Black Lives Matter — the organization, not the irrefutably true statement — has taken center stage in the necessary debate on race today, overshadowing others like the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
All know that BLM’s leadership is strongly calling for the defunding and possible abolishment of local police departments. This proposal has been resisted or dodged by leading Democrats for various reasons. But what about BLM’s view of the family as a resource for black empowerment? Do they even have a position on the family?
They do and they should because of the centrality strong families play in empowering a people, their life prospects, and strengthening their neighborhoods. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted, “The group consisting of mother, father and child is the main educational agency of mankind.” King was speaking of the nuclear family.
BLM’s antagonism to the family is glaring. On the organization’s website, Black Lives Matter proclaims, “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”
Beyond the mistaken assumption that the “nuclear family” is unique to the Western world, their position is profoundly concerning. BLM, as an organization, seeks to dismantle the very institution that mountains of published academic research has consistently demonstrated as most likely to strengthen and empower Black Americans and their children: the traditional, nuclear family.
But they don’t stop there. Black Lives Matter also advocates other family redefinitions long at odds with most African Americans’ views, stating, “We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual.”
Seriously, is “freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking” really on the minds of most African Americans when they wake in the morning? Well, it apparently weighs heavy on the minds of BLM — enough to list in their relatively short, official statement “What We Believe.”
The statement continues, “We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead. We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift black trans folk…” I humbly ask, how many African Americans truly see “heteronormativity” and the “objective reality of gender” as major hurdles to their dreams for justice, respect, economic and social empowerment, or a better life?
Strong Families Empower Black Americans
Over and against what Black Lives Matter officially holds on the family, what do mainstream family scholars say on the matter? Earlier this week, Shelby Steele, a leading black intellectual said in a television interview:
I will take those things seriously when I also hear …[from] … Sharpton and others the argument that we need within the black community to work on the institution of marriage. Our families have fallen to pieces. 75 percent of all black children are born out of wedlock, without a father. … I don’t care how many social programs you have. You’re not going to overcome that. [Programs are] not going to read a story to a child that night before he goes to sleep so he’s developing his mind…
Of course, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said the same thing back in 1965, backed up with solid data. In what became known as The Moynihan Report, he warned that the hoped-for gains from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would largely be for naught if black Americans did not address the crisis taking place within their families. Moynihan stated:
Those seeking real and lasting solutions to this injustice cannot ignore this other fact, the fundamental problem, in which this is most clearly the case, is that of family structure. The evidence — not final, but powerfully persuasive — is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling. … So long as this situation persists, the cycle of poverty and disadvantage will continue to repeat itself.
Sadly, this prediction has largely come to pass. Scholarship on the relationship between race and social well-being over the last 20-plus years has found that marital status has joined employment and education as the dividing line between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of society. This is even more powerfully true for black Americans.
All People Benefit from Married Mothers and Fathers
Only 4 percent of all homes with a married mother and father are on food stamps at any given time. The undeniable advantages of growing up in a married, intact family apply as much to blacks and Hispanics as they do to Caucasians. All other things being equal, married black men enjoy a marriage premium of at least $12,500 in their individual annual income compared to their single peers.
Bill Galston, who served as President Clinton’s domestic policy advisor and is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, explains in crisp language, “It is no exaggeration to say that a stable, two-parent family is an American child’s best protection against poverty.” He explains that to avoid living in poverty in the United States, one has to meet just three primary requirements:
- Finish high school.
- Marry before having children.
- Marry after the age of 20.
Only 8 percent of people who fulfill these three criteria are poor, while 79 percent of those who fail to do so will be impoverished, regardless of their race. Isabel Sawhill, Galston’s celebrated colleague at Brookings and a tireless advocate for the well-being of inner-city children, makes this bold statement: “The proliferation of single-parent households accounts for virtually all of the increase in child poverty since the early 1970s.”
Black lives do matter, without exception. And they matter as black lives. Indeed, our racial distinctions and heritages matter as well, making the world a more interesting place. But just because an organization chooses an irrefutably true name does not make its agenda irrefutably true or noble.
If BLM’s leaders don’t want to believe the latest empirical studies, if they want to blatantly ignore science, they should simply go to any of the communities they say they represent and ask, “Do you think your neighborhood would benefit from more married mothers and fathers regularly sitting out every evening on stoops watching their children play, or less?” It doesn’t take a social scientist to know what BLM leaders would hear.