If you confront any conservative pundit or politician with the reality of institutional racism, you will almost certainly hear about how absent Black fathers are the cause of most racial disparities—not the government, not society, not nearly half a millennium of enslavement, segregation, and disenfranchisement—but Black fathers. According to them, it is the irresponsibility of Black men that has caused racial inequities in incarceration, education, housing, and wealth.
But much in line with American conservative ideology, the myth of the absent Black father ignores not only reality but the structure of the modern family and the implicit effects of American society on Black lives.
The go-to statistic that these folks refer to is that 70% of Black children are born to unmarried mothers. But through the distortion of social media and political spin, many believe that 70% of Black children do not have present fathers. That is simply untrue.
What many people fail to consider is that some families have unwed parents who cohabitate, single fathers, stepfathers, noncustodial visitation, and children being raised in stable homes even though one or both parents are absent. It also overshadows the fact that a majority of Black fathers live with their children. Those Black fathers who live with their children are actually more involved and active in their children’s lives compared to white and Hispanic fathers.
It would be remiss to also ignore some economic factors involved. For example, many people (specifically 23% of the U.S. population, the majority of which are white), access public assistance for food, healthcare, and/or housing. For some families, it makes sense to stay unwed to better provide consistent basic needs for their children.
To be a legitimate family, people are not required to have a certificate from the state or have two parents, two kids, a dog, and a picket fence. While that might be ideal for the conservative—or even many typical Americans in general—it is not a requirement for love, stability, and prosperity.
The degenerative, untrue tropes of the scary Black man and the Black welfare queen have created an environment where it is acceptable among some groups to imply or even outright say that Black culture and people are inferior to whites. The lies and distortions about Black fathers and the Black family are part of the same ugly pattern.
What is most egregious is that these narratives mimic what, throughout history, has foreshadowed, defined, and driven racism and even genocide in places around the globe. It the same ole song and dance, and for good reason: because painting these negative portraits is effective in silencing the grievances of the oppressed. It also empowers unaffected parties to remain apathic or even malicious.
The Black family has always been disrupted by racism. Overcriminalization, housing, and employment discrimination are all driven by these damaging stereotypes and distortions. A major component of the legacy of slavery (and incarceration) even includes breaking up Black families, not respecting their integrity and value. Next time you are confronted with these ridiculous characterizations of Black fathers—even if it is out of the mouth of a Black person (see: Candance Owens)—remember it is a ploy and a justification for cruelty. Black fathers and mothers love and support their children the same as any other race.
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