No one person can deny the necessity of Black fathers. As Black men, the greatest reward and achievement in manhood comes with challenging ourselves to be fathers. Although I entirely agree, this isn’t my adage. Its Na’im Akbar, psychologist and author of “Visions for Black Men”. Akbar’s book should be a required reading for new Black fathers. However, before I offer my opinionated prescription for developing healthy Black men, I have to address the perceived “epidemic” of absentee fathers. I’m not entirely convinced that this is reality. Intellectuals tend to believe that numbers don’t lie and statistics can reveal the lack of fathers in homes. Yet, I question the purpose behind the data and how it’s gathered. Two, quantitative data do not reveal the underling social dilemma that effects the statistical outcome.
I tend to believe there are political and economic benefits to the trope of absentee Black fathers.
Let me make this clear upfront, I’m not in the business of creating excuses for Black men who choose not to stand up to the test of life and raise their kids. I think its cowardice, unethical, and indicative of young minded boys. Recently, Adrian Peterson allowed himself to become the emblem of this tragedy. In the same breathe I will claim that the lack of Black fathers is not the generality in this current generation (70s – 80s babys). Further, I tend to believe there are political and economic benefits to the trope of absentee Black fathers. The same way Reagan masqueraded the “Black welfare queen” image in the 1980s for his political campaign which generated the Republican parties decrease in social service spending (as we already know more white women were on welfare than Black women during this decade). It’s obvious that special interest groups acquire political advantages by perpetuating this image. This is no surprise given the history of America and the subjugation of Black men’s development.
Several generations of indirect nurturing and child rearing had an effect and seriously became problematic.
Two centuries of American economic development of capital building required labor. This extends from settler agrarian institutions to sharecropping and industrial development in the early 20th century. Black (African, Negro, Black) men were the most viable indispensable source of labor. The problem is that “men” cannot and will not subject themselves to servitude menial positions in society. For these institutions to thrive, it became vital that Black families be broken and controlled. The planter/master, through hired hand process, had more control over the offspring than the biological father. This created and allowed the plantation process complete dominance over the psycho-social develoment of Black boys and men. In some cases, Black men were subjugated to “breeding” purposes, exploiting their sexual appetite and recieving “merit” for the quest of producing more bodies. To the planter/master this was a capital investment formula, whereas the Black male slave was tricked into thinking he fulfilled a “skillful” role. Akbar will argue that this is the origins of the “the player” or “scheming” boy who reduces his functionality to his sexual prowes. I will cover this in a later article! The Black mother carried and nurtured the child until they were “work ready”. At this point the child was introduced into the “roles” of the slave institution. Several generations of indirect nurturing and child rearing had an effect and seriously became problematic. Even if the child resided close to his father, the demands of work life kept him physically and emotionally removed from the intentional development of that child.
Numerous tales survives recounting how Black men went north in search of employment and sent money south until he was able to provide a home and life for his family.
I paint this picture as a backdrop. For most Black men today, this was the case for their great grandfathers and a few grandfathers. The revelation is that in spite of this, Black matrimony spiked after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1965. Despite two centuries of systemic deconstruction of African family tradition, a large portion of Black men rekindled their role as fathers during Jim Crow increasing their presence and rightful roles within the family unit. There are countless stories of Black men who went looking for there children after the civil war. Numerous tales survives recounting how Black men went north in search of employment and sent money south until he was able to provide a home and life for his family. This was a part of the ethos of Black men at the turn of the century. It’s not to say Black men were not affected by the traumatic violent experience of slavery and systemic segregation which set in motion parental behavior patterns directly derived from plantation life. However, though this scenario was common, there is something to be said about the urbanization of Black families.
To be brief, the truth is urbanization did effect the Black family nucleus.
It’s interesting that as more Black families began to populate the urban north and south, overtime the rates of divorce and removed fathers began to slowly increase. Although flawed in methodology and shrouded in racism, the Moynihan report attempted to shed light of this trend. The report highlighted “the number of fatherless children keeps growing. And all these things keep getting worse, not better, over recent years.” To be brief, the truth is urbanization did effect the Black family nucleus. Black men attempted to remain a head of the household, remnants of a patriarchal society, but was challenged by economic change and job lost. Fathers couldn’t provide for families. Detroit for example was heavily supported by the automobile giants of the midwest (GM, Ford, Chevy) providing jobs for Black men that supported the entire family. Once technology advanced and cheaper labor was secured in other countries, jobs were lost (very deliberate on behalf of the corps). Both in the south and north, segregation politically dismantled their voice. Education opportunities were non existent. This is the reality of Black families in the mid 20th century. Welfare opportunities crept in by the 70’s. Though not in mass numbers (not nearly the rate of white women), Black families had to seek government assistance which systemically required a single parent family. If the father remained involved, he had to hide his presence in the face of social workers. Government sponsored drugs infiltration in the late 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s provided a easy self-medicating antidote to the mental health of Black fathers. During this era, an increasing amount of Black men resorted to narcotic exchange as an alternative to rampant employment loss and restrictions. It’s no coincidence that drug trafficing chargers increased in the Black community in the 70’s well into the 80’s, a systemic outcome from disadvantage economic opportunities, drug infiltration, and deliberate policy enactment on behalf of Nixon to Reagan. Simultaneously, incarceration rates from narcotic possession increased during these decades.
To deal with this issue in our community, let’s make sure we assess the historical backdrop to Black families. Let’s consider the historical experience to understand the current reality.
Most of us in America, including some of our own, would like to believe that the issue of absentee Black fathers entirely rest upon the pathology of Black men. To keep it 100, I don’t buy that as an accurate picture. Now I’m speaking in generality. Of course you have your exceptions. To deal with this issue in our community, let’s make sure we assess the historical backdrop to Black families. Let’s consider the historical experience to understand the current reality. Quite frankly, when talk shows, reports, and even some authors, throw out these stats deducting absentee Black fatherhood as the main reason behind the ills of our community, then it leaves me to conclude that they must be on someone’s agenda.
The restoration of Black fatherhood will come from proactive strategies in light of reflective understanding. Or, like we are currently witnessing, it will come in response to a generation of fatherly depletion; when that Black man concedes to that vital decision to be present in his child’s life and consciously halts the cycle of fatherless children.