has no use for either fathers or families, and its laws do not recognize their existence in the social arrangements of the plantation. When they do exist, they are not the outgrowths of slavery, but are antagonistic to that system. The order of civilization is reversed here...- Frederick Douglass ( Abolitionist and formerly enslaved)
Booker T Washington who was one of the most influential leaders and intellectuals for Black America had this to say about family:
Of my father I know even less than of my mother. I don't even know his name. I have heard reports to the effect that he was a white man who lived on one of the near by plantations. Whoever he was, I never heard of his taking the least interest in me or providing in any way for my rearing. But I do not find especial fault with him. He was simply another unfortunate victim of the institution which the Nation unhappily had engrafted upon itself at the time.
This notion was reinforced by the fact that fatherlessness seems to be more pronounced in the direct descendants of enslaved African people - African Americans and Caribbeans. I'm not saying the above is an excuse but it is something to consider. We must recognize how external factors- such as hypersexualization of black men through media, incarceration and increased social economic immobility shapes the role they play in the lives of their children.
Nevertheless, these are not the primary causes. According to the books I've read, articles and research: The primary cause of why men don't take active roles in the lives of their children is because of the DECLINE OF MARRIAGE.
According to Ralph Dan Brown, “during the past several decades, the restrictions governing marriage and other intimate relationships have been relaxed. Compared to earlier eras, it is easier to exit a marriage and there is less incentive to enter one. People are freer than ever not to marry, yet they also expect more emotional compatibility and fulfillment when they do".
"It is true that too many black fathers are missing in action. But it’s often not because they don’t care about their children. Black fathers lose contact with their children for many of the same reasons that white fathers do. Black fathers are less likely than white fathers to have a relationship with their children, in part because black fathers are less likely than their white counterparts to be married to the child’s mother".
Living structures such as cohabitation don't provide the structure or accountability that marriage does. Marriage has declined for multiple reasons:
1. There is less of an incentive to get married as a result of changing attitudes
2. The success of the sexual revolution in the 1960s which resulted in the devaluation of marriage
3. End of shotgun marriages
5. Higher education of women
The marriage decline is more pronounced but not limited to African Americans. This is because of :
1. Mass Incarceration
2. Greater disparities in educational attainment between men and women
4. End of shotgun marriages
5. And because of government policy that saw the expansion of the welfare state and gave black couples less of an incentive to be married
Here are some excerpts from what I've been reading:
THIS EXCERPT IS FROM BROOKINGS:
For those of you who chose to have a more public conversation please be careful with your words as this issue is often weaponized to patholgize black people.
Some Good News:
The good news, especially from the Edin-Nelson research, is that the so-called deadbeat dads want to succeed as fathers. Their goals and values point them in the right direction, but they’re stuck in a formless romantic anarchy. They need help finding the practical bridges to help them get where they want to go
Here are some ways I think we can strengthen our families:
1. The Gospel which offers a higher call to manhood and marriage
2. Addressing mass incarceration which takes men out of the employability market + takes them away from their children. There's a need for criminal justice reform
3.Culturally relevant organizations that draw from African understandings of manhood, identity, responsibility etc.
4. Community led initiatives that connect young people with positive male role models regularly
5. Black men leading the charge to define black masculinity apart from the media, white society, black progressives or conservatives. And creating spaces where this can be done.
6. Rejecting radical feminist theories that say two parent households (emphasis on healthy) are not important. Whether you accept it or not the most economically depressed neighbourhoods in North America are neighbourhoods where a large percentage of the men are absent
7. Hold black advocacy groups accountable. What is the Jamaican Canadian Association doing to strengthen black families? What is the NAACP doing to strengthen our families?
8. In your personal life I would encourage you to be in a HEALTHY marriage relationship before you have children.
9. Support black owned businesses to reduce black unemployment so people have the means to provide for their families.
10. Balance- we can talk about anti blackness without diminishing the role fatherlessness plays in perpetuating poverty, lower educational attainment and other disparities
11. If you believe in the power of prayer please pray for black men and our families
Some organizations and people who are addressing this:
Young Potential Fathers- Ujima House in Toronto
Grip Outreach for Youth in Chicago
Jamil Jivani- Why Young Men
We Rise Together by Peel District School Board which hosted a leadership conference for black men
Until the ink drips,