As I was leaving a supermarket in downtown Los Angeles that I frequent with my husband and two sons, an African-American female security guard made the statement, "I told my daughter I want to be just like you. Your family seems so together and happy." We chatted for awhile, and I learned that she was the unwed mother of 4 children and struggling with two jobs to support her family.
As many wives will attest, my first thought was, "It looks good from the outside, but we have our share of issues." I have a deep respect for my husband's place in our sons' lives, and a deeper understanding of its importance. Not only because of the lessons that only a man can teach, but because of the emotional support and stability that comes through having a partner who is as completely vested in your children's well being as you are.
Sadly, that is an existence that many African-American women are not experiencing nor expecting.
According to government statistics, 72 percent of African-American children are born to unmarried Mothers and that is something that Dr. Natalie Carroll, an obstetrician who has dedicated her 40-year career to helping black women, feels is unfortunate.
"The girls don't think they have to get married. I tell them children deserve a mama and a daddy. They really do. A Mama can't give it all. And neither can a Daddy, not by themselves," Dr. Carroll says. "Part of the reason is because you can only give that which you have. A Mother cannot give all that a man can give. A truly involved father figure offers more fullness to a child's life."
This is not just an opinion. According to Children-our investment.org, homes without fathers ultimately affect children in numerous tragic ways:
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes
- 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes
- 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes
- 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes
- 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes
- 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes
- 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes.
Not only are these statistics heartbreaking, it applies to African-American homes in disproportionate numbers. Compared to the 72 percent in our communities, 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of Native Americans were born to unwed mothers in 2008, the most recent year for which government figures are available. The rate for the overall U.S. population was 41 percent.
There are numerous perspectives that involve dissecting the pathology of the "Unwed Black Mother," and in truth, it is an issue which deserves national attention. Not only does it affect our communities, but it is also a reflection of society as a whole, and the detrimental effects of slavery on the black family.
There was a time, much like now, when black men were perceived as a threat, and ripped apart from their spouses and children, if not murdered before their eyes. The black woman was able -- through wiles and the appearance of subservience -- to stay with her children, but forced into the role of head of household by default.
As slavery ended, and Jim Crow was ushered in, black men, victims of segregation and occupational and educational disparities, found themselves in the dangerous position of having to provide for their families by any means necessary.
Today, that translates into racially motivated prolonged prison sentencing, some of our women bartering their sexuality for safety and security, our men doubting the necessity of their presence and our children struggling to understand their worth. The trusting bond between black men and women has been strained, often with neither sure of the motives of the other. Love is often replaced with condescension and resentment, leaving the strength of our families systematically diminished.
"It's all connected. The question should be, how has the black family survived at all?" says Maria Kefalas, co-author of "Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage."
It is our responsibility as a community to regain the familial balance that is integral to our survival as a people. Now many women have had to struggle to raise children on their own, and they are doing a phenomenal job. There are also those women who would prefer their children be raised by a single Mother rather than being in an unhealthy relationship; I applaud that decision as well.
It is our responsibility, though, to check the resumes of these men before we share our bodies to ensure they are not only good for an interlude, but a lifetime of parental involvement.
"There are a lot of sides to this," Dr. Carroll says. "Part of our community has lost its way."
Just because we are capable of being Superwoman and doing it all on our own, does not mean that our children understand our sense of self-preservation and determination, and it is the child who potentially suffers.
We must get it together, black people. Maybe marriage is not necessarily the answer, but a committed relationship would definitely go a long way to ensuring the well-being of our children.
There is too much at stake. There are too many hurdles that must be crossed, and too many odds stacked against us. Our families have always been our greatest strength, and our self-imposed isolation from each other is our greatest weakness. If we are to grow as a people, and reach our full potential, we are going to have to do it together.
While we can blame the government, history, slavery, poverty and a slew of other reasons for the state of our communities and the issues our children face, ultimately, the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the parent in the mirror. And that's exactly where it should be.
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