I've been asked to consider the validity and implications of several myths about black males. I may even talk about it on radio or television some day. So as per usual, I will kick out my gut feelings and get socratic and analytical on these issues of concern.
But let me start with an overall angle, and that is that there is a sigificant problem with coming at 'black males' from this perspective. I resent the whole anthropological tone, and it really grits my teeth when I hear somebody announce that, 'I am a black male..' or 'the black female needs...' It reads like a pet manual. That said, both of my parents were sociologists by training, and I know where all that is coming from. We started it. One of these days we're going to end it.
The first myth, as you might have guessed from the title, I will paraphrase in the following way. "The black male exhibits a preturnatural ability to sire multiple offspring without exhibiting domestic responsibilities." Or as a rapper might put it, 'I hate to bang and blow, but yo I gotta go'.
Is this a myth? No. Is it a rule of thumb? No. Is it the default expectation in American society? That's a bit tougher to say, but I think I'm going to have to say yes it is. What do the statistics say? According to Shay Riley at Booker Rising (who gets her numbers from very reliable sources) we are:
8.8 million families: 52% single parent (43% single women, 9% single men), 48% married. 9% of black kids live with grandparents (1940: 77% married, 18% single women, 5% single men)
I have to say that I'm down with Daniel Patrick Moynihan on this issue which is tangential to the abortion and adoption issues. Kids raised in married families have advantages. The strong black Old School position is, get married, stay married. I mean you really have to ask why it would be that blackfolks who are in The Struggle, would think of it as an advantage to raise kids singly. If you're trying to be middle class, it should be obvious that two parents are better than one, and that Marriage is better than shacking. I listen to Destiny's Child and I say, of course I can pay your bills. That's what a man does.
We still have understanding of the term 'living in sin'. The stigma hasn't fallen completely away. Legally, there used to be different laws of inheritance and different laws for the roles and responsibilities of parents. But you know sociologists can't leave well enough alone. So the legal basis for discrimination against bastards is gone. You can't even say that word with its original meaning intact. But the moral injuction is still real and ought to be respected.
America is not quite comfortable with the Old School black father. But you know that's what Earl Woods was like. You know that's what Colin Powell is like. You know that's the role Charles Dutton played in 'Roc'. It's none of this 'Everybody Loves Raymond' wishy-washy stuff. It's about standing tall and being the force of stability, honor and discipline that a black father must be. And half of us are doing the right thing. I would, quote frankly, like to break those demographics down by class too. It's something I suspect Roland Fryer or one of the Freakonomics crew may have done. Bottom line, married black fatherhood is threatened, but the opposition will fall apart. We will be the survivors because we have the confidence that comes with the righteousness of doing the right thing, and we will pass it on.
I could go on into the reasons that the failure of the family has occured in America, but I really don't want to go there. Rather I want to emphasize and underscore the need for strong families of the traditional sort, and challenge those of us who hold to that ideal to remain strong and intact. I'm looking forward, and learning what advantages I have as my wife and I plan for and work our family.
We know, and everyone should know the simple fact, if you're raising children, follow Cobb's Rule #2 There is Marriage, and then there is everything else. I very much like the way it's put in this very relevant article by Kay Hymowitz:
Read through the megazillion words on class, income mobility, and poverty in the recent New York Times series “Class Matters” and you still won’t grasp two of the most basic truths on the subject: 1. entrenched, multigenerational poverty is largely black; and 2. it is intricately intertwined with the collapse of the nuclear family in the inner city.
By now, these facts shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Almost 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers. Those mothers are far more likely than married mothers to be poor, even after a post-welfare-reform decline in child poverty. They are also more likely to pass that poverty on to their children. Sophisticates often try to dodge the implications of this bleak reality by shrugging that single motherhood is an inescapable fact of modern life, affecting everyone from the bobo Murphy Browns to the ghetto “baby mamas.” Not so; it is a largely low-income—and disproportionately black—phenomenon. The vast majority of higher-income women wait to have their children until they are married. The truth is that we are now a two-family nation, separate and unequal—one thriving and intact, and the other struggling, broken, and far too often African-American.
Note that the author doesn't pretend that it's a black problem. It is an American problem that is more hurtful to poor blackfolks in the ghetto. It's only a black problem to the extent that black politics is responsible for saying "I ain't mad at ya" to those who embrace single parenthood. If the goal of black politics is to be the preservation and uplift of the African American nation, then it cannot turn a blind eye to this problem, nor can it equivocate on matters of family structure. But a certain stream of black politics has constantly done so, just as it has on matters of drugs and crime. It makes excuses instead of just saying no. It gets all crafty with its rationales, but it cannot do so in the case of family matters without denial of Moynihan which is what Hymowitz sees so clearly.
