by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
I asked a half dozen Black ministers over the past month what was the most significant issue facing the Black community and received three different answers. Two said unemployment.
Two others said poverty. Another prioritized imprisonment—noting our state’s status of having the highest Black male incarceration rate in the country.
The last brother said drugs. His concern not only included drugs devastating impact on crime, family and society, including the exclusion of African Americans from employment opportunities because they can’t pass a drug test.
I was somewhat surprised none of the brothers mentioned out of wedlock births or the near extinct institution of marriage. Just as drugs impacts other social indicators, the firmly entrenched paradigm of fatherless home and resulting phenomena of single parent households may be the catalyst for the destruction of the Black community; as least as some of us remember it.
Why are those two ‘concerns’ not at the top of the surveyed clerics’—politicians and poverty pimps’—list?
The obvious answer may rest with their cultural myopia, although I think the truth is probably somewhat to the left of that.
For reasons few understand, marriage and out-of-wedlock births are taboo subjects in the Black community. For ministers the subject, at least out of wedlock births, lead to questions of morality, and opens a Pandora’s box of social sins that begin with the premise of personal responsibility and end with the elimination of an excuse for why we’re in our current state of chaos and dysfunctionality.
In a nutshell, as long as a we can blame others, we can keep the heat on politicians to fund programs that appease, but never empower.
With Black History Month now behind us, let’s pull the skin completely off this big nasty creature in the room: If we could somehow restore our cultural and religious status to where we were 50 years ago, chances are we wouldn’t be facing the turmoil and misery and dysfunctionality we find ourselves in today.
Fifty years ago, over 75% of all Black households were headed by two parents (you might have read about that concept–it involves “marriage”). We had a sense of cultural pride. Teen pregnancy was frowned upon (they used to send girls down south to hide the family shame) and sexual promiscuity was “taboo.”
It was no coincidence that in spite of rampant racism and segregation, a significantly smaller percentage of brothers were tied into the criminal justice system.
Black businesses thrived and people actually left their doors open at night to let in cool air and neighbors who didn’t steal them blind.
Believe it or not, when I went to high school, it was hard to find a girl that ‘did it.’ Today its hard to find one that doesn’t, didn’t and won’t do stuff I didn’t learn about until I was in my 30s.
Just about everyone I grew up with had a mother at home who showed up at school when she got a call from a teacher (Mama didn’t play that stuff, and Black families pushed education as the be all and end all), and a Pops would be waiting for you when you got home, belt in hand, grease on his clothes and dirt under his nails (he worked and also didn’t have time for that crazy stuff). Mama’s job was to teach you manners, check your homework and make sure God was the center of your life.
Pop’s role included instilling a work ethic in you, providing you with manhood skills and making sure you prepared yourself so you didn’t have to work in a factory like he did.
A half-century later and we have gone from “sugar” to “ship” (misspelling for obvious reasons). And though Black leaders hide it under the rug, Black preachers are afraid to talk about fearing it will hurt their Sunday collections, and Black politicians are too deep in the pockets of missionaries paid to band-aide on our pain and suffering, the reality is the socioeconomic and cultural status of the Black community today can be directly tied to the decline in the number of Black nuclear families.
One recent study suggested marriage is becoming extinct for lower income African Americans, and is becoming an institution only for college educated brothers and sisters. If that’s true, I guess a new societal class system is on the horizon.
I’m not among those who have blinders on or is ashamed to hang our dirty clothes out in public if its necessary to air them out. Thus, I predict the extinction of Black America as we once envisioned it. We’ve been to the mountaintop, looked over and saw a swamp. Welcome home folks.
Interestingly, Black leaders responded angrily and with indignation when former liberal senator and social scientist Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued a report in 1965 suggesting that all the civil rights legislation and social programming in the world wouldn’t help the Black community if it continued down a road without a father in the lead.
Nearly a centurya ago, Moynihan’s report noted:
“The structure of family life in the Black community constituted a ‘tangle of pathology…capable of perpetuating itself without assistance from the White world, and that at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.
“It is the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro community at the present time.”
The report also argued the matriarchal structure of Black culture weakened the ability of Black men to function as authority figures. This particular notion of Black familial life has become a widespread, if not dominant, paradigm for comprehending the social and economic disintegration of late twentieth-century Black urban life.”
Moynihan argued the rise in single-mother families was not due to a lack of jobs, but a destructive vein in ghetto culture that could be traced back to slavery and Jim Crow discrimination. Though Black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier had already introduced the idea in the 1930s, Moynihan’s argument defied conventional social-science wisdom.
Black leaders of that era lambasted Moynihan’s assertion, calling him racist and the report hateful and a veiled attempt to dismiss the struggles of the Black community that were being adequately addressed by welfare and anti-poverty plans (which they didn’t mention enriched a new generation of suburban missionaries while keeping Black folks comfortable in our misery.)
When Moynihan issued his controversial report/prediction, over 76% of Black families were nuclear. In laymen’s terms, that meant the overwhelming majority of Black couples were married.
