“THERE’S SO much negative imagery of black fatherhood. I’ve got tons of friends that are doing the right thing by their kids, and doing the right thing as a father – and how come that’s not as newsworthy?” – Will Smith
How many times have you read statements such as these? ‘The gun and gang culture among our young black men in is spreading faster than ever.’ Usually followed by: ‘The black Caribbean community has a much higher level of absent fathers than any other group in the UK.’ and, ‘the absence of our men is having a devastating effect on our young boys which encourages them to turn to drugs, gangs and crime.’
So, the story always goes that the black father has gone AWOL, leaving a trail of prison bound children behind him. Yes, it is a sad fact that if you are an African-Caribbean child you are twice as likely as your white British counterpart to grow up in a single-parent household. In fact, the figure is probably higher. An Equality and Human Rights Commission report in 2011 found that as many as 65 per cent of African-Caribbean children are raised by one parent – nearly always the mother. There’s a key word in that report: nearly.
The constant news reports do not give any acknowledgement to three important groups in our community: the tens of thousands of fathers who live at home and parent their children, the tens of thousands who may have separated from their partner but are still excellent fathers involved in their children’s lives and the unsung single black father.
In the USA, after years of black male bashing by the media and government, The CDC found that a higher percentage of black fathers living with young children did daily activities such as sharing meals, dressing their children, and reading to them than other fathers. Across the board, black dads did just as much as white and Latino dads, whether they live with or apart from their children. When it comes to finding similar positive statistics in the U.K, they are suddenly untraceable.
Back in 2010, David Cameron echoed the Barack Obama by calling for absent black fathers to take more responsibility for their children. The prime minister called for a ‘responsibility revolution’ to change patterns of black male behaviour. This is all well and good but where is the evidence of support offered by the government to black fathers? With so many black father bashing articles, books, films, songs and mind frames: what acknowledgment do black fathers in the UK really get? Not to mention single black fathers.
Fatherhoodinstitute.org have stepped up and said that, living in another household does not automatically make a man ‘absent’. UK demographics back this up as, at the time of their baby’s birth, 4 out of 5 Black Caribbean, 3 out of 4 Black African and 5 out of 6 Mixed Heritage mothers are in a close relationship with their babies’ fathers. Five years later, the great majority of these mothers and fathers continue ‘stably involved’, while not necessarily living together (Kiernan & Mensah, 2010). I have plenty of black male friends who co-parent their children brilliantly, whether they are living with the mother or not.
Even with President Obama before us as a fine example of positive black fathering, the stereotype lives on. As a result, there are plenty of young black males fed up of being portrayed as a group of uncaring, child-destroying morons. In Northamptonshire Young Black Fathers is a group that was established a few years ago to promote positive models of fatherhood. Dwane Simon, 20, from Northampton formed the group because he was fed up of being stereotyped. He felt that the majority of society believe black men do not take fatherhood seriously.
“I have always been there for my son and I want to be a good role model for him. We’re not all worthless and I want to help break this negative attitude towards young black men” Irresponsible, worthless and immature are just some of the labels Dwane and his peers have had thrown at them. Dwayne says: “Young black fathers need support not negativity”. I couldn’t agree more. I am incredibly passionate about women; but that doesn’t mean that I do not love my brothers and appreciate all the good that they do.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 400,000 families were headed by lone fathers in 2012, representing 13.5 per cent of all single-parent households in the UK. The number has since increased. Yet it is as though it has become taboo to acknowledge and show our appreciation. As though by celebrating single fathers we are somehow disrespecting single mothers.
My own brother is a single father. He does an incredible job raising his sons alone and I am constantly in awe of his exceptional parenting. My sense of awe does not stem from my surprise that he is a capable man. I was raised by a very capable and emotionally present father. It comes more from a deep sense of pride that my own brother defies the constant negative stereotypes surrounding him.
Single mother and women’s champion Jill Scott put it best when she sang:
“I can floss my own bling bling
Write the words to the songs I sing
I can even raise the child we’ll make
Make sure he’s loved and knows what God gave us
I can teach him how to walk and stand
But he needs you to help him be a man
We need you”
I have a huge amount of respect for Jill for saying this. After all, it is not an admission of weakness to admit we do need our brothers and the positive roles they play in their children’s lives.
Some years ago, Everton Augustus established Black Fathers Support Group. From tips, to forums, workshops and even a radio show, they are exemplary of just how much black fathers care. It is a dangerous and untrue myth that paints black fathers as less loving than any other fathers in the world. It is a myth that we mustn’t buy into, regardless of whatever our own personal experiences might be.
“Being a father is a blessing. To have a child who looks up to you and looks to you for guidance and support is a good feeling that makes you feel genuine love. The feeling I get when one of my sons tell me they love me is literally the best feeling as a parent. My generation hardly had present fathers and I think that’s what will make us brilliant and loving dads because we never got that and most of craved it as a child. I know I did. Because of that I will NEVER abandon any of my sons.” – Nathaniel Richards AKA Nooks
My brother and I have different fathers. So, whilst I can proudly say my own father was very present in my life, I have also seen firsthand the direct effect of an absent father on someone very close to me and how he has turned that negative into a positive.
I see black fathers holding their children’s hands at the doctors, playing at the park, watching school plays, at parents evenings and doing all the things the media tells us they aren’t doing.
This Fathers Day, I say we set aside the stigma and the stereotypes and show our appreciation for the millions of black fathers across the world. I’ll get the ball rolling today by thanking each and every father out there who works hard to provide for his children, who prioritises them in his decisions, who hugs and kisses and tells them they are loved.
Thank you to my own wonderful dad for being such a testimony to fatherhood. And to my brother, for making me proud.
“I felt something impossible for me to explain in words. Then when they took her away, it hit me. I got scared all over again and began to feel giddy. Then it came to me… I was a father.” – Nat King Cole