Fatherhood and Black Men
I was fortunate enough to have a father who worked hard, was almost always in a good mood, liked people, liked his job, liked his church and loved his family. Several of the defining things he instilled in me, even though he died when I was 18, were confidence in myself, a love of education—both formal and self-attained, and an understanding of race and racism.
Poopsie, as we all called him, was not an angry black man or a bitter black man. He was a realist who read about race and racism and participated in the local NAACP. He made sure his children understood both the inequities and our responsibility to do something about them.
Growing up in the segregated, but wonderful in many ways, East End of Xenia, Ohio not many of my peers did not have a male head of household. Of those that I can remember single mothers were almost always widows. Divorces were uncommon in the 1950s and 1960s in places like Xenia. They occurred, but even when they did the people who got divorced rarely stayed single. I had at least 10 good friends, make and female and they all had a man and a woman parent or step-parent.
I do not think my father could have imagined the increase in single parent homes, which almost always means a single female. According to data from the datacenter.kidscount.org site little has changed in the past ten years or so.
Race of Children living in a Single Parent Home from 2010-2019
|Two or more Races||42%||40%|
If you know any American History is it not surprising that the black children tend to be the main ones living in homes with only one parent. As the often reviled, but still true, 1619 Project has reminded people, often to their displeasure, America, or what would become America, has stacked the deck against black people almost from the beginning of our presence on this continent.
No where else on the globe has slavery been so ubiquitously linked to race. Slavery in the ancient world was based on capturing enemies or weaker tribes and enslaving them. Even then the idea that you were not just a slave due to conquest, which could change if your folks came back and beat the enslavers, but because of the color of your skin, or more accurately how much black blood they could prove you had, a lot of slaves were biracial and not distinguishable physically from white people was virtually non-existent.
Black men, for fairly obvious reasons have been, and continue to be, the main targets of racism and racist rules, customs and behaviors. Early on laws were made in the Antebellum South that made the child follow the status of his or her mother. Why? Because the master liked the black women for more than what they could cook or sew or pick. If the children followed the status of their father a sizable proportion of slaves would have been free at birth since their daddy was white.
So having removed his right to even be the determining factor in the identity of his children the slavers then proceeded to churn out volumes of how black men were inferior. All the while many plantations were engaged in breeding programs to make sure black men were anything but inferior, particularly physically.
There has never been a problem between black men and white women or white men and black women when it comes to attraction and sex. While it is true that the slave owners routinely raped enslaved women because they could with impunity, it is also true that there are more than a few cases where there were what would appear to be love matches between white women and black men, often with disastrous consequences, and white men and black women, which was much more accepted for obvious reasons.
At least one of the most prolific pro-slave writers, James Henry Hammond evidently fell in love with one of his enslaved women, sent his white wife away and installed the enslaved object of his affections as the lady of the house. This was not, according to quite a few documentary accounts all that unknown to one point or another.
The Quadroon and Octaroon balls in New Orleans where black enslaved women who were either a quarter or eighth black were sold, sometimes for outrageous sums, to wealthy white men is an example of part of the story not being frequently told. These women were not sent to the fields or the kitchens, but were installed in luxury houses and had fine clothes and all the other accoutrements of the wealthy of the era. I have not, however, read an account of whether Hammond’s chosen partner was as fond of him or just did not have a choice, ditto with the Quadroons and Octaroons.
So black men had to be made as impotent as possible in American society in the South. At one point black enslaved people outnumbered whites in Mississippi 60 to one. That made it imperative that you not only convinced other white people that blacks were inferior and incapable of taking care of themselves without white intervention, but you had to do your best to convince the blacks too. It was routine to make it illegal to teach blacks to read. That was, of course, widely ignored since on many plantations, particularly those in the piedmonts of Virginia and other states, blacks ran the plantation virtually alone. They had to be able to order supplies, keep records of everything from births to the cost of grain to the number of horses or mules on the property.
The on-going, relentless and ultimately quite evil campaign to denigrate, belittle and spread lies about black people went on for over three hundred years, and, in many cases continues today. We still have people in the media who blithely report some offense was committed by a black man but if a white man does the same thing he is only reported as being “a 54 year old man.” While that might seem like a minor thing, what it implies and what it implants in our societal psyche is that white men are just normal, the standard, we only need to report the alien, the unusual, the oddity.
Black men did not do so swell after Emancipation either. To begin with there was no governmental or organized attempt to destroy the false image of black maleness that had been created for the previous few hundred years. The myth of the dangerous , brutal, violent black man ( who frequently outnumbered the white folks on the plantation and could have murdered them wholesale), was not unknown in the North either. So, after emancipation, although there was a brief period when it appeared black people might actually be able to live decent lives it was much easier for most of our history for the black women, considered more docile, to find jobs.
True those jobs were usually cleaning, cooking and rearing white children, but at least they were making a wage, unfair and miserable though it was. So the attempted emasculation of black men continued, and continues in America. One of the primary roles assigned to men in our culture is to support their families financially. By refusing to hire black men at a decent wage, or at all, white society basically made them incapable of fulfilling what is considered a primary function of maleness. My hometown of Xenia, Ohio and my home county of Greene County continue to participate in this. The town of Xenia is about 24% people of color. The workforce of the town , those being paid by taxpayers of all colors, is 2% black. The county is very similar. I suspect the same is true in small towns all over the country.
When black men have been successful, there was more than one black Wall Street in America at one point, it has outraged the white population to the point where they committed murder and arson to drive the black folks back to what they consider our proper place.
Fatherhood is. based on being the protector of your family, the breadwinner or at least one of the main contributors financially, the ability to live a life of dignity and decency. All of that has been systemically denied to far too many black men and will continue to be unless America figures somethings out and figures them out quickly.