I welcomed Obama's Father's Day speech chastising the legions of black absentee fathers, a number, he points out, that has doubled in a generation. He's hardly alone in his criticism. Besides Bill Cosby's now famous crusade, Chris Rock back in 1996, and the late great comedian Robin Harris even earlier were busy upbraiding the cowardly black men who don't do the right thing and help raise their children. Citing the miserably low expectations we have for black men, Obama even mentioned Rock's rant in his speech (albeit cleaned up a lot). Here's what Rock said back then (courtesy of the Mother Jones blog)
"You know the worst thing about n*****s? N*****s always want credit for some s**t they supposed to do. A n*****r will brag about some s**t a normal man just does. A n*****r will say some s**t like, "I take care of my kids." You're supposed to, you dumb motherf****r! What kind of ignorant s**t is that? "I ain't never been to jail!" What do you want, a cookie?! You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherf****r!"
Obviously I'm squarely in their camp and know that my people can do much better. But I've been hearing the other side of the story from several black dads that has made me stop and think. We've been scolding for years and it hasn't seemed to help. We haven't looked at the entire panoply of problems like undereducation and joblessness. Now I'm not making excuses for irresponsible boys who don't realize that it's raising babies, not merely making them that makes you a man. I'm just more interested in systemic solutions than blame.
The other side to this story, however, the one that is rarely reported, is the demonization of far too many dads after a family splits. I've heard from men who wanted to be involved dads but have been barred from seeing their kids by an unfeeling and decidedly anti-male family court system. Several dads have cried to me that when parents divorce the courts only want money from the father and too often impose draconian restrictions on their visiting their own children. I've heard this from black dads as well as white but I feel that black dads, since we're seen as the poster children for callous, neglectful parenting, are almost always instantly presumed guilty.
Let's support the good dads out there as zealously as we go after the deadbeats.
Crossposted on Babble.com