This Father’s Day, Let’s Shatter the Myth About the Absent Black Father

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Black men are present and engaged fathers who love their children.

Black men are present and engaged fathers who love their children.

I needed to write that twice, in hopes that it cuts through the racist and patently false narrative amplified by mainstream media that the majority of black fathers are scurrilous beings who are locked up and tuned out, low on education and high on weed—too busy getting busy to get a business of their own.


That’s what we’re supposed to believe, right? But the lie detector test determined … that was a lie.

A recent New York Times study led with the sobering headline, “1.5 Million Missing Black Men.” It included such findings as this: “Of the 1.5 million missing black men from 25 to 54—which demographers call the prime-age years—higher imprisonment rates account for almost 600,000. Almost 1 in 12 black men in this age group are behind bars.” This massive incarceration, compounded by substandard health care and fragile mortality rates, results in a fact that leaped from the study:

More than one out of every six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life.


Here’s the thing, though: Many of them aren’t “missing.” They haven’t “disappeared.” Many of them have been stolen, ripped from their families to feed bloated prison cells, then regurgitated back out into society, more than likely unable to vote or find a job that enables them to care for their families. There is a direct line from slavery straight to the prison-industrial complex, a devastating continuum that first dehumanizes, then enslaves and criminalizes black bodies for profit, ultimately rendering them killable in the eyes of society. And because patriarchy is the poison of choice in a heteronormative society that places value on the “traditional” family and its central role in community building, there has always been a very concentrated effort to subjugate and oppress black men.

Still … black men are present and engaged fathers who love their children.

“People think they don’t care, but we know they do,” said Joseph Jones, president of the Center for Urban Families, an organization that works to support African-American fathers, to the Los Angeles Times. “We see how dads are fighting against the odds to be engaged in the lives of their children.”


In 2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that I’ve cited often over the years, “Fathers’ Involvement With Their Children: United States, 2006-2010” (pdf). It does a great job shattering some pervasive myths about African-American fathers. The findings include the following:

* More African-American fathers live with their children (2.5 million) than live apart from their children (1.7 million).


Of African-American fathers surveyed who live with their children,

* 78.2 percent fed or ate meals with their children daily, compared with 73.9 percent of white fathers;

* 70.4 percent bathed, diapered or dressed their children daily, compared with 60.0 percent of white fathers;

* 82.2 percent played with their children daily, compared with 82.7 percent of white fathers;

* 34.9 percent read to their children daily, compared with 24.9 percent of white fathers;

* 40.6 percent helped their children with their homework or checked to make sure that they finished it daily, compared with 29.3 percent of white fathers.


* Of the fathers who live away from their children, African-American fathers outperformed white and Latino fathers on nearly all measures surveyed, including reading to their children daily, helping them with homework and changing their diapers.

While it is certainly true that many fathers need to step up and take better care of their children, this is not specific to black fathers by a long shot; and yet too many of us have internalized that self-hatred as easily as we’ve digested the myth of black-on-black crime. Even where there is parity in the numbers, black fathers surveyed were no less present in their children’s lives, despite the deadbeat-dad myth that dogs their steps.


It could be argued, then, that pundits and politicians would be better served pontificating on the pathology of absent white fathers, those who aren’t faced with the same structural impediments but still come up short. You know, the ones who start at third base but still can’t make it to home plate for dinner.

But that wouldn’t be good political theater, now, would it?

And for those in our communities who would say, “Well, we shouldn’t be concerned about what other fathers are doing,” I would then question why too many people with a platform seem to be performing that criticism for the white gaze in order to procure “tough love” points and respectability certificates.


Conservative demagogues, such as Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera, are expected to indulge in such tactics out of either malice or ignorance, but the propaganda also comes from African-American men in high places, such as President Barack Obama, whose scathing indictments seem to reflect a desire to play the role of father-in-chief, reprimanding a wayward African-American demographic that dreams of earning his approval.

See just a few of the statements skewering black fathers below:

“Too many fathers are MIA, too many fathers are AWOL, 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.” President Obama, apparently talking about Cousin Pookie again


“I have a dream that all black boys and girls will grow up with a father. … I got a dream that young black males don’t become daddies until after they’re married and until after they have a job! How about that!” former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.)

“Right now, about 73 percent of all black babies are born out of wedlock. That drives poverty. And the lack of involved fathers leads to young boys growing up resentful and unsupervised. … Raised without much structure, young black men often reject education, gravitate towards the street culture, drugs, hustling, gangs. Nobody forces them to do that … it is a personal decision.” Bill O’Reilly


“Someone has to speak up for young black males. It isn’t going to be their fathers; most are not there. It isn’t going to be the child himself; he’s been warned by his mother not to ‘disrespect me.’ It certainly won’t be white Americans; you’ve scared them away!”Jesse Lee Peterson

“As I’ve said many times before, being a dad has been the single greatest blessing of my life—as well as the most important and most demanding job I’ve ever had. I suspect that most of the other fathers in this crowd would say the same. Yet the unfortunate reality is that, for far too many children—and especially for African-American kids—the involvement of a loving and attentive parent is not something they can count on. And in too many places, strong, positive role models are in short supply.” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder


“I wondered to myself, what if LeBron James instead had a shirt, ‘Be a better father to your son.’ ‘Raise your children.’ Geraldo Rivera on James’ “I Can’t Breathe” shirt

“Once upon a time in the black community, you didn’t have to look at people outside your home for role models. We have got to get that re-established. So we don’t have to look up to Washington, D.C. You can look at your dads.” former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)


This is the kind of broad-stroke rhetoric that paints African-American communities as broken, derelict and unsalvageable. Even the well-intentioned remarks, presumably meant to empower black men, are steeped in dangerously misguided hyperbole that reaffirms the white supremacist notion of intrinsically flawed black masculinity.

As Father’s Day draws closer, The Root wants to combat that notion. We are asking that our readers submit photos of themselves with their fathers or with their children, using the hashtag #TheRootSalutesBlackFathers.


I’ll go first.

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