Ending the Myth of Absent Black Fatherhood

By Michael Nam

Photo by Shutterstock

In 2013, the CDC released its National Health Statistics Report data regarding the involvement that fathers had with their children. Interestingly, the report showed that Black fathers were often more engaged with their children than their white and non-white Hispanic counterparts countering many of the myths surrounding them as absent parents.

Data from Pew Research showed that 72% of Black children were born to unwed parents in 2011 (and the CDC showed that much the same was true the following year). Many people equivocate “unwed” to no father being in the picture.

However, some samples from the 2013 CDC report debunk that assumption:

Fathers not living with children (under 5 years old):

Bathed, diapered or dressed children daily

12.7% Blacks

6.6% Whites

7.3% Hispanic

Fathers not living with children (5-18 years old):

Helped with or checked homework daily

9.7% Blacks

5.0% Whites

3.2% Hispanic

The numbers in the report show little difference in how fathers who live with children, across races, tend to be involved (the majority of fathers in each racial group presented), and that Black fathers who do not live with their children tend to show more attentiveness compared to the other dads.

The CDC survey seemed forgotten by thought leaders and media professionals until the Daily Kos resurrected the information in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore and the subsequent violence and vandalism that engulfed parts of the city:

But what we’ve heard the most, is that the real problem is theBreakdown in the Black Family. That too many black fathers have abandoned their children, allowing them to be raised by the streets like feral cats. They don’t learn morals, and they don’t learn valuesso naturally police have to shoot them down like rabid, foaming dogs.Even when they’re unarmed. Even when they have their backs turned and are simply running away. It’s all justtheir own faultreally.

The Black family tends to be depicted in “crisis,” and often with the implication that Black culture is the culprit rather than a multitude of systemic factors involving racism and economics. Rand Paul, Bill O’Reilly and even President Obama himself have advanced the narrative to one degree or another.

Prior to the death of Freddie Gray, however, Baltimore residents had actually been addressing questions about fathers in the community:

“One misconception that people have about black fathers is that they don’t want to be involved or that they’re deadbeat,” says Vernon Wallace, who manages the Baltimore Responsible Fatherhood Project. “More so, they’re just dead broke.”

The Colorlines article that quotes Vernon Wallace also referred to the 2013 CDC report and showed the neglected faces of Black fatherhood by profiling the Baltimore Responsible Fatherhood Project.

When tragedy sparks unrest in Black communities like Ferguson and Baltimore, there is a tendency to reach for the well-worn trope of the unengaged Black father. However, if crisis does exist in the upbringing of kids in Black families, it’s likely less one of culture and one more of historic inequality

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