The Myth of Weak and Broken Black Families

This further verifies a point I made in an earlier post, Black Feminism and Epistemology of Ignorance. I took a quote from a work I was reading, where someone stated that, “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.” I discussed a passage from another book that showed that black parents have larger social networks of support than do white parents.

On top of that, it appears that black fathers are more dedicated to their children in many ways, despite the social disruption of severe poverty and mass incarceration. The idea of a weak family or a broken family is typically a judgment made by those who lack both knowledge and self-awareness. They are judging others who they know little about and doing so through a very narrow lense that blinds them to their own problems and failures. They can neither see the strength in others nor the weaknesses in themselves.

There is nothing surprising about the self-serving bias, but it is nonetheless important to give clear examples of it. We all easily fall prey to it.

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The Myth of the Absent Black Father
by Tara Culp-Ressler
ThinkProgress,  1/16/4

Considering the fact that “black fatherhood” is a phrase that is almost alwaysaccompanied by the word “crisis” in U.S. society, it’s understandable that the CDC’s results seem innovative. But in reality, the new data builds upon years of research that’s concluded that hands-on parenting is similar among dads of all races. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to bust this racially-biased myth.

The Pew Research Center, which has tracked this data for years, consistently finds no big differences between white and black fathers. Gretchen Livingston, one of the senior researchers studying family life at Pew, wasn’t at all surprised by the new CDC data. “Blacks look a lot like everyone else,” she pointed out.

Although black fathers are more likely to live separately from their children — the statistic that’s usually trotted out to prove the parenting “crisis” — many of them remain just as involved in their kids’ lives. Pew estimates that 67 percent of black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and just 32 percent of Hispanic dads.

And there’s compelling evidence that number of black dads living apart from their kids stems from structural systems of inequality and poverty, not the unfounded assumption that African-American men somehow place less value on parenting. Equal numbers of black dads and white dads tend to agree that it’s important to be a father who provides emotional support, discipline, and moral guidance. There’s one area of divergence in the way the two groups approach their parental responsibilities: Black dads are even more likely to think it’s important to financially provide for their children.

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Black Families: “Broken” and “Weak”
Structural Racism and Personal Responsibility

17 thoughts on “The Myth of Weak and Broken Black Families


    Put aside for a moment that the myth of the absent black father has been debunked time and again. We won’t discuss how black fathers have comparable-and in some cases higher-levels of involvement with their children as do white and Latino fathers. The statistic that 72 percent of black children grow up without fathers, which gets thrown around a lot in these conversations, is about out-of-wedlock births; that doesn’t necessarily mean those children are being raised without a father. But I don’t want to talk about the facts right now. I just want to know if there’s a single problem in black communities that can not be blamed on missing fathers.


    “An increasing number of quantitative and qualitative studies find that of men who become fathers through nonmarital births, black men are least likely (when compared to white and Hispanic fathers) to marry or cohabit with the mother. But they were found to have the highest rates (estimates range from 20 percent to over 50 percent) of visitation or provision of some caretaking or in-kind support (more than formal child support),” according to The Myth of the Missing Black Father, edited by Roberta L. Coles and Charles Green (Columbia University Press 2009), which reviewed a range of studies that looked at fathers’ engagement with their children.

    One study found that only 37 percent of black nonmarital fathers lived with their children, “but of those who weren’t cohabiting, 44 percent of unmarried black fathers were visiting the child, compared to only 17 percent of white and 26 percent of Hispanic fathers. These studies also suggested that black nonresident fathers tend to maintain their level of involvement over time longer than do white and Hispanic nonresident fathers.”


    1. Black fathers are not conditioned to be absent.

    […] The study found that 70% of black dads said they bathed, diapered or dressed those kids every day, compared with 60% of white fathers and 45% of Latino and that 35% of black fathers who lived with their young children said they read to them daily, compared with 30% of white dads and 22% of Latino dads.

