“Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to the error that counts.”
Unfortunate and poor behavior notwithstanding, I vehemently reject the tired narrative that the actions of one individual is an overreaching indictment and reflection of an entire race. The practice of projecting either pronounced or passive prejudices on a people is profoundly problematic. And the recital of said narrative offers suspect validity to an aging stereotype with tacit approval. Racism does not require reason nor request. To be sure, an individual must be held accountable for egregious actions and conduct. However, such accountability should be administered with wisdom and love. Certainly, there must be a level of contrition and willingness to properly rectify the situation by the offending party. Nevertheless, it is never wise to stand in self-righteous judgment and indignation with unsteady footing. Because, if changed behavior is the expectation, constructive counsel is more valuable than destructive opinion.
It is my solemn promise, as a self-professed introvert, I truly attempt to mind my own business. For instance, I don’t actively participate in idle conversation with total, complete strangers. It’s just not within my comfort level. Furthermore, I certainly don’t overshare aspects of my personal life with said total, complete strangers. Nevertheless, those self-imposed unofficial rules do not discourage random individuals from volunteering their preconceptions and presumptions regarding yours truly. The stereotypes that accompany the role of a black male in society – notably here in the United States – are numerous to list, but for the purpose of this particular post, I will document a few scenarios when my fatherhood was defined by an old, tired trope regarding black marital status and parenting. It is irritating. It is maddening. It is ridiculous.
Scenario 1: Now, this particular situation is perhaps open to interpretation – I suppose. Maybe my experiences as a black male have left me rightly guarded and defensive. Nevertheless, during a normal shopping trip at Von Maur, I was searching for some outfits for my children. A salesperson offered some assistance, so I explained I was shopping for my daughter and son. I found some cute outfits and proceeded to the sales counter. I requested separate boxes so I could have each one gift wrapped so identification would be simple. The salesperson asked if I needed 2 gift receipts. The request struck me as odd, so I asked why would I require 2 gift receipts. Her answer: A gift receipt for each mother. I informed the salesperson that only 1 gift receipt was required as my wife was the mother of both my children. I guess one can’t purchase multiple gifts for children without the assumption that multiple women are involved.
Scenario 2: Walking through the office, I spotted a work friend, so I stopped briefly to say hello. He was involved in a conversation with a lady I did not know; I stated my pleasantries and attempted to keep it moving. He jokingly asked if I could pick him up some dinner after work. I informed him that I was on my way to pick up my kids from school. Out of nowhere, the lady offered that if I opted to secure his dinner instead of getting my kids, there would be some baby momma drama for me. Once again, I had to correct the record. My wife was out of town, so I had to tend to my children. Undeterred, she hit me with another label and called me Mr. Mom. At that point, I excused myself and walked away. Why can’t I be a normal, married black man picking his kids up from school? Is it that far out of the realm of possibility?
I am fully aware that black fatherhood – at least in America – is stereotypically synonymous with absenteeism, toxicity, and overall just being a bum – devoid of responsibility, accountability, and love. However, perception doesn’t perfectly correlate to reality. Now, it is true that nearly 70 percent of births by black women are to unwed mothers. That statistic, unfortunately, and incorrectly translates to the aforementioned narrative I outlined at the beginning of this paragraph. According to a 2013 study by the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, their findings belie the notion that black fatherhood is baby momma drama and fleeing from Friend of the Court. Surveying parental involvement of Hispanic, black, and white fathers; it appeared that black fathers performed their parental duties the best. The percentage of black fathers (aged 15-44 years) living with their children (aged 5 years and less) was higher than their Hispanic and white counterparts performing the following parental duties:
feeding or eating meals with their children
bathing, diapering, helping use the toilet and dressing their children
playing with their children
reading to their children
Now, I won’t pretend bad actors don’t exist. There is a sizable population of black men out there that do not represent the best of us. And to be sure, the fact that approximately 70 percent of births by black women are outside of marriage can be problematic. Nevertheless, as the study indicates, when the black male lives in the household, he is just as involved if not more than other fathers in different ethnic groups. I understand that film, television, music, news, and social media outlets are likely to continue the perpetuation of negative stereotypes. Black male brokenness appears to be more marketable than black male excellence. My daily rituals as a black father confound and surprise many individuals because I don’t adhere to historical, negative stereotypes. The data supports the reality – black fathers put in work. We have to change the narrative and fervently champion the virtues of being dedicated fathers to our children. We can no longer allow the unsavory sects of society to define our character and encourage us as black men to rise to low expectations. We have to set and maintain a standard of virtuous fatherhood by leading by example. I really would like this article to become a living post, as fathers chime in with advice and testimony, as you are living your best life as a black father and smashing age-old stereotypes. I hope to hear from you.