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Living At The Intersection: Fatherlessness & Blackness Pt. 1

I recently delivered the keynote at The Black Convocation at a University on the theme “Shifting The Black Agenda: Cultivating Intersectionality, Solidarity and Collective Power” and I challenged the audience to go on an objective journey with me.

During our journey, I spoke about the fact that we all live at intersections. I emphasized how our individual intersections influenced our blackness. Who we are as individuals and how we show up in groups is an outcome of the various “streets” at our intersection. Gender Lane, Race Avenue, Class Blvd, Education Way, Culture Drive, etc. are just a few of these streets. I dispelled the idea of a monolithic blackness as defined by media and the environments in which we live. I questioned any viewpoint that portrayed a deviation from the narrow descriptors of blackness as a threat to the authenticity of one’s black experience.

Someone recently sent me a video celebrating a father who had a special bond with his daughter. He captured many of their moments on video and developed a large social media following as a result. I found the video inspiring and having spoken, worked and published on the issue of fatherlessness, it re-ignited some questions I had about the path towards a sustainable solution.

Fatherlessness is a systemic problem that cannot be blamed solely on men, or on any one thing for that matter. To address it we have to look into the key elements of what I refer to as “our environments of desensitization” that facilitate the presence of the phenomenon in the first place. However, over the years, I also realized that when problem solving, we can tend to get mired in the depths of the issue of fatherlessness and fail to acknowledge scenarios in which fathers are doing well.

The video depicted a father showing intense love for his 4-year-old daughter. When asked why she enjoyed her dad so much, the precious little girl confidently said “Because I really love him!”. That warmed my heart! I immediately shared with my social network because it captured the positivity of engaged fathering. After posting, I decided to read the comments on the original post and was flat out taken aback by what I read.

One commenter—a lady who identified as black—stated that the young father deserved no credit because he was simply doing what he was supposed to do. She also said that no other ethnicity is celebrating men who just do what they are supposed to. This sparked a heated online debate in which several black women tore down the accolades that this father received. Black men defensively shot back, providing statistics indicating that the percentage of black women with kids from multiple men was far higher than the percentage of black men with kids from multiple women—thereby suggesting that black women were at fault for the pervasiveness of fatherlessness. Black women returned fire with the “deadbeat dad” phenomenon and argued that black women have received no credit for being single mothers for so long. Black men “repealed the attack” by offering recent statistics that highlighted the familial presence of black fathers as outpacing that of any other race in America!

This made me sad! From such an inspiring story, we were able to stir up negativity and in-fighting. No other ethnicity said a word. They could just stand back and watch the hatred that we have for each other unfold. Have we been so lost as a society or even as a people that bitterness prevails even in the face of good? Have we bought into the story of “nothing to celebrate about them”? The negative rhetoric reinforced the idea of an environment of desensitization but also gave life to the quote from my speech:

“We cannot expect others to shift their inter-racial mindsets about us when we fail to shift our intra-racial mindsets about ourselves.”

Yes…I agree that this young man is doing exactly what he is supposed to. But it is bigger than just that. We live in a society that has, in many ways, broken the necessary and historical linkage between fatherhood and masculinity. We also live in a society in which we somehow believe that our royalty depends on someone else’s peasantry. Celebrating someone else’s greatness does not tear down our own!

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