    Indeed, even when black fathers are not living at home with their children 67% see them once a month compared to 59% of white dads and 32% of Hispanic fathers. […]

    3. Black fathers are statistically more likely to be stay-at-home dads.

    […] This means that black men are twice as likely to be stay-at-home dads than white men. While there are many reasons for men to stay at home with their children, NPR notes that “the fastest-growing group among stay-at-home fathers is men who say they are home specifically to provide child care.” […]

    4. Black fathers are not fueling out of wedlock births on their own.

    […] There has long been the notion – made popular by the Moynihan Report – that black fathers are having children out of wedlock more than men of any other race. However while that may have been the case in 1965, today much of the 41% of mothers that are giving birth are white. In fact, a 2012 CDC report found that there are 4 million more white children living in single parent homes than there are black children in America. […]

    6. The prison pipeline targets black fathers, shattering nuclear families.

    According to the sentencing project’s “Parents in Prison” report, 1 in 15 black children had a parent in prison in 2007 compared with 1 in 42 Latino children and 1 in 111 white children. Most of these incarcerated parents are black men, of which 47% lived at home with their children before they went to jail.

    With its “War on Drugs” era and mandatory sentencing procedures, black men have been unfairly targeted black, resulting in the breaking up of a large percentage of black households that would be otherwise two parent homes. The same Parents in Prisons report found that “62% of parents in state prisons and 84% of parents in federal prisons are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their last residence.”

    The farther the parents are from their homes, the harder it is for their children to visit regularly and maintain a relationship – this is just common sense. Meanwhile, “59% of parents in state prisons and 45% in federal prisons have not had any personal visits with their children while in prison.”


    First and foremost, the idea that 71% of black children grow up without fathers is at one level the result of a misunderstanding of facts and at another level the mere erasure of facts. It would seem that Ms. Mallory is invoking the often-cited statistics that 72% of African American children were born to unwed mothers, which is significantly higher than the national average of 40 %. Yet, this statistic is misleading and misused as part of a historically defined white racial project.

    First and foremost, children born into an unmarried family is not the same is growing up without a father. In fact, only half of African American children live in single-family homes. Yet, this again, only tells part of the story. The selective invoking of these statistics, while emblematic of the hegemony of heterosexist patriarchy, says very little about whether or not a child grows up with two parents involved in their lives. According to the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a sizable portion of those children born to single mothers are born into families that can be defined as “marriage like.” 32% of unmarried parents are engaged in `visiting unions” (in a romantic relationship although living apart), with 50% of parents living together without being married. In other words, the 72% says little about the presence of black fathers (or mothers for that matter).

    Likewise, this 72% number says very little about the levels of involvement of fathers (and mothers), but rather how because of the media, popular culture and political discourses, black fatherhood is constructed “as an oxymoron” all while black motherhood is defined as “inadequate” and “insufficient.” According to the introduction for The Myth of the Missing Black Father, edited by Roberta L. Coles and Charles Green,

    “It would be remiss to argue that there are not many absent black fathers, absence is only one slice of the fatherhood pie and a smaller slice than is normally thought. The problem with “absence,” as is fairly well established now, is that it’s an ill defined pejorative concept usually denoting nonresidence with the child, and it is sometimes assumed in cases where there is no legal marriage to the mother. More importantly, absence connotes invisibility and noninvolvement, which further investigation has proven to be exaggerated (as will be discussed below). Furthermore, statistics on children’s living arrangements also indicate that nearly 41 percent of black children live with their fathers, either in a married or cohabiting couple household or with a single dad.”

    Countless studies substantiate the fallacies that guide claims about absentee black fathers. For example, while black fathers are the least likely to be living with or married to the mother, they are much more likely to be involved and engaged with their children.

    “For instance, Carlson and McLanahan’s (2002) figures indicated that only 37 percent of black nonmarital fathers were cohabiting with the child (compared to 66 percent of white fathers and 59 percent of Hispanic), but of those who weren’t cohabiting, 44 percent of unmarried black fathers were visiting the child, compared to only 17 percent of white and 26 percent of Hispanic fathers (in Coles and Green).”


    According to a report entitled “Children of Incarcerated Parents,” in 2007 America was home to 1.7 million children (under 18) whose parent was being held in state or federal prison – that is 2.3 percent of American children will likely be celebrating father’s day away from dad. Despite hegemonic clamoring about family values, the prison industrial complex continues to ravage American families. Since 1991, the number of children with a father in prison has increased from 881,500 to 1.5 million in 2007. Over this same time period, children of incarcerated mothers increased from 63,900 to 147,400. Roughly half of these children are younger than 9, with 32 percent being between the ages of 10 and 14.

    The problem is even more pronounced when looking at Black and Latino fathers. The numbers are startling: 1 in 15 black children lives away from their parent because of incarceration. For Latinos that number is 1 in 41, compared to 1 in 110 for white children. For incarcerated African Americans (1 in 3 black men are currently in prison, jail, on probation or parole), father’s day isn’t simply a day of disconnect from their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, but one that highlights their separation from their own fathers and entire family.