Today over 70% of families are headed by sisters and in one Milwaukee zip code, over 90% of the children are born out of wedlock.
Moynihan also noted “Black joblessness would be a contributing factor to this phenomena, and without access to jobs and the means to contribute meaningful support to a family, Black men would become systematically alienated from their roles as husbands and fathers.
“This would cause rates of divorce, abandonment and out-of-wedlock births to skyrocket in the Black community (a trend that had already begun by the mid-1960s)—leading to vast increases in the numbers of female-headed households and the high rates of poverty, low educational outcomes, and inflated rates of abuse that are associated with them.”
Moynihan made a compelling contemporary argument for the provision of jobs, job programs, vocational training, and educational programs for the Black community.
There are those who said the sociocultural conditions that are now firmly entrenched in the Black community as well as our lack of general interest in education cemented that phenomenon.
We continue to ignore the realities of this social phenomena: Eighty percent of Black high school drop outs come from single parent households, as well as three out of every four prison inmates.
There’s an 78% chance that if you live in a single parent household you are going to be poor, less healthy, have a shorter lifespan, and will probably name your child after a popular liquor, rapper or nonsensical set of vowels.
There are obvious exceptions (great men and women have overcome the obstacles that come from being raised in poor, female headed households), but the majority can look forward to having a police record, not being able to read beyond a sixth grade level, or secure a job with benefits or that pays enough to buy a dependable car. Even during this depression, there are thousands of jobs unfilled because many brothers raised in these households can’t pass the drug test and are unable to read the instructions on the job application.
As I see it, there’s only two routes left to us, a full out, multifaceted campaign to reverse and restore the Black community to its post slavery days (we were actually better off then than now), or complete miscegenation with the hopes that we end up being absorbed into someone else’s culture.
For those of you who dropped out in the fourth grade, by miscegenation, I mean your brother marrying White women and their offspring marrying a Japanese or Korean. Their offspring would in turn marry a Mexican and their children would marry a Native American and an African. By my calculations, in 200 years you’ll end up with one race of people who will be light skinned, with slanted eyes, ‘good hair’ and rhythm.
The other option is to take on the beast in the room. Remember the African adage (actually if we remembered more of them we wouldn’t be in this predicament) that a thousand ants can eat the mighty elephant. Well, we need a thousand, hundred thousand, maybe a million people preaching a new paradigm.
Preachers must restore the bible as the centerpiece of our community. (We can debate later which version, and the proper interpretation; in fact we probably would need a new Conference of Nicaea to get that right). The bible provides a blueprint for nuclear families and it also strongly condemns the conduct that has become the status quo in our community.
Don’t get mad at me for telling the truth. The bible condemns fornication, adultery, and 60 other sins that we select and choose as acceptable.
I know that’s an uphill climb in today’s society, particularly since many ministers are ‘called’ by greed and opportunity instead of by divine ethos, and as such are afraid to alienate not only the wayward sheep, but the money from the collection plate.
While I may debate whether God intervenes in the day-to-day going ons of mankind, I do believe He is watching. And he is probably pissed and why heaven’s not a very crowded plac.
The culturists, community elders and politicians must lend their voices to establish a new paradigm. That may include convincing sisters that they are destined for greatness but will never see utopia if they choose to have children out of wedlock for it destines them to poverty, second-class citizenship and poor health.
They may also want to explain that anyone who has a child outside marriage and without the means to support and nurture them is cheating that child. And if you raise a child without a full time father, you run the risk of imbalance.
It’s hard enough being Black in America, to bring a child into the world without the resources, education or capital men bring to the table to is myopic, at best. And that doesn’t mean a man who stops by once a month for a booty call, or to drop off a pair of Jordan’s on Christmas. Sperm donors don’t make good husbands.
They should also debunk the myths about a shortage of Black men, or their ability to be both father and mother. Those two lies have been repeated so often people believe them. Finding a man with a job isn’t easy in Milwaukee, but remember a man isn’t completely valued by his paycheck. Adam wasn’t employed. There are good men out there, and our sisters have the power to drastically alter the status quo by choosing the right one before they are forced to sign up for WIC.
Black leadership should lay out the facts, and stop blaming White people for our circumstances. The reason why White households have twice the income is because they have twice as many breadwinners. It’s a simple fact.
The reason the high school graduation rate is higher among White people is because they stress the importance of education, have twice as many people engaged in the educational process, and there’s a father in the house screening horny young men so their daughters don’t drop out of school because they got pregnant.
For the record, fathers take their children further; that’s a God ordained mandate. Nuclear families provide stability, and are the essence of a community. It’s culturally, socioeconomically and spiritually grounded. We have strayed off the path and look at where we are.
And there is no legislation, poverty program or politician that’s going to solve our problems. It starts and ends with us and the culture we choose to adhere to.
Our survival is linked to our culture and to be honest, right now we don’t have one, or the one we have is leading us down a path to self-destruction.
by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt