Amid the debates raging now over racism in America, there's a myth rearing its ugly head. It's one I've been fighting to end, and one that all those of us committed to both racial and gender equality should learn about.
The myth is that most black fathers are absent from their homes -- or that most black children grow up without their fathers. Both of these claims are false.
Still, the myth shows up in tweets carrying misleading statistics, often from people blaming fatherlessness for numerous problems facing the black community. It also comes from officials, such as Dallas police chief David Brown who said, "70% of the African American community is raised by single women."
For my book, All In, I set out to show the truths about today's dads. That included devoting a chapter specifically to the myths about African-American fathers. Here are just a couple of the facts:
- Most black fathers live with their children. There are about 2.5 million who live with their children, and 1.7 million who don't, according to the CDC.
- Black dads who live with their children are actually the most involved fathers of all, on average, a CDC study found.
The lead researcher told me the study I report on in the book marks "the debunking of the black-fathers-being-absent myth."
But why do other statistics, such as what Brown said, paint such a different and more dire picture?
Brown referred to "single women." This means unmarried. Having unmarried parents does not make a child fatherless. Some unmarried couples live and raise children together.
Many studies of fatherlessness also mistakenly use housing as their sole determinant. This is why fatherlessness statistics in general are inflated. Many children of divorced parents don't share a legal address with their fathers but still see their fathers often. They're not fatherless.
For more on this, watch my interview on NewsOne. Or to see what even The White House and President Barack Obama have gotten wrong, see the Provost's Lecture I gave at Stony Brook University, below. (This section is 45 minutes in.)
Fatherlessness is still a bigger problem statistically in the black community than it is among other racial groups. Some kids who don't live with their dads really are fatherless. And when I examined Census reports about black children, I found that slightly more than half don't have the same legal residence as their fathers.
Yes, I know, this seems confusing at first.
Some fathers have died, at times killed in violence for example, so they're obviously not included in studies that look at fathers. And some men of any race become what I call "serial impregnators," having lots of children without raising them -- more children than the good dads do. This helps explain the very different statistic.
One such man has a chapter in my book, explaining why he ignored his six children until finally realizing the error of his ways.
Tackling fatherlessness certainly requires change among men, including the minority of black men, who are choosing to shirk their responsibilities. And when it comes to the black community specifically, tackling fatherlessness also requires ending structural forces of racism.
For example, disproportionate incarceration of black men for similar offenses puts dads in jail, leaving fatherless children who are more likely to face all sorts of problems in the future, including criminal behavior. (For the book I spent time at a jail interviewing dads who are enrolled in a program to turn their lives around.)
Moving in the right direction begins with understanding the reality. Most black children are not fatherless. And most black dads are setting a great example.
A version of this column previously appeared at onthemarc.org, the website of Men Advocating Real Change.