    The consequences of America’s war on drugs (a war principally waged against black and brown America), of America’s “New Jim Crow” (see Michelle Alexander’s work), are evident on this day. Too many fathers, particularly black and Latino fathers, will celebrate alone, away from their sons and daughters. Writing in response to the widespread debate about the state of black fatherhood, Michelle Alexander makes clear the links between the new Jim Crow and “missing black fathers” in America. “Here’s a hint for all those still scratching their heads about those missing black fathers: Look in prison,” writes Alexander. She continues,

    The mass incarceration of people of color through the War on Drugs is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Hundreds of thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites.

    The systematic efforts to break-apart families, destroy communities, and separate fathers and mothers from their children is a direct result of the incarceration of drug users. According to Alexander, as of 2005, 4 in 5 drug arrests were for possession by individuals with no history of violence; in the 1990s alone, a period that saw a massive expansion of America’s war on drug users, 80 percent of those sent to prison were done so for marijuana possession. Yet, again we see how this is not a war on drugs or even illicit drug use, but use within the black community even though whites are far more likely to use illegal drugs. In a number of states, between 80 and 90 percent of all drug convictions have been of African Americans.

    The impact of the war on drugs transcends father’s day. The systematic effort to dismantle families results in isolation and disconnection from community, support systems, and loved ones 365 days per year. It has resulted in a brain drain and systematic removal of grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters – entire communities. On average, children live 100 miles away from their incarcerated parents. A 2000 U.S. Department of Justice Report found that over half of America’s prisoners have not been visited by their children. An expansive and far-reaching criminal justice system touches so many of our lives.

  6. Speaking of families, I thought of this:

    Also, a recent humans of ny photo on a childless women who is always pestered about having kids.

    But, you know how they say, evopsych, ties everything down to reproducing? How everything pretty much revolves around wanting to reproduce? Why we want to look good, be atteaxtive, fuck? It is interesting, because you’d think that people fucking is because we subconsciously want to reproduce, and yet, we use condoms and other birth control, and we break out if we get pregnant, etc. you’d think, whenever there is a pregnancy, people would be joyed because they fulfilled the subconscious desire driving the to fuck, but they actually don’t want the pregnancy. You have people abortijg, abandoning babies, newborns in dumpsters, etc. also, you have people with kids who had them but don’t want kids, etc etc. in the old days disabled babies were left to die, now there aborted and disappoint parents initially. That’s because reproducing is fundamentally selfish, childbirth is nothing noble. It’s a base desire.

    It makes me think, if, having kids isn’t just an innate desire to reproduce, but that there is also a lot of societal and cultural pressure to reproduce as well. You end up with neglected kids because mom had them out of societal pressure.

    My mom is pretty much asexual, yet she had me. When I asked her why she married, had sex if sje dosent care for it (though rarely, my dad mostly just jerks off to porn for his sex fix) she said “because that is what you are supposed to do.” Y mom adopts the idea that being childless is selfish. But if you ask her why there isn’t much a reason besides “it is your responsibility as a woman. (For men the responsibility is to provide for the woman and kids.) on the other hand if you talk evopsych to her and how she subconsciously wants to reproduce her genes, she brushes it off. By dad dosent, though, lol. He happily says he loves me because I am part of him. With me he feels he can “live forever” in a way. He dosent care for kids, he just likes me cause I’m his :/ he talks to be about never adopting kids, you need your own.

    So I think there’s a lot of cultural pressure to reproduce. But also there’s the desire to reproduce but not necessarily the responsibility that comes with it. Basically people may want to reproduce their genes but not necessarily take care of their reproduced genes, if you know what I mean.

    I say? To my dad… Well, this desire is basically why the earth has 7 billion people and millions of unwanted kids and orphans, and is struggling with overpopulaiob, most living in shithole conditions. In fact, there aren’t enough resources to for all 7 billion a first world standard of living, muh less feed them all.

    If more people weren’t subconsciously driven by the desire to replicate their genes so much, and adopted more, we’d have a better planet.

    • Baby boxes are decent remedial solutions. It’s better than women in shame abandoning their babies in a garbage dumpster or a gas station. But it would be nice in the long run if we instead took actions to prevent problems. We already now how to prevent most unwanted pregnancies. Why aren’t we taking the preventative measures that we know work? The baby boxes don’t solve the problem of the baby being unwanted, although it is a better option than many of the alternatives.

