Will Obama Talk Black Single Parenthood?

We asked Valerie Jarrett if he'd address it in his second term. Plus: Nia Long talks family planning.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

(The Root) — Next to his convention speeches and inaugural address, one of President Obama’s most memorable speeches to date has been the one he delivered on fatherhood. On the Father’s Day before the 2008 election, he won applause from conservative corners, and some high-profile criticism from others, for his candid discussion of the need for more accountability from fathers.

“If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers … are is missing — missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. You and I know how true this is in the African-American community,” said then-Sen. Obama.

Some compared the speech to President Clinton’s infamous “Sister Souljah moment,” an attempt by then-candidate Obama to prove himself as someone willing to provoke the ire of a few liberals in an effort to woo some independents by embracing a conservative talking point. But as his first term draws to a close, the number of black children raised in homes without fathers remains very high. Those statistics raise the question of what, if anything, the first black president could be doing to address such a crisis, since his administration hasn’t appeared to do much so far.

In a candid one-on-one interview with The Root, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett discussed the president’s position on the issue of parental personal responsibility. Jarrett reiterated the administration’s commitment to the family planning organization Planned Parenthood, which honored her during a brunch co-sponsored by BET as part of the festivities taking place at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference last week in Washington, D.C.

But when asked why the president and his administration have not talked specifically about the importance of family planning within the black community, and whether they ever will, Jarrett replied, “I think he intended to include responsibility in family planning along with everything else,” referring to the president’s previous comments on responsibility and accountability in parenting.

“He believes very strongly in a woman’s right to choose,” she continued. “He has supported that since day 1, and I think that ultimately, the responsibility rests with the woman that bears the child. But his thought is that, obviously, the father has to have a lot to do with that as well.”

When pressed further, she added, “Frankly, I had never thought of him being specific on that issue. I think his goal was to make a broader issue [when he has spoken of parental responsibility], so I can’t comment for him today about what he’d do in a second term on that. I frankly had not thought about that before.”

An Obvious Knowledge Gap

To be clear, family planning is not synonymous with abortion but is merely, as the name suggests, planning in advance how many children your family will include. Education and access to resources and services, such as birth control, are keys to effective family planning — something with which low-income women and women of color struggle.