Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004  

Analysis: Attack on single mothers not justified

A major social role of African-Americans historically has been to used as symbols of what white Americans fear. One of those usages has been sexual. Blacks supposed unbridled sexuality has long been considered a reason to limit their access to white society. Since the end of slavery, it has been claimed that blacks propagate too much. False claims that black men raped white women were often used as pretexts for the thousands of lynchings of African-Americans that occurred in the South between Reconstruction and the 1960s. Assertions that nonwhites would dominate the South as a result of population increase were used to justify the founding of the Ku Klu Klan and fuel many modern racist organizations. Black women were sterilized by public health clinics at high rates well into the 1970s. Black men, in the infamous Tuskegee 'experiment,' were allowed to die from syphilis, though treatments were available.

It is was with this knowledge that I read a recent entry and commentary at a Right Wing blog with trepidation. I learned about the controversy involving bus ads assailing black fathers, described in my previous entry, at Baldilocks' blog. Juliette Ochieng, a black conservative, says she believes the ads are a good idea. She fully supports The National Fatherhood Initiativeand their ideas about black families. Ochieng is entitled to her opinion. But, I am equally entitled to question it.

The bedrock of Ochieng's position is a statistic. She says 70 percent of African-American children are born to unmarried women. I noticed that wherever I saw the stat is was offered without context. So, I set out to learn more about this factoid. The figure comes from U.S. Census data gathered in 1996 about the marital status of African-American women at the time of the birth of their first child.

According to Centers for Disease Control, the most recent statistics reveal a third of children born a year and a half ago were born to mothers not marrried at the time.

Nationwide just over one-third of births were to unmarried women in 2002, and this proportion has increased in every State since 1990 but still varies considerably by State. The highest proportion of unmarried births is in the Southeast.

. . .Other characteristics of births to unmarried women are an increase among white women of 36 percent and a decrease for African-American women of three percent. For the decade, births to unmarried black women have decreased by nine percent.

The U.S Department of Health and Education Services report Trends in Characteristics of Births by States: 1990, 1995, and 2002 is more detailed.

Between 1990 and 2002 the proportion of births to unmarried  mothers increased from 28 to 34 percent (table 7). Nationally the  proportion of births to unmarried women has increased for all race and ethnic population groups; however, the magnitude of the  increase varies considerably by group. The most rapid increase in the proportion of births to unmarried mothers was for non-Hispanic white mothers (36 percent); the smallest was for non-Hispanic black  mothers (3 percent). These changes were not large enough to  change the relative rank of the groups. In 2002 API women had the  lowest percentage unmarried (14.9), followed by non-Hispanic white (23.0 percent), Hispanic (43.5 percent), American Indian (59.7 per-  cent), and non-Hispanic black women (68.4 percent). For all groups  the increase in the proportion unmarried was concentrated in the first  half of the 1990s. Since the middle of the decade the percentage  unmarried [birth rate] has grown more slowly or even decreased slightly as is  the case among non-Hispanic black and API women, which declined  2 and 9 percent, respectively, since 1995.

Consider the statement is Ochieng is relying on again. Seventy percent of African-American children are born to unmarried women. Think about what the statement does not say. It does not say the data cited is about first births. It does not say is that some of those women have been married or will marry in the future. Nor is there any recognition that many of the women are in committed relationships, often involving cohabitation. They may not 'have papers on a man,' but a man is present in the home. Of equal importance, some of those women made rational decisions to give birth based on their economic status, physical and mental health and desire to have the experience of parenthood. If one has any respect for women as autonomous human beings, one has to grant them the right to make the decision to reproduce for themselves.

It seems obvious that data telling us more about these nontraditional households needs to be gathered and analyzed. Instead, people are jumping to conclusions not supported by what is known. The main conclusion being jumped to is that a child growing up in the home of a single mother is in a pathological environment. Trish Wilson has looked into that claim and found it not supported by research.

U. S. state and federal governments have taken special interest over the past decade in the ostensibly sorry state of American fatherhood. Single mother homes have been cited as directly contributing to high crime rates, teen pregnancy, juvenile crime, juvenile delinquency, poor academic performance, and juvenile substance abuse despite evidence that crime, delinquency, and teen pregnancy rates have been steadily dropping for over a decade. Most out-of-wedlock pregnancies were to women in their twenties and thirties. Teen pregnancies account for only one third of all out-of-wedlock births. 1999-2000 SAT math scores are the highest they've been since 1969. The highest rates of juvenile substance abuse are found in families where children are being raised by a lone biological father or a biological father and a step-mother, not in single mother homes with or without a stepfather.

Furthermore, there is next to no knowledge behind the idealized notion of fatherhood being promoted by the Right.

