Should African Americans Discuss The Issue Of Absent Black Fathers Publicly?

June 11, 2013  |  

Center for Urban Families founder Joseph T. Jones with President Obama. via The White House


When Barack Obama gave a 2008 Father’s Day speech to the congregation of Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, he spoke frankly on the subject of absent fathers in the black community. Echoing some of what Bill Cosby said in his viral “Pound Cake” speech to the NAACP in 2004, then-candidate Obama lamented: “Too many fathers… have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men.”

Citing statistics that show 64 percent of black children are raised in homes where the father is absent, he pointed out that children who grow up in households headed by a single mother are more likely to drop out of school, commit crime, go to prison, et-depressing-cetera.

Obama put it bluntly: “The foundations of our community and country are weaker because of this,” adding, “We can’t simply write these problems off to past injustices. Those injustices are real… but we can’t keep on using that as an excuse.”

Many cringed at his candor. Jesse Jackson famously criticized Obama for the speech, saying the candidate was “talking down to black people.” Jackson immediately apologized for the remarks (ironically meant for a private conversation that had been caught on a mic), and profusely expressed in a subsequent news conference, “I don’t want harm nor hurt to come to this campaign.”

Close ranks. Yank the dirty laundry off the line. End scene.

Just weeks ago, Obama repeated many of the sentiments articulated in his Father’s Day speech in a commencement address at Morehouse College. I have to admit, before reading the speech for myself, I was irritated by some of the soundbytes that buzzed across Facebook, Twitter and various blogs. Specifically, I was concerned the President’s remarks about fatherlessness to a class of graduating black men—men who had defied the stereotype—could be twisted in the public sphere, and used to support the caricature of pathological blackness many Americans still have.

Again, this fear—my fear—of dirty laundry.

But airing the laundry for all to see is a necessary step to correcting the problem, says Joseph T. Jones, Jr., founder of the Baltimore-based Center for Urban Families. “The problem is so massive that we can no longer have private conversations,” Jones explains. “We need other people to be engaged in this conversation.”

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  • Kay Cee

    Of course! We discuss everything else, that a lot of the time, I don’t care to hear about it!

  • dj r

    Yes let’s discuss this issue. It is not black mens fault that black women love for thugs, and decided to have children with them.

    • pmft

      You must be joking or trolling.

  • Marc Ross

    If you believe fatherlessness is a problem, then we should be able to air the dirty laundry. We have tried hiding the dirty laundry for over a generation and fatherlessness keeps increasing. The states may be inadvertently aggravating the problem, but ultimately the black community need to let young men know that we expect and need them to help raise their kids.

  • kierah

    It is a shameful aspect of that is pervading our culture. We can talk incessantly about the White man, but we can’t spare the indignities to talk about self-inflicted damage. It’s responsible not to have these conversations.

    My husband’s dad cut and ran when he was baby. His cousin’s dad did the same thing. However, my mother in law married a strong Black man when my husband was 7 years old. My husband is a loving, responsible, and supportive partner and father. His cousin never got the consistent support from a male role model and he became a drug dealer. He’s doing time right now and his own children are being raised by their grandmother. I’m sure having a dad isn’t the ONLY reason why my husband was successful, but it had to count for something.

  • hollyw

    I think it should def be discussed, it’s just a matter of how and to who. For instance, to Black youth, as a preventive method (b/c the current deadbeats are obviously not listening) and to speak up, not down to them. Talk about solutions, talk about the importance and undeniable advantage of a strong family to them, not rants about the “current state of things” that are 1. already blaringly obvious, esp. since most youth came frm these homes, and 2. only serve to denigrate…

    You know what it starts w/, though? Teaching our own children (and their friends) to respect and value themselves, their bodies, and demand more frm their romantic relationships in future. Because that’s the only thing that’s going to set the foundation for a healthy family…and flucking turn of Bands a Make Her Dance!!!

    *steps off soapbox*

  • Don’t yall remember that rap song called ‘be a father to your child?’ Maybe black radio stations should play this everyday to get the message across. Sigh.

  • If absentee black fathers don’t see the damage they are doing to the mothers and these children, scolding from black leaders won’t do a damn thing. These types of men just don’t care and what’s crazy is that they more than likely came from homes without their father so they know first hand how heartbreaking it is, ie Terrell Owens.

  • Pingback: Absent black fathers: Should our community discuss the issue publicly, or privately? | theGrio()

  • Leigh

    I think is needs to and should be discussed. Why are we afraid of what “others” think about us? They are going to think what they want to anyway. I can understand with our history why some subjects can be cringe worthy, but, not talking about it will not make it go away. I ache and I pray often for my husband, son, nephews etc. Our young men are the most talented and beautiful creatures that God has given us. I believe that bringing this issue as well as many others forward, we can truly begin the discussion. I know some may disagree, but all our boys are bombarded with are images of ignorant rappers and athletes. It makes me sad.

  • hiswomanandlovingit

    why shouldnt it be discussed? single motherhood is discussed, bashed and in some cases demonized. it has gotten to the point that if people see a man doing even the most basic of things for his child he is seen as super-dad or baby sitting his kids. we need to stop giving passes to men who think that having multiple kids by multiple women is just something that men do. perhaps if we bring light to it and show the damage it is bringing to our community we can do something about it.

  • No it needs to be discussed. This is what should be rapped about, spoken on, and preached at. We should make being a father and a HUSBAND a cool thing to do once again, and stop glorifying f*cking hoes in different area codes. Its a shameful, shameful epidemic in our community and we need to let our youth know that it isn’t the norm nor does it have to be accepted.

  • Guest360

    No I don’t think this issue should be pushed under the rug anymore. Obviously NOT talking about it publicly isn’t doing much of anything, specifically because no one is hearing the message. Look at your prison systems, your gangs, street criminals, etc. Most of the time they’re going to be black/brown, poor, and grew up without a father figure in their lives. Its far time we stopped keeping this a dirty little secret and actually FIX it. Lets talk about. Get to the source of the problem and start building up our communities. If we don’t help ourselves, who else is going to do it?

  • Nikia D-Shiznit

    “Specifically, I was concerned the President’s remarks about fatherlessness to a class of graduating black men—men who had defied the stereotype…”

    How did they defy fatherlessness by graduating from school? Hopefully, fatherlessness ends with them, though. We do need to address this, because this epidemic is the reason why I live in certain neighborhoods, or avoid certain ones. Young people with no guidance = crime, poverty, etc. Black people get mad when someone point this out, but it is obvious we have problems when we hear about Chicago or other cities where black kill themselves off.

  • UB class of 2013

    Once again not to sound mean…BUT this topic is getting old

    • moni

      Well its real I didn’t see it until I looked out side my home and realize I had a father in the house and I was very lucky because many kids dont (black kids). Its hard to notice when your father is doing his job along with other fathers in your family. Also this in not so much a problem in other parts of the country compared to some parts.

    • kierah

      It is old – too damn old. Yet the topic still plagues us. Until it’s resolved, shouldn’t it continue to be raised.