Father’s Day: A Critique Against the ‘Unfathomable’ Devoted Black Father

Thousands of children will mourn the loss of their fathers on Sunday, including the children of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Rayshard Brooks, Alton Sterling, Michael Dean, Cameron Lamb, Demetrius Williams, Steven Demarco Taylor, and many more.

While ‘bad-apple’ police officers and prison guards continue to torture and murder Black men (and women), national critiques about the failure of Black fatherhood ensues. Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University explains that the ‘absent Black father’ “has been rendered a truism in the popular American imagination, so much so that the presence of an actual black father is viewed as disruptive; it’s as if the concept of an involved engaged black father is unfathomable.”

Is it unfathomable to the extent that when Robyn Price Pierre, creative director and publisher of Twenty Eight Ink, takes a walk with her Black husband and child, strangers stare in “surprise” to see “a black man as a devoted parent.” New York Times columnist Maurice Berger explains that “the myths of black fatherhood as dysfunctional or failed prevail despite ample evidence to the contrary.”

Bhaskar Sunkara explicates that “generations of thinkers” see racial inequality as merely the reflection of the inherent inferiority of black people.” In challenging the assumption that “poor black parents don’t just lack the material means to provide for their children, but they lack the knowledge and culture to do so, as well,” it is crucial to take into account systemic racism and inequitable institutions which stunt upward social mobility for economically subordinate minorities.

Black men are not genetically prone to imprisonment. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, reasons that “problems plaguing poor communities of color, including problems associated with crime and rising incarceration rates,“ is a “function of poverty and lack of access to quality education — the continuing legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” The Pew Research Center reports, that “one in 10 black children” deal with the reality that at least one of their parents is incarcerated.

Overall, nearly 24.7 million children (33%) do not live with their biological fathers. An estimated 65 percent of African-American children live in single parent households. However, research driven data that shows Black fathers are actively involved in their children’s lives despite claims to the contrary. The assumption that Black children are fatherless is so profound that journalist Andrew Sullivan misreported a statistic and alleged that 70 percent of Black children “are born without a father.” The correct statistic is that 72 percent of Black children have parents who are unmarried.

Moreover, the claim that Black parents lack sufficient ‘culture’ to care for their children is baseless. When Black fathers are present, they are actively present. A 2013 CDC National Health Statistics Report indicates that 70 percent of Black men “bathed, dressed, diapered, or helped their children use the toilet,” daily, as opposed to 60 percent of white and 45 percent of Hispanic fathers. With regard to fathers who do not live with their children, Black fathers checked in with their children most frequently and co-residential Black fathers assisted their children with their homework on a daily basis. They also took them to daily activities more than Hispanic or white fathers. In other words, Black fathers are overwhelmingly devoted fathers and want to remain an integral part of their children’s lives.

And Black men often do what they can to achieve this goal. However, the one thing that can thwart their efforts is— a call to police. We must remember the Karens, Beckys, etc.

Consider Shola Richards who only walks his dog with his daughter as a way to humanize himself and assuage white fear of Black men. Mr. Richards explains that, “instead of being a loving dad to two little girls, unfortunately, all that some people can see is a 6’2” athletically-built black man in a cloth mask who is walking around in a place where he doesn’t belong.”

In another example, Doyin Richards describes an incident at an ATM. “I had to get some money — and there’s another couple and I heard the woman say ‘Hurry up, let’s go, let’s go.’ Like I was going to rob them, and my daughter was all like ‘What happened dad? What was that all about?’ And I have to go into this conversation, ‘Well honey, sometimes people look at the color of my skin and they think I am a threat to them.’”

Both Richards understand that black men are perceived as a menace, that they are often falsely accused of ill-intent, and are at risk of being murdered because of these racist stereotypes.

Perhaps if the positive facts about Black men and fathers filtered into public media with the frequency of negative stereotypes, Black fatherhood would and could become more fathomable and Black children would not have to miss their dads on Fathers’ Day.

Author of The Persistence of Slavery: An Economic History of Child Trafficking in Nigeria - www.robinchapdelaine.com

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