Little research on fathering has been done over the past thirty years. Most of what we know about fatherhood today has been derived from small, select samples involving the self-reporting of white, middle-class European American men and statements about male parenting from mothers. Little remains known about low-income men, especially minority men. The lack of knowledge about low-income minority men is problematic, because fatherhood programs overwhelmingly affect low-income black and Hispanic men.

It is known that single parent homes headed by women have less money at their disposal. Less money means children grow up with fewer of the attributes that would make their lives easier. But, the jump to marriage as the solution is not justified. The reason women are poor or less well-off is that they are paid less for comparable work. Persons supportive of improving the assets available to the growing number of children being reared by their mothers should be in favor of equalizing wages. That is not a goal the Right, which is behind the fatherhood movement, has supported.

To summarize, The National Fatherhood Initiative seeks to solve a problem, which, if it it exists, is not adequately understood. The movement is driven by ideology, not information.

As I said in part one of this series, the NFI is supported by interests historically hostile to people of color. When I raised the matter of far Right foundations -- which have been supportive of the eugenics movement and other activities deterimental black folks -- being behind the fatherhood movement with Ochieng, she was dismissive.

The issue at hand is black illegitimacy. Yes, there are those who don’t want more blacks in the world. So what? Are they rounding pregnant black women up, taking them to Planned Parenthood and scraping out their wombs? No? Then they are irrelevant to this discussion.

She was equally unsympathetic to the idea that women should decide for themselves whether to become parents.

As for women getting older and having the “opportunity” to reproduce before their time runs out, that mindset is part of the selfish attitude of which I speak.

Ochieng also mistakenly believes many or most African-American single mothers are supported by welfare, despite the much publicized decimation of Aid to Families with Dependent Children during the last decade and a half.

Let's play what if. What if a significant proportion of American women continue to rear children without husbands? Will huge crowds of multi-hued children of single mothers rampage through the streets of America's cities looting and burning everything in sight? Will single moms -- assuming they are the irresponsible persons the fatherhood movement implies -- give up their mainly low-paying jobs and demand support from the nearly non-existent welfare system? I don't think so. Life will go on. I think that all we can say with certainty is the defintion of 'family' will continue to expand. In addition to single parenthood, adoptive parenthood is increasing as women wait later to become parents both in and out of marriage. Hopefully, interracial adoption rates, of children here in the United States, will increase. The coming acceptance of gay marriage means we will soon have that form of nontraditional family, as well. What cannot be said with any certainty is that these variations on 1950s television style families are pathological. That is what the Right is saying and the Right is wrong.

Note: My working title for this entry was: "Dean Esmay and Juliette's womb." Stuck in my thoroughness groove again, I did not even get around to mentioning Dean Esmay. However, I do want to reach that issue. Esmay is one of the reactionary white males 'advising' Ochieng in regard to matters such as black folks and reproduction. One would be hard put to find someone less qualified for that role. Stay tuned.

posted by J. | 5:45 PM

Monday, June 07, 2004  

Analysis: Rightwing foundations target black fathers

The latest fusilade lobbed at African-Americans by the far Right is a series of ads attached to buses in Los Angeles. Talk show host Glenn Sacks describes them -- accurately, I'm told.

"Easter Bunny. Tooth Fairy. Daddy. Eventually kids stop believing in things they don't see."

"Each Night Millions of Kids Go To Sleep Starving. For Attention from Their Dads."

"Dear Daddy, My Mommy Can't Be My Daddy Too."

Bus stop ads with pictures of small African American children delivering these biting messages to their absent fathers can be seen all over Los Angeles County. They are part of a nationwide campaign to reduce fatherlessness in the African-American community. The campaign is sponsored by the National Fatherhood Initiative, an influential Maryland-based nonprofit organization which has had ties with both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Sacks brings baggage to the issue. As a member of the so-called fathers' rights movement his interest is in denigrating the custodial parents of most children of divorce -- women. His stop in 'the colored section' is merely a detour on the way to that goal. Anyone who is well-read about domestic abuse and child abuse knows that the same men who claim to be victims of exploitive women are often a danger to women and children. Therefore, my interest in what he has to say is limited.

An aspect of the situation that does interest me is whether the attack on black fathers is justified. Being a chronically thorough person, I decided to start at the beginning. Who is behind the organization sponsoring the ads, the The National Fatherhood Initiative? A trip to Media Transparency told me that NFI is the product of foundations funded by the far Right.

One of my favorite bloggers, writer Trish Wilson, knew about this before I did.