  7. Engineer humans to be unable to reproduce sexually, making sex purely recreational like in brave new world?

    Develop artificial wombs, or develop asexual reproduction.

    Our complexity is in many ways our downfall. Our intelligence in addition to our animalistic side is a tragedy in a way.

    We are the only species whose biology is not in sync with our culture and higher mind

    • My guess is that mmost sex already is recreational. Sexual activity these days usually involves some kind of birth control. However, the unwanted pregnancies that do happen are because young people and poor people don’t always have easy access to birth control, much less family planning clinics. Access to such things has been increasing, though.

      Our main tragedy is simply our refusal to use the options we already have available to us. We don’t need vast technological advancements to eliminate or nearly eliminate unwanted pregnancies and births. I don’t think our biology is the problem. Our culture and higher mind is inseparable from our biology because they are expressions of our animal nature, as complex social animals.

  8. One of the most persistent statistical bludgeons of people who want to blame black people for any injustice or inequity they encounter is this: According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), in 2013 in nearly 72 percent of births to non-Hispanic black women, the mothers were unmarried.

    It has always seemed to me that embedded in the “If only black men would marry the women they have babies with…” rhetoric was a more insidious suggestion: that there is something fundamental, and intrinsic about black men that is flawed, that black fathers are pathologically prone to desertion of their offspring and therefore largely responsible for black community “dysfunction.”

    There is an astounding amount of mythology loaded into this stereotype, one that echoes a history of efforts to rob black masculinity of honor and fidelity.

    Josh Levs points this out in his new book, “All In,” in a chapter titled “How Black Dads Are Doing Best of All (But There’s Still a Crisis).” One fact that Levs quickly establishes is that most black fathers in America live with their children: “There are about 2.5 million black fathers living with their children and about 1.7 million living apart from them.”

    “So then,” you may ask, “how is it that 72 percent of black children are born to single mothers? How can both be true?”

    Good question.

    Here are two things to consider:

    First, there are a growing number of people who live together but don’t marry. Those mothers are still single, even though the child’s father may be in the home. And, as The Washington Post reported last year:

    “The share of unmarried couples who opted to have ‘shotgun cohabitations’ — moving in together after a pregnancy — surpassed ‘shotgun marriages’ for the first time during the last decade, according to a forthcoming paper from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

    Furthermore, a 2013 C.D.C. report found that black and Hispanic women are far more likely to experience a pregnancy during the first year of cohabitation than white and Asian women.

    Second, some of these men have children by more than one woman, but they can only live in one home at a time. This phenomenon means that a father can live with some but not all of his children. Levs calls these men “serial impregnators,” but I think something more than promiscuity and irresponsibility are at play here.

    As Forbes reported on Ferguson, Mo.:

    “An important but unreported indicator of Ferguson’s dilemma is that half of young African-American men are missing from the community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, while there are 1,182 African-American women between the ages of 25 and 34 living in Ferguson, there are only 577 African-American men in this age group. In other words there are more than two young black women for each young black man in Ferguson.”

    In April, The New York Times extended this line of reporting, pointing out that nationally, there are 1.5 million missing black men. As the paper put it: “Incarceration and early deaths are the overwhelming drivers of the gap. 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 one in 12 black men in this age group are behind bars, compared with one in 60 nonblack men in the age group, one in 200 black women and one in 500 nonblack women.” For context, there are about eight million African-American men in that age group overall.

    Mass incarceration has disproportionately ensnared young black men, sucking hundreds of thousands of marriage-age men out of the community.

    Another thing to consider is something that The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out in 2013: “The drop in the birthrate for unmarried black women is mirrored by an even steeper drop among married black women. Indeed, whereas at one point married black women were having more kids than married white women, they are now having less.” This means that births to unmarried black women are disproportionately represented in the statistics.

    Now to the mythology of the black male dereliction as dads: While it is true that black parents are less likely to marry before a child is born, it is not true that black fathers suffer a pathology of neglect. In fact, a C.D.C. report issued in December 2013 found that black fathers were the most involved with their children daily, on a number of measures, of any other group of fathers — and in many cases, that was among fathers who didn’t live with their children, as well as those who did.

    There is no doubt that the 72 percent statistic is real and may even be worrisome, but it represents more than choice. It exists in a social context, one at odds with the corrosive mythology about black fathers.

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