Every life matters and every life is sacred, so that we all desire to live a life of purpose, meaning, and direction. As the African-Americans struggle for social change and grapple with racial injustice and racial disparity in income and wealth distribution between African-Americans and Whites and wrestle with the US high unemployment and mass incarceration of young African- Americans, it is important that we look at the family structure and structural violence. This dysfunction results from the absence of a father in the life of a child in the African-American community because a father can give a child structure and discipline. A boy needs men to teach him how to be a man. The lack of a father and a stable family foundation is a major problem for many families in the USA, but is even greater among African-American people. The family is the building block of society; as the family erodes, so do the society and the nation. Anyone can father a child, but being a daddy takes a lifetime.
Fathers play a role in every child’s life that cannot be filled by others. The role has a large impact on a child and helps shape that young life into the people they become. Studies show that the absence of a father certainly delays development of the child. Young African-American boys without an active father or a father in heaven usually get in trouble. Research indicates that the majority of African-American boys under the age of seventeen live with a mother only, compared with sixteen percent of their white counterparts. Many children live in households headed by women, and while they often do remarkable jobs in childrearing, they cannot replace the absentee father.
Studies also show that children in fatherless homes are more likely to drop out of school, exhibit behavioral problems, end up in the criminal justice system, suffer unemployment, and have a greater risk of drug abuse. If a youth does not have a father in the home who can act as a source of support and one of the pillars for the formation of his resilience, then he is less likely to be resilient in the face of many sources of trauma.
Our parents, our first teacher, and our home are the first school we attend. We learn from this first teacher how to behave, how to appreciate, how to tell the truth, how to respect, and how to love others; we learn to be loved, to be honest, and to make good choices. When we look at many black youth and consider them to be very angry and bad, we may surmise that they really are hurting and their behaviors are behaviors caused by their acting out in pain. They are just trying to meet a need, the need to be included, to be loved, to be welcomed, respected, and wanted.
One survey indicated that out of more than eighteen million children, about one in four were living in households where no father, biological or other, was present. The study found that this deprivation is more common in black children. More than fifty-six percent of black children lived in single parent families in 2004, with most of those families headed by mothers. That figure compared with twenty-two percent of white children and thirty-one of Hispanic children. This absence is decimating black communities, and they have no educated response to it. That is where politicians, activists, black leaders and the media should focus and address the real causes of the systematic structural violence that is the killing black people, not falsely attribute them to systematic racism in America. The crisis is the absence of the father in the African-American society, not systematic racism.
Family structure has the biggest impact on children because family structures influence the choices that children will make. Families break down, communities break down, nations break down—all fueled and compounded by poverty. As mentioned, boys raised without a father are much more likely to use drugs, engage in violent crimes, go to jail, and drop out of school; the girls, meanwhile, are more likely to engage in sexual activity and have a child out of wedlock. Today jails and prisons in America are filled with African-Americans. Why? Many of their children will grow up without fathers. We all grow up by imitating the behavior of those around us; that is how we learn to function in society. If a father is caring and treats people with respect, then the boy will grow up much the same. When a father is absent, the boy looks to other male figure to set the rules for how to behave and to survive in the community or surroundings.
In the African-American family from 1890 to 1950, African-American women had a higher marriage rate than other women. And in 1950, just nine percent of African-American children lived without their father. By 1960, the black marriage rate had declined but remained close to the white marriage rate. Despite open racism and widespread poverty, strong black families used to be the norm. By the 1980s, the absence of fathers among Blacks went up considerably. African-American leaders, politicians, NGOs, media, and universities need to go back to the mentality of “It takes a village to raise a child.” The community should step up to help address the real issues and the systematic inner structural problem of the African-American communities. We should not allow the generational course to continue. Why not make a difference and a change in the African-American family and community? However, change always begins with one individual seeking inner change before trying to change others.
Author Larry Elder poses a very good question. Between the presence of white racism and the absence of black fathers, which poses the bigger threat to the black community? The answer is the absence of the black fathers. If that is the biggest threat, then why do the black leaders and community organizers blame whites for their sin? President Obama said, “We all know the statistics. Children who grow up without fathers are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine time more likely to drop out of school and twenty times more likely to end up in prison.” That is why today a majority of the American prisons are filled with African-Americans.
What happened to fathers? According to a basic law of economics, those who subsidize undesirable behavior will get more undesirable behavior. The war on poverty in America has not been changed since the sixties, but the relations between poor men and women have changed dramatically. Because the generous American welfare system allows women, in effect, to marry the government, that gives men an escape from their traditional moral obligation and financial responsibility. A welfare state causes disincentives and hurts the very people that it tries to help; for example, some poor women often have more children to get additional benefits. According to Larry Elder in his book Dear Father, and Dear Son, this is the advice his father gave. Today’s America is very different from the days of racial segregation and limited opportunity characterizing many African-American communities when he was growing up. Hard work wins. We get out of life what we put into it. We cannot control the outcome, but we are a hundred percent in control of the effort. And before blaming other people, we should go to the nearest mirror and ask, “What could I have done to change the outcome?” Elder said this advice shaped his life. Until we have a government policy that makes it a priority for us first to see ourselves as we are, nothing will change in African American Community.
Dr. Aland Mizell is with the MCI, SETBI and is a regular Mindanao Times columnist. You may e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
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