Black Fathers Say They Get a Bad Rap

The Root's Father's Day survey finds that African-American dads are positive about their kids but blame the media -- and themselves -- for how they're perceived.

Black dads say the future's bright for their kids. (Brand X Pictures)

When it comes to their children's future success, African-American men tend to be optimists. This was among the findings of an online survey conducted the week of June 13 by The Root. The survey included the responses of 292 people who identified themselves as African-American men (245 of whom are fathers), most (87 percent) of them born between 1946 and 1981.

Despite a flagging economy that has hit the black community especially hard and that shows few signs of letting up anytime soon, 84 percent of the black men surveyed said they expect their children's future success to be better than their own. Only 5 percent expected their children to fare worse, with the rest saying their children's success would be about the same as their own.

That optimism might have been influenced by the fact that those responding to the survey tended to be better educated than the average African-American man (61 percent had a college degree or better, versus 20 percent for the general population). However, even educated blacks are being hit harder by unemployment than their white counterparts, suggesting that respondents' sunny outlook for their children will be put to the test.

The black men who responded had a similarly optimistic outlook on the amount of racism their children will face, despite nearly all of them -- 96 percent -- saying they had personally experienced racism. Fifty-five percent expect their children to experience less racism, and 34 percent say they'll experience about the same amount, with the rest expecting things to be worse for their children.

Black men are aware that they frequently get a bad rap as parents, with 80 percent of the black men responding to The Root's survey saying that society views black fathers in a "negative manner." Sixty-four percent blame the media -- TV, film, newspapers and magazines -- primarily for the ways in which black men are perceived, with another 21 percent placing responsibility with black men themselves.

Those African Americans who primarily blame black men are perhaps being too hard on themselves, said Fredrick C. Harris, director of Columbia University's Institute for Research in African-American Studies. "There's too much focus or overemphasis, when we think about fathers, on individual failings than on institutional failings," Harris said Thursday. "Even though there is a tendency to blame ourselves, blame black people, there's something happening in the broader society." Harris pointed to the struggling economy and failures within the public school and criminal justice systems.

"Black male unemployment is at its highest peak since 1972," Harris said. "How is it that men are supposed to be able to take care of their kids without stable employment or opportunities out there for them?

Dara Sharif is a writer, editor, graduate student and member of The Root's editorial team.

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