President, Center for the Advancement of Women
There is a lengthy legacy of politician striking the wrong tone on the role of African-American men in the family. There tends to be more you-shoulds and not enough I-wills. The question remains whether politicians have the will to change the paradigm by which black men are viewed (or not) and judged. Save the unnecessary vulgar references to presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson’s “off-the-mike” comments Wednesday weren’t so off-the-mark.
Rather than attacking only the personal responsibility of African-American fathers, it is essential to continue to address the systemic changes needed to eliminate the conditions sustaining the epidemic of absentee fathers, which isn’t exclusively a “black” phenomenon.
Mr. Obama has written and spoken extensively about growing up without a father, which gave him a personal perspective of the impact of a fatherless household. As he acknowledged during his Father’s Day speech in the forum of the predominantly African-American Apostolic Church of God, growing up in Hawaii, with supportive grandparents and scholarships to some of the best schools isn’t quite the same as being a black child in a single-parent household in today’s world.
In the wealthiest nation of the world, black children are the sons and daughters of fathers who attended substandard public schools that didn’t prepare them for a global frontier. Yes, it’s good that children read books, but the future of the information age is in the multi-faceted media, which our children must navigate if they’re to successfully compete in a multi-national world. African-American fathers face subtle and not so subtle workplace discrimination because of their race, leading to a substantial income inequity. Their families experience an alarming disparity in access to equitable healthcare leading to higher incidence of chronic disease and shorter life spans. African-American families live in every day more disintegrated neighborhoods, where young black men are victims of racial profiling and everyone is subject to shocking incarceration disparities.
Mr. Obama doesn’t have to be born again in a poor African-American family to experience this plight that, at every socio economic level, is the experience of most slave descendents. Instead, use of the presidential pulpit is a powerful platform to set forth his vision for a presidency that will help black parents become educated, stay healthy, secure fair employment and live free of a criminal justice that continues to target and incarcerate a disproportionate number of African-American males. He should specify how his policies will enfranchise fathers as active participants in raising their children for the 21st Century.
“Talking down” to black folks isn’t new.Mr. Obama has the opportunity to use his unique position as the first African-American presidential nominee, to reflect a vision that is relevant and powerful for African-American families, regardless of his composition.
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