today in black history

March 25, 2019

"Scottsboro Boys" are arrested in Point Rock, Alabama on this date in 1931.

In Defense of Black Fathers

POSTED: August 28, 2008, 12:00 am

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After Barack Obama’s Father’s Day speech railing absentee Black fathers and CNN’s “Black In America” special where Black fathers were taken to task, there has been an uptick in the talk of the state of Black families and more specifically, what has happened to the Black father.

In that speech, Obama decided to chastise Black fathers calling them “boys” while ignoring the larger problem of what actually is causing this epidemic. Sure, there are plenty of Black men who are just not responsible or ready to have a child, but the vast majority are. What is happening is that Black men are being pushed away by a family court system that strips them of dignity, finances and the ability to bond with their children.

Un-affordable child support orders, angry mothers and a system that doesn’t protect fathers’ rights or ability to see their children are all to blame as well.

Child support awards are always more than a poor father can afford. According to the Washington DC child support guidelines, a support order in the District of Columbia for a non-custodial parent making $25K would be right around $250 a month or $3000 per year. Add an additional $3000 for daycare and that man is now down to $19,000. Take the tax out of that for the entire $25,000 and he’s down to $15,000 annually. Are those poverty numbers? Hell, no. But, it is certainly a drastic lifestyle change. $15,000 may pay your bills for the year if you cut back on certain luxuries like… food. And since most Black men earn considerably less than $25K, the effects on them are even greater.

At the same time, the courts do little to ensure that fathers will actually see their children for visitation. So, now you have a man who may be working, but has a quality of life similar to someone in poverty and based on most court orders, only can see his children four days out of the month. Combine that with a mother who is interfering with visitation, which happens more than 50% of the time, according to J.A. Arditti’s “Factors Relating to Custody, Visitation, and Child Support for Divorced Fathers: An Exploratory Analysis,” and this is enough to push many men away.

Black men want to be a part of their families but the laws work against them. Ask John in Philadelphia. His daughter’s mother died of cancer. Instead of automatic full custody for him, the mother’s sister was awarded custody because they lived in the suburbs.  He lived in the city and the suburban judge didn’t think the city was a good environment for his child. The judge also didn’t think he was paying enough child support and ordered him to pay more to the sister of his ex than he was actually paying to the child’s mother despite the fact that he was barely able to afford it. Meanwhile the sister gives him a hard time with visitation and the court does nothing about it.

Statistics show that divorces and breakups of unmarried couples are mostly initiated by women. In a 2000 American Law and Economics Review piece titled, “These Boots are Made for Walking: Why Most Divorce Filers are Women,” author Margaret Brinig points out that two-thirds of divorces are, in fact, initiated by women and that this may be because in most states, women know that they will receive custody of their children. In states where there is a presumption of shared custody (most states start out by automatically granting custody to the woman), this percentage drops significantly. Yet somehow, Black men receive all of the blame for the breakdown of the family.

Despite that, research by Boston College social psychologist Rebekah Levine Coley found that Black fathers not living at home are more likely to keep in contact with their children than fathers of any other ethnic or racial group. Coley offers a more complex view of the causes of absenteeism among black fathers: the failure to live up to expectations to provide for their families—a result of stunted economic and educational opportunities—drives poor black men into despair and away from their families. These findings go directly against the general consensus that Black men do not care about their families and are abandoning them.

Women get some blame, too. Many, many children are being born into situations that we know damn well, they shouldn’t have been. When there is ZERO chance of a relationship and the man is not working or is even a low-income worker, a woman shouldn’t have that baby. However, for some reason in this country, we seem to treat these women that are having the babies like some sort of Saint or extremely virtuous person, when in fact, SHE IS HAVING A BABY OUT OF WEDLOCK. This used to be a big deal.

The government rewards women for having out-of-wedlock babies and a lot of our sisters are feeding right into it. But, all that guaranteed child support or welfare assistance does is encourage women to create these broken families and send the men to the poor house. Meanwhile, many times women bring their issues to court because they are angry about their relationship and view it as a punishment. The court should not go for this, but it does.

For example, Andre was paying almost his entire salary in child support and was forced to move in with his mother. When his son’s mother decided she was moving 3000 miles away, he had an option to go to court and fight it or sign an agreement, which greatly lowered his support and granted liberal visitation. He needed to be able to buy groceries and since the mother had been denying visitation most of the time, he took the judge’s offer. Now, his children live across the country. He is paying lower support, but his ex never brings the children for visitation as stated in the court order and he hasn’t seen them in years. The mother has cut off contact and he doesn’t even know where they live. The court is not nearly as aggressive in enforcing visitation as it is in enforcing support payments. He cannot afford a lawyer. What is he supposed to do?

Yet and still, Barack will say that he is acting like a boy.

There is so much concern for these Black men that don’t want to be fathers but the family court system does little to allow men that WANT to be fathers to actually be fathers. Maybe if we start by allowing that, the numbers wouldn’t be so staggering and these “absentee” fathers would begin to fall in line.

Chris Wilder

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