The National Fatherhood Initiative, originally named The National Organization of Fathers, was founded by Don Eberly in 1994. Between 1998 and 2001, conservative family foundations, primarily the Bradley and Scaife Family Foundations, provided $1,995,000 to NFI. Bradley and Scaife provided $240,000 to establish the group. The Scaife Family Foundation is behind funding the excessive public attacks on former President Bill Clinton and for promoting the over-representation of ultra-conservative views in the national media.

Both foundations showered the group with funding for a wide variety of functions, including a "National Fatherhood Tour and Ad Council Campaign" in 1995 and 1996. In 1998, the conservative Earhart Foundation provided $10,000 "to provided support for the preparation of a book, "The Faith Factor in Fatherhood," edited by NFI founder Don Eberly. Eberly has been appointed Deputy Director of the troubled White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which has been fraught with church/state conflicts. This office has yet to get off the ground.

Other reports confirm NFI is by funded the Castle Rock Foundation and the Bradley Foundation. Very, very far Right and not exactly race positive. The usual suspects, one might say. These Right Wing foundations have been discussed previously in regard to front groups that falsely claim to represent black and Hispanic voters, efforts to destroy public education and the current attempt to defund Head Start. Media Transparency describes the goals of the Bradley Foundation.

To further this objective, Bradley supports the organizations and individuals that promote the deregulation of business, the rollback of virtually all social welfare programs, and the privitization of government services. As a result, the list of Bradley grant recipients reads like a Who's Who of the U.S. Right. Bradley money supports such major right-wing groups as the Heritage Foundation, source of policy papers on budget cuts, supply-side economics and the Star Wars military plan for the Reagan administration; the Madison Center for Educational Affairs, which provides funding for right-wing research and a network of conservative student newspapers; and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, literary home for such racist authors as Charles Murray (The Bell Curve) and Dinesh D'Souza (The End of Racism), former conservative officeholders Jeane Kirkpatrick, Jack Kemp and William Bennett , and arch-conservative jurists Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia.

The Bradley crew has expressed particular interest in the black community, perhaps because of its ties to the eugenics movement. With the Indian population fully marginalized and contained, African-Americans are perceived as disfiguring the white America the far Right considers ideal. These people's interest, which invariably is detrimental, is usually masked as helping African-Americans in some way. (Readers who know their history will be thinking 'blankets for the Indians' at this point.) The ads targeting black fathers on busses fit the pattern perfectly. The goal of the advertisements is supposedly to help African-American families. But, how can they? Will embarrassing black men with overstated allegations of being deadbeat Dads or worse actually cause more of them to care about their children -- assuming, for now, that there is an epidemic of lack of caring? I doubt it. Humiliation is rarely a method of positive reinforcement. Besides, humilation is a recurring incident of being black in America. Just more of the same.

So, what do the ads really do? I believe the NFI's message is actually directed at white America, not black America. It tells white America that its wariness toward African-Americans is justified -- there is something wrong with 'those people.' The ads revive the notion that black people are so lacking in humanity they don't care about their offspring, a belief from slavery that slaveowners used to justify selling children. In addition, the message let's middle-class white America off the hook. Though the greater difficulty of maintaining families is often an outcome of poverty, the message conveyed is that it is the fault of African-Americans -- society has no responsibility for it.

I believe another message is also conveyed by The National Fatherhood Initiative -- that any holes in control of society by men need to be patched. In reading the literature of the fatherhood movement, which shares people and objectives with the father's rights movement, one is struck by the continual emphasis on men as the dominant members of families. Wilson tells of a Congressional resolution in support of fatherhood.

In a passage that renders invalid all family forms outside that of the two-parent, heterosexual married family, the resolution stated that "as goes the American family, so goes America. The most important thing we can do is to make sure the American family is on a strong footing, and that means restoring American fatherhood."

The strengths of women as persons and family members are ignored or dismissed. The idea that women have the right to decide for themselves whether or not to bear children is treated as ridiculous.

. . .Support for marriage means installing the father as head of the household, regardless of whether or not he is the most appropriate person to hold that position.

So, the men of the NFI have a goal: To reestablish male dominance in the American family. Regardless of whether their actions actually change non-traditional families (the little research available suggests they will not) the message 'we need to return to patriarchial control' will still be spread. Along with it, white America will be reassured that its families are 'salvageable,' if they follow the leadership of the fatherhood movement.

Note: There will be a second entry on this topic. I had hoped to reach the issue of whether the illness the fatherhood movement seeks to cure actually exists. However, the ideology and funding of the NFI are interesting enough to merit an entry of their own. While waiting for Part II, ask yourself: Why would some African-American bloggers support the National Fatherhood Initiative's ads lambasting black fathers?

posted by J. | 1:15 PM