You really have to read Hymnozitz' entire piece, it has an extraordinarily comprehensive tracing of the provenance of the shaky arguments pitched against Moynihan. And I should note to black partisans that Moynihan was building on the work Kenneth Clark and E. Franklin Frasier. This also relates directly to The Underclass Question I posed. I have been hesitant, due to the influence of Glenn Loury's analysis, to place the primary variable of the Underclass directly in the home, but it does make sense to locate it there. Where, after all, does social indigency come from? The streets, is probably the best answer. And why would a married family be at the mercy of the streets in terms of the values they teach their children. It simply defies what we know to be true about married black fathers. How can any self-respecting black man stand up and say that 'the legacy of slavery' rules what goes on in my house?
Along with Cosby, I throw shade against the Forty Percent.. those below the middle class who don't appear to be holding up their end of the bargain. The Civil Rights Movement was a success. We destroyed Jim Crow, but you can't take blackfolks to the next level if you as a man haven't handled your own business at home. And for this, I'm convinced there is no government cure, and nothing politics can do but preach. We can't have people coming around to police how black men handle their social relationships. That's all on us.
As my father used to say: "But me no buts". Just handle your business. Let me make it unequivocably clear, the black men who don't marry are the ones destroying the Black Family, their own.
Actually, I have quite a bit to say on this subject, so I want to cross reference back to certain things that relate.
In A Little Smacking of Cornel West, I say:
West goes on to say this:
My aim is not to provide excuses for black behavior or to absolve blacks of personal responsibility. But when the new black conservatives accent black behavior and responsibility in such a way that the cultural realities of black people are ignored, they are playing ‘a deceptive and dangerous intellectual game with the lives and fortunes of disadvantaged people. We indeed must criticize and condemn immoral acts of black people, but we must do so cognizant of the circumstances into which people are born and under which they live. By overlooking this, the new black conservatives fall into the trap of blaming black poor people for their predicament.
What's the first thing that pops into mind? Cosby. Black Conservatives are saying that Cosby is right, and moreover that Moynihan was right. What are the 'circumstances into which people are born and under which they live' which tells them Marriage is not a reasonable choice? This takes us back through Bennett to the rather uncontested assertions of Stephen J. Levitt:
Race is not an important part of the abortion-crime argument that John Donohue and I have made in academic papers and that Dubner and I discuss in Freakonomics. It is true that, on average, crime involvement in the U.S. is higher among blacks than whites. Importantly, however, once you control for income, the likelihood of growing up in a female-headed household, having a teenage mother, and how urban the environment is, the importance of race disappears for all crimes except homicide. (The homicide gap is partly explained by crack markets). In other words, for most crimes a white person and a black person who grow up next door to each other with similar incomes and the same family structure would be predicted to have the same crime involvement. Empirically, what matters is the fact that abortions are disproportionately used on unwanted pregnancies, and disproportionately by teenage women and single women.
In other words, outside of crack and murder Moynihan was right, and Black Conservatives are right to criticize this moral failure not just in black communities but as a general principle that applies equally to whites.
In The Disconnected Fifth's Dionysian Trap following up on Orlando Patterson, I look at those underclass currents tugging at the hearts and minds of young black men who ought to do better:
This is a subset of degeneracy that our affluent society tolerates. It's annoying that loudmouth knuckeleheads who do little but make noise, crime and babies pollute our population. But it's very easy to get away from them. They have no mobility, no power, no real influence over anything but their particular niche markets. People like me get really pissed that there are lots of people with the nerve to name that the sum total of 'black' culture. I say it is part of an historical stream of vulgar banditry going back though and beyond Sherwood Forest - that there is nothing special about classes of losers, outcasts and anti-social bohemians. But in America, it's uniquely tied in with this invention called 'youth culture' which allows half-grown humans to have their own music, dress, ethics, sports & slang all mass marketed and co-opted into a segment of mass consumption.
Still, it's a choice. It's a bit too easy of a choice because it is bankrolled, and yet I wonder how many with libertarian sensibilities would allow a bit of common righteousness to give the smackdown to the prophets of this hiphop subculture. Too many folks don't bother to disambiguate race and culture amid the confusion of political correctness and multiculturalism. We in the Old School have few such qualms or confusions. Just as Chris Rock says, just as Cosby says, we know the difference between blackfolks and niggas. We're not afraid to call a spade a spade. Why? Because racial segregation forced us to live with them a lot longer than everyone else. We know the ultimate costs. America may yet learn.