I am Black. I am a father. I love my children like nobody’s business.
I will not be invisible.
I make this simple declaration because, even though involved Black fathers are the norm in the lives of Black children, we are dogged by a defamatory narrative about our supposed absenteeism.
Are there Black fathers not taking their responsibilities seriously? Of course.
Does that mean that Black fathers overall should be stereotyped as irresponsible? Only if you’re detached from the realities and nuances of Black life.
The “Black fatherlessness” anthem is sung mostly by conservatives eager to summarily dismiss empirically true claims of structural racism. Deadbeat dad noir is their reliable weapon of choice to extinguish claims that the white power structure harms Blacks.
Need an example? Look at right-wing social media influencer Candace Owens’ testimony before Congress that there is no such thing as white supremacy, and that Blacks need to focus on our real problems.
“The biggest issue facing Black America is father absence,” she said in the presence of Black fathers who are elected officials, journalists, authors, and tourists.
She’s not alone. 21-year-old Amala Ekpunobi, a colleague of Owens’ at the conservative media platform Prager U, also argues against the idea that white racism is a barrier to Black progress.
In a Facebook video Ekpunobi says “the two biggest problems affecting the Black community today are 1) the lack of fathers and 2) the disgusting and regressive Black culture that the Black community experiences.”
If Black people are so held back in this country because of their race why is it that Nigerian immigrants moving into this are one of the most successful demographics in the United States? Why is it that they outperform native Black Americans when it comes to academics? They also have fewer run-ins with police than native-born Black Americans … is it because they have a different culture? Absolutely.”
In another Prager video Ekpunobi, who also goes by the social media handle “halfblackconservative,” reveals her Nigerian immigrant father abandoned her at age six, leaving her to be raised by her white mother’s side of her family.
“He bears very little influence in my life which I know is common for most people in the Black community,” she says.
While that makes for good content, easily weaponized by conservatives for political gain, it mishandles the truth. She’s projecting her pain onto an entire community that she is disconnected from. Her fatherlessness isn’t ours.
The Right often points to 72% of Black babies born to unmarried mothers (the highest rate of any American subgroup) as definitive proof that if anything is holding Blacks back it is Black male dereliction more than anything. If only we didn’t have daddy issues we wouldn’t experience gaps in income, wealth, education, and justice outcomes.
If your goal is to understand Black people rather than to simply marginalize them for claiming our country has yet to live its values of equal opportunity, then you’ll have to start seeing Black fathers who are hiding in plain sight.
First, honest debate about us should start by admitting that the majority of Black dads—about 2.5 million of around 4.2 million—live with their children. And, of fathers who live with their children, Black fathers are the most involved.
That’s our norm. See us.
Second, for fathers who do not live with their children, there are many factors to take into account before filing a missing person report.
Less than half of the Black fathers not living in their children’s primary residence include non-custodial co-parents, step-fathers and adoptive fathers.
For that first group, non-custodial fathers, we know that they often fight for their right to time in their children’s lives but face barriers in court. According to a 2014 study “… noncustodial black fathers are more likely to visit and spend time with their children than unmarried, noncustodial fathers of other races, [but they] must contend with the stereotype that they are Absent Black Fathers when they enter the courtroom.” Courts have had a long-time bias toward sole maternity custody that has disproportionately pushed Black men into the sole role of financial contributor rather than an active father.
Further, noncustodial fathers in poverty have additional factors working against them.
According to a Fordham Law Review study, 75% of them work less than full-time, 29% are incarcerated, 43% aren’t high school graduates, 39% have health problems, and 32% have been unemployed for more than 3 years.
If we really care about “fatherlessness” we will start seeing non-custodial fathers and supporting them to be their best.
As for another group, step-fathers, they make up about 1 in 5 Blacks and 24% of Black men are step-parents. That makes them the most likely to be stepfathers across all racial groups.
Mother-only households are been in decline.
Blaming Us Is An Old Tactic
I would love to say that blaming Black people for the results of racist and rigged economic, social, and political systems is new. It’s not. This type of gaslighting goes back to at least 1842 when Rev. Charles Colcock Jones wrote “The Religious Instruction of the Negroes” to provide a compensatory logic for white slave owners. In that work, he characterized Blacks as “proverbially idle,” “improvident,” drunkards, thieves and worse.
“It is a remarkable fact that a large proportion of those of marriageable age, remain single, especially in the free States, where the support of a family is difficult. This fact has a considerable bearing on their state of morals.”
He wrote that in a time when all of the structures of America were geared to dehumanize Blacks and remove all of their right to self-determination. Then, like now, he didn’t blame the structures he benefitted from as a white man, but on some cosmic supernatural Black deficiency for which Blacks were to blame.
“In multitudes of families, both by precept and example, the children are trained up in iniquity; taught by their parents to steal, to lie, to deceive; nor can the rod of correction induce a confession or revelation of their clearly ascertained transgressions. Virtue is not cherished nor protected in them. Parents put their children to use as early as it is possible, and their discipline mainly respects omissions of duty in the household; moral delinquencies are passed by; and that discipline owes its chief efficiency to excited passion, and consequently exists in the extreme of laxity or severity. They ofttimes when under no restraint, beat their children unmercifully.”
All of that could easily be the subject of what conservatives (and some liberals) say about Blacks today. And the motive remains the same: to pretend unequal systems of education, economics, law, sport, and media aren’t the main drivers of the conditions that reduce opportunity for non-white people in America.
Ending our Invisibility
Nothing I write here is going to settle the Black-White debates about the existence of structural racism, white privilege, or white supremacist systems. Frankly, I’m tired of the conversation because it’s full of noise and fog. Sadly, the headlock that anti-racism activists and system defenders are in probably won’t be solved in my lifetime.
My purpose here is smaller in scope, which is simply to rescue the good Black father that I’ve seen in my family, my community, and my professional networks from our accusers who benefit from rendering us, invisible men.
I am Black. I am a father. I love my children like nobody’s business.
You will acknowledge my existence.
See my #UnPublic video about the fatherlessness myth: