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To Truly Reduce Racial Disparities, We Must Acknowledge Black Fathers Matter

black fathers

Americans must confront the injustice of George Floyd’s death and examine issues of police use of force. We should review sentencing guidelines and revisit qualified immunity. We must never dismiss the generational effects of slavery and Jim Crow.

We must also acknowledge that racism is not primarily responsible for the struggles of the black community. Fatherlessness is.

Don’t take our word for it. Here’s what black leaders have to say.

Activist and #Blexit founder Candace Owens declares, “The biggest issue facing black America is father absence.”

Former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, when asked if white racism or the absence of fathers posed a greater threat to black Americans, replied without hesitation, “The absence of black fathers.”

Given the devastation fatherlessness visits on black children, you would think racial justice activists would sound the alarm. Yet Black Lives Matter openly seeks to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family,” the only institution that, through marriage, binds children to their fathers.

The BLM core statement of belief mentions black mothers, black families, black parents, and even black trans women. Yet nowhere does it mention black fathers, even though when black fathers have access to their children, they prove to be more involved parents than their white and Hispanic counterparts.

What Kids Need

The three staples of children’s social and emotional diet are their mother’s love, their father’s love, and stability. When children are raised by their married parents, they have daily access to all three. These needs have nothing to do with a child’s race, and the absence of one or more of these critical staples makes children emotionally malnourished and more likely to struggle academically, suffer a host of behavioral and emotional challenges, become a teen parent, and be incarcerated. That’s why marriage is a social justice issue for children.

Today, black children face an overwhelming injustice, being denied en masse the benefits of growing up in a married home. Only 17 percent of black kids make it to their high school graduation living exclusively with their married mother and father. That means 83 percent of black youth are suffering the loss of a parent or the instability of split homes. That’s an emotional starvation rate an order of magnitude greater than any other racial group.

Unsurprisingly, Minnesota, the epicenter of today’s racial unrest, is located in the region of the country with the greatest disparity in racial marriage rates. Fatherless kids are hurting kids. Tupac penned of his childhood spent without a dad,

Had to play catch by myself, what a sorry sight
A pitiful plight, so I pray for a starry night
Please send me a pops before puberty
The things I wouldn’t do to see a piece of family unity.

Not only does father absence disadvantage kids, it breaks their hearts.

Does Racism Cause Fatherlessness?

Some recognize the problem of father absence in the black community but object, “Racism is causing fatherlessness!” If that were true, the plight of the black family would have been far worse in eras of overt racism. Instead, early 20th-century black women married at higher rates than their white counterparts.

As the nation emerged from Jim Crow, 25 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers. Today that statistic is 72 percent. Instances of racism exist today, but you would be hard-pressed to argue anti-black racism is worse now than in 1900 or 1964.

If racism were the primary problem, Nigerian Americans also would not be among the most successful immigrant groups in our country, but they are. Much of their success can be attributed to strong marriages and strong families. In Nigeria, only 4 percent of children are raised in single-parent households, compared to the overall U.S. rate of 23 percent.

Leftist Policies Feed Poverty

Racism is not primarily responsible for the dissolution of the black family. Leftist policies are. Renowned economist Thomas Sowell explains, “The black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.” This way of life has kept many black children stuck in cycles of generational poverty.

But because family breakdown, not racism, is overwhelmingly responsible for high rates of child poverty, the solution is found in marriage. The success sequence — 1) get at least a high school degree, 2) get a full-time job, and 3) get married before having any children — lifts 91 percent of youth out of poverty. Marriage is our greatest anti-poverty weapon.

Father Absence Increases Crime

It’s sickeningly obvious that instances of white cops targeting and brutalizing black suspects exist, but racism isn’t the main explanation for the massive numbers of black men in prison.

Regardless of their race, children who grow up without dads, especially boys, are more likely to commit violent crime. Fathers teach children different lessons than mothers do. One of those vital lessons is teaching children to police themselves through rough-and-tumble play, straight talk, and a disciplinary style inclined toward getting kids to take responsibility for their actions.

Fathers provide their sons a role model of what a strong and self-controlled man looks like, and for daughters they model what a father and husband should be. When a father fails, or is flat-out absent, a young man is more likely to encounter his first enforced boundaries at the hands of police. Prisons could be renamed “centers for dad-deprived boys,” and black boys are dad-deprived more than any other demographic.

That’s not to say that children, black or otherwise, who grow up in a broken home are doomed. President Barack Obama is an example of a man who overcame great odds to reach the pinnacle of power and success. He also, by his own admission, suffered from the absence of his father.

Fathers Foster Academic Success

Blaming systemic police racism for the struggles of black Americans is easier than doing the hard work of building and repairing families, but if we seek real change, our energies need to be focused on the hard work — or the home work. As senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution Shelby Steele notes, “You can have the police go to as many sensitivity trainings as you want, it’s not going to read a story to a child at night before he goes to sleep so he’s developing his mind … [and] serious about the academic and educational development [needed] … in order to be successful.”

Steele understands how father absence affects the racial achievement gap. While it’s true that black students are often unfairly disadvantaged by living in districts with poorly performing schools, family plays an often ignored role in school success.

Academically, black students, 65 percent of whom are being raised by single parents, struggle most in school. White students, 24 percent of whom live in single-parent homes, tend to inhabit the middle ground. Asian students, 15 percent of whom have single parents, generally occupy the top-achieving academic strata. The correlation between kids in single-parent homes and academic struggles is glaringly obvious, but it seldom factors into discussions aimed at helping black students succeed.

What happens when fathers, regardless of race, marry the mothers of their children? They raise successful students. A meta-analysis of 30 studies found student success has infinitely more to do with family than with race. The researchers concluded, “The family elements that were most strongly associated with a reduction in the achievement gap were coming from a two-biological-parent family and high levels of parental involvement.”

Even more interesting, when the study factored in the religious faith of an intact family, “The achievement gap totally disappeared” (emphasis added). When their emotional needs are met in the home of their married mother and father, black students are just as capable of academic success as kids from any other racial group.

The Institution Most Black Kids Lack Is Marriage

The shameful time in U.S. history when blacks were excluded from the institutions of education, business, and government has passed. America’s centuries-long systematic segregation has been replaced by targeted searches for minority enrollees and employees in our nation’s most prestigious universities and businesses. African Americans have been elected to the most powerful positions in government and hold the highest offices in many of the cities currently overrun by Black Lives Matter protests.

The only institution to which today’s black children are routinely denied is marriage. Their plight won’t improve until they receive equal access to this foundational institution, which unites the two people to whom children have a natural right — their mother and father — for life.