The Absent Black Father: America’s Favorite Scapegoat

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

What words come to mind when you imagine a black father? For me, they are “important, undervalued, love.”

Unfortunately, these are not the first things many individuals think of when they imagine a black father. Terms such as “deadbeat,” “trifling,” and “absent” for decades have been used to contextualize black fatherhood. However, over the last year, many in the black community have tried to oust the pervasive myth of the absent black father.

While courageous, powerful, and highly necessary, many when speaking of this myth have left some aspects untouched and unscathed. More specifically, there has been little to no exploration of how black fathers have become the quintessential scapegoats of society, particularly when the black community is faced with negative situations at the hands of society. Plainly, there is a lack of nuanced discussions surrounding why black fathers are used as America’s fall boys. So this Father’s Day, let’s get to the root cause of why black fathers have not been seen as loving, impactful, and present parents.

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It’s no coincidence that the black father has been the scapegoat of society since US Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan assembled his “Moynihan Report” in 1965. Moynihan, a white male, strategically wanted to explain why the black community was not being as successful as white society after the Civil Rights era. Thus, he branded the “lack” of black fathers in the home as the root cause of black strife. The Moynihan Report claimed that since the black community “allows” children to grow up in broken families, without a father, the community is asking for and will continuously receive chaos. Moynihan’s pervasive text has certainly left an imprint on black life in America. That being said, two major ways scapegoating have been used to set black families back is the mistreatment and murder of black youth and how black disenfranchisement is framed in public memory.

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Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Tatyana Rhodes are just a few of the black teens over the last six years which the scapegoating of black fathers has dragged through the mud. Ranging from abuse to murder, each of these cases were linked in some way to lacking a father. However, none of these teens lacked a present father in their lives.

Too often in America, black issues are linked to correlation rather than causation. So inevitably, we have let a myth fuel how we contextualize black abuse, instead of trying to figure out the real reasons why these teens were subjects of abuse. Frank Vyan Walton in his article, “The Absent Black Father Myth—Debunked by CDC,” espouses how a black father’s presence, or lack there of, is not a justification for the murdering of black youth stating:

We’ve been told, quite frequently and repeatedly, that the problems in the black community that we’ve seen in Ferguson and Baltimore recently are not the fault of biased, paramilitary, paranoid and violent policing… But that too many black fathers have abandoned their children, allowing them to be raised by the streets like feral cats. They don’t learn morals, and they don’t learn values—so naturally police have to shoot them down like rabid, foaming dogs. Even when they’re unarmed. Even when they have their backs turned and are simply running away. It’s all just their own fault really. If only black fathers would spend as much time and energy on their kids as white fathers do. If only… Well, someone—at the Centers for Disease Control—actually went to trouble of checking just how involved in their lives all fathers are, whether or not they are married to the mother of their children or live with them. What they found was that, in reality, black fathers are actually more attentive to their children than other fathers generally are. Imagine that?

‘Lacking’ a father is not the reason white supremacy, gun violence, and police brutality endangered these youths. But it was easier to make the black father the issue, not the systems and institutions that toy with black life constantly. It is actually quite funny how people believe a black father being in or out of the picture would stop a bullet from taking a child from this Earth too soon. It won’t.

“If only there weren’t so many deadbeat black daddies in the world,” is a phrase the black community is all too tired of hearing.  As if a black father being in the home would make negative scenarios stop happening to Black America. The statistic of 72 percent of black children being born out of wedlock haunts Black America continuously. As a result, the black father has been scapegoated into being the reason black bodies are disenfranchised in America’s public memory. Black fathers not being in the home does not mean in any way that they are not present — does not mean they do not love their children. It does not mean they do not take parenting seriously. Personally speaking, my father was not in the home; however, he was still present in my life. Black fathers may not live in the same home as their children, but that does not mean that they are not trying to help black children and the women that brought them into this world.  In 2015, The National Center for Health Statistics found that by most measures, black fathers are just as or more so involved with their children’s lives than any other group.

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While this is a reality, we as Americans have a disposition to blame victims of systems rather than being willing to critique the same oppressive systems and institutions. Redlining, white flight, the school-to-prison pipeline, bigoted hiring practices, and reports like The Moynihan Report are the reasons black families tend to have it harder both economically and socially in America. When a group is not afforded the same opportunities as another, you cannot expect everyone to be on the same level. Black fathers have been imagined as counter-intuitive to their own group for decades, essentially becoming hurdles in the eyes of many. Black fathers are not magical, omnipresent, super-beings who can fix the black community by showing up. They are here already, and nothing has changed. We as a black community are still oppressed daily.

This Father’s Day, let’s hug and respect the black fathers and grandfathers in our lives. Black fathers love their children. Black fathers are not the sole reason Black America has strife. So rather than constantly criticizing black fatherhood, let’s critique the systems that have scapegoated them through this devastating myth. We need to realize all men have the capacity to love their children no matter how much melanin they possess.