Opinion: Reflecting On Persistent Misconceptions And Celebrating The True Role Of Black Fathers

Opinion: Reflecting On Persistent Misconceptions And Celebrating The True Role Of Black Fathers

We should highlight Black fathers who are doing the work of fatherhood.

Black fathers have long been perceived and presumed to be absent from their children’s lives due to racist stereotypes. Much of the public conversation about Black fathers that we have each year revolves around two sets of 2013 CDC reports. One positive report, which people have been pointing to since its release to make the point that Black fathers are present and active in their children’s lives, and another report, typically pointed out by conservatives, that says that Black fathers are less likely to be married than other groups of men. There have been several attempts since the release of those numbers to rectify and contextualize those two reports, but each year on Father’s Day they are inevitably rehashed. 

In 2015, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow addressed the statistic from the CDC report that said approximately 72% of Black children in 2013 were born out of wedlock versus 29% of white children. Blow attempted to correct the narrative propagated by this statistic.

“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,” Blow said.

That study found that Black fathers who live with their children are more likely than white fathers to bathe, change, or dress their children daily, share meals with them every day, and assist with their homework every day.

“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.”

In 2016, Vox expanded on Blow’s column and his mention of the broader social context, which included the system of mass incarceration, which by definition removes Black men from society. If those Black men have children, by default, they are also removed from the homes they may have shared with their children. According to Vox, the stereotypes of Black fathers as absentee fathers does not provide the full picture, and it debunked the racist commentary that Black fathers are lazy, non-committal, or simply just flawed by nature of existing within Black culture. 

In 2021, Oprah Winfrey co-hosted a special Father’s Day television program with actor Sterling K. Brown titled Honoring Our Kings: Celebrating Black Fatherhood. Winfrey told People Magazine that the the show had its roots in a topic she explored on her daytime television talk show. 

“I wanted to turn the table on that narrative of Black fathers not being present in their children’s lives,” Winfrey said. “I remember the very first time I was doing a show on parenting, on single parents. And my way of showing or widening the screen at the time was just to include a Black father in that group of parents, but not make a big deal about it. We got a Latina parent, and we got a Black parent, and we got a gay parent. And I remember a woman standing up and later saying she had never seen a Black father reading to his children.”

Winfrey continued, “That was not an image anybody had seen on screen. And so a lot of the white people who were watching the show were like, ‘That’s a foreign concept to me.’ It’s chipped away at the fabric of who we are as a society and a world. The images on the evening news or portrayals in films, gangsters, stories that show absentee fathers, or focus on men being in prison, away from their children and not caring about their children, that’s what you’ve heard, but that isn’t what we know and feel.”

Winfrey also detailed things she saw while in her father’s barbershop.

“Men would come in, hardworking men, doing everything they could in their lives to support their families, working sometimes two and three jobs to do that,” Winfrey said. “So that’s the story I know of Black fathers—the ones I grew up with and the man I know. The narrative of the absentee father, it’s not accurate that that is the only picture. That’s what I want to say.”

Since the 2013 release of those reports, which have allowed contradictory narratives to go forth, Black men like Blow have had to defend Black men from those who would read racist stereotypes onto Black men based on one set of data while completely disregarding data from the other report. Instead of rehashing that old data each year, we should endeavor to do what Oprah did in 2021 and simply highlight Black fathers who are doing the work of fatherhood.

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