Aaron Arnold: In America, the perception is that the black father doesn't exist
If we don't show and share positive stories about black fathers, then ugly stereotypes will prevail
Editor’s Note: Aaron Paxton Arnold, an entrepreneur and lifestyle consultant, is the founder of MusicIsMyBusiness. He’s written for publications such as Forbes and Fast Company. Follow him on Twitter: @MrMIMB. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
In America, the perception is that the black father doesn’t exist. Negative stereotypes of black men persist, and people on the right blame the victim in cases like those of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
But if we look at the ground level, black fathers are there all around us. On the streets and in hip-hop culture, “the Block” is celebrated and used to describe a neighborhood. Black men, young and old, take pride in their hood. If you come to my block you will see black fathers and husbands celebrating with their wives and spending quality time with their children.
A couple of years ago when I was outside my home playing with my daughter, some of my fellow African-American male neighbors were also outside playing with their kids. It was almost a surreal moment as I begin to think that we were all young black men in our 30s, married, homeowners and taking care of our children.
Over the years, those commonalities created a brotherhood and bond between us that will last forever. It helps to dispel the myths and negative statements that are often expressed in and out of our community, like “there are no good black men,” “black men don’t take care of their kids,” or “black men abandon their families.”
Yet, before my very eyes, I was looking at this amazing image – young black men, with their kids, being playful nurturing fathers. One time, I took my daughter to a daddy-daughter event and again was inspired to see the abundance of young black men and their daughters having the best time. I realized that while we still have problems in our communities, there have for decades been black men who have been good men, good husbands and of course good fathers.
However, this positive picture is rarely shown. It’s an oversight that appears to prevent the constructive narrative from bringing changes to our communities. What we have is an institutionalized racism, which counters those images with negativity and perpetuates an idea that African-American men are no good, especially as fathers.
Now, there is some truth to the stereotypes. An article in the New York Times entitled “1.5 million black men missing” describes the disproportionate number of black men missing from everyday life versus their black female counterparts. Whether it’s due to early deaths, incarceration, homicide, heart disease or accidents, black men grapple with issues that result in more single-parent families. But there has to be another narrative countering this by showing the positive picture.
If we look at some statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we learn that:
* Children under the age 5: Black Fathers prepared and/or ate meals more with their children vs their white and Hispanic counterparts
* Children 5-18: Black Fathers took children to and from activities daily more compared to their white and Hispanic counterparts
* Children 5-18: Black Fathers also helped their kids with homework more than their white and Hispanic counterparts
Positive energy begets positive results. And if positive trends like this can help dispel the myths of black fathers as irresponsible, then young African-Americans will know (whether they have a father in their life or not) that they can prove the myth wrong.
If this positive narrative is shown more, maybe and just maybe, those outside (and within) the African-American community will look at black men as human beings and not as rabble-rousers or criminals. Maybe the police, retail establishments, corporate America and our judicial system will then stop racially profiling black men.
It sounds naive and far-fetched but one thing is for sure: if we don’t show and share positive stories about black fathers, then the ugliness of institutional racism will prevail.
America and the world knows for too long the struggles plaguing African-Americans. Black men are associated with drugs, prison incarceration and gun violence. It’s time for America to learn about the other side of African American men – and it starts with telling and celebrating the amazing stories of all the great black fathers in our communities.