BLACK LIVES DO MATTER.
Black Lives Matter. Police reform is a critical issue that urgently requires attention and action. What happened to George Floyd was immoral, unlawful and a national disgrace. My wife is black. My children will be black. I want to live in a world where opportunity is not predicated on the color of a person’s skin. I want to live in a world where the law is enforced fairly and consistently across all demographic groups.
Ultimately, I want Martin Luther King’s dream to come true: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
I agree with the self-evident expression “Black Lives Matter.” However, I’m concerned about some of the organization’s stated goals.
Consider this statement from the Black Lives Matter website, which is found under the “What We Believe” page.¹
“We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.
We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”
Several questions jumped into my head as I read this statement.
Is the nuclear family a prescription exclusive to Western Civilization?
Why does the nuclear family require disruption?
The linguistic gymnastics of the final sentence is notable for its suspicious omission of “fathers.” Why are mothers referenced frequently but fathers aren’t mentioned at all?
Is the nuclear family unique to Europe and America?
Regarding the first question, the answer is simply “No.” To take one region of the world as a counterexample, multiple studies across decades have shown that the familial structures of South and Southeast Asian countries are largely defined by the nuclear family. For example, the nuclear family was prevalent in Vietnam as early as the 15th century. Due to increases in education and cultural developments that favor individualism, the number of nuclear families in Pakistan is on the rise.²
In these countries, the prevalence of single-parent homes is relatively rare. In most South Asian countries, less than 5% of households are single parent homes. However, extended families play an important role in Asian countries and are generally more prevalent than the American notion of a nuclear family.²
It should also be noted that the concept of an extended family is distinct from the notion of a “village” like the Black Lives Matter statement above. The extended family includes the nuclear family, of which fathers are a key ingredient.²
This distinction is key.
What’s with the hostility towards the nuclear family?
It’s not clear why Black Lives Matter expresses hostility towards the nuclear family, other than the fact that they believe it is a prescription of Western Civilization.
Both the extended family and the nuclear family contain two ingredients that provide a child with the best chance to succeed in the world: a married father and a mother. A 2019 Princeton University study of American families found that children with a single parent or cohabiting parents were twice as likely to not finish high school. The study also found that a child of a stable single-parent home is likely to do worse in school than a child from a married couple.³
This chart from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics illustrates how poverty and single-parent households are strongly correlated. More importantly, while the figures vary, this chart also shows that two-parent homes have advantages, regardless of race. For blacks, the rate of poverty decreases by 73 percent when moving from single-mother households and decreases by 67 percent when moving from single-father households.¹¹ Venture capitalist J.D. Vance’s 2016 book Hillbilly Elegy and political scientist Charles Murray’s 2012 book Coming Apart both detail how familial instability and a high prevalence of single-parent hood homes lead to a myriad of problems for white Americans. The benefits of a two-parent home have nothing to do with race.
At a more granular level than the broader category of single-parenthood, research shows that children raised by single mothers are:²²²²
- More likely to achieve lower levels of academic accomplishment.
- More likely to experience difficulties with social and emotional development.
- More likely to encounter employment and labor market difficulties.
- More likely to suffer parental abuse and neglect.
- More likely to have a child out of wedlock as a teenager.
- Less likely to graduate from high school and/or college.
It’s also important to note that children of single-parents who became single-parents due to an unexpected death do not experience the same negative outcomes that children of single-parents who became single-parents due to divorce or an out of wedlock birth experience.²²²²
According to the famous Daniel Patrick Moynihan report, 23.6 percent of black children were born out of wedlock in 1965.²² According to the 2018 U.S. census, the out-of-wedlock birth rate for black women was 69.4 percent compared to a general rate of 39.6 percent.³³
When Moynihan (who at the time was the Assistant Secretary of Labor) published his report in 1965, he was decried as a racist and a victim blamer even though his goal was to alleviate poverty in the black community.¹¹¹ In 1991, Moynihan reiterated his stance:²²²
“Illegitimacy levels that were viewed as an aberration of a particular subculture twenty-five years ago have become the norm for the entire culture.”
While Moynihan’s comment were factually correct, it wasn’t well-received in 1991 and it would be even less warmly welcomed today. Nevertheless, we must let the facts do the talking.
The scholarly literature that details the severe disadvantages that single-parent homes have on children is robust.³³³ In 2017, 97 percent of millennials who graduated high school, did not have children out of wedlock, and worked full time were not poor.¹¹ A 2015 consensus report from the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute and the left-leaning Brookings Institution offered twelve prescriptions for reducing poverty. Included were¹¹¹¹:
1. Promote a new cultural norm surrounding parenthood and marriage (marriage before parenthood)
2. Promote delayed, responsible childbearing
3. Increase access to effective parenting education
4. Help young, less-educated men and women prosper in work and family
The proposal fleshed these sub-points out, but it is notable that organizations from opposite sides of the political spectrum agreed on the importance of lowering the prevalence of single-parent homes if poverty is to be reduced.
Why are mothers having to work double shifts?
Let’s revisit the first statement from the Black Lives Matter “What We Believe” page:
“We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.”
There is a reason why many black women have to work double shifts: they are single parents. I, and every other person who cares about the alleviation of human suffering, want black parents to fully participate in their childrens’ lives. It’s absolutely essential that this happen. The 70 percent single-parenthood rate in the black community is responsible for black women having to work double shifts, not nebulously defined misogyny.
I say this not to deny that patriarchal oppression exists (it does).
Rather, I highlight this because if we set out to combat a vague notion of patriarchal oppression with the goal of enabling black women to fully participate in their childrens’ lives, we will fail. We will fail because we will have misidentified the cause.
I do believe that a dangerous type of misogyny is at play here and it is a breed of misogyny that is not exclusive to the American Black community. For some reason, in white Appalachia and urban Black communities, it has become commonplace for a man to impregnate a woman and then leave her without paying child support and without providing any child-rearing involvement. This dynamic has become normal in these communities. This is a self-evident problem.
Why should all of the burden of child-rearing fall on the mother?
Such an outcome is a perfect example of patriarchal oppression. The problem isn’t single mothers who are forced to work two shifts. The problem is fathers who are not involved in raising their children. Why does BLACK LIVES MATTER completely ignore this dynamic?
What about unjustly incarcerated Black fathers?
A common rebuttal to the mention of the high single-parenthood rate in the Black community is the urgent problem of the mass incarceration of Black men. If the high single-parenthood rate was solely due to Black men being unjustly incarcerated, then it would make little sense to try to inculcate the practice of two-parent child-rearing among American Black citizens. There is no doubt that unjust laws, such as mandatory minimums for drug crimes, and decades of unjust law enforcement practices have had abhorrent and immoral consequences for Black Americans. I’m not trying to contest that point.
However, the prison problem is only PART of the single-parenthood dilemma. According to a report from the Pew Charitable Trust and the Economic Mobility Project, 1 in 9 Black children (or 11.4% of Black children) had an incarcerated parent in 2010.³³³³ Fortunately, this ratio has improved since then, as the Black incarceration rate has decreased by a third since 2006.¹² Nevertheless, the high rate of Black incarceration entails profoundly negative consequences for children.
According to the Pew Research Center, there were 475,900 Black Americans incarcerated in federal and state prisons in 2017.¹³ That same year, there were 10,115,817 Black children (under 18) in America.¹²³ The most recently calculated single-parenthood rate for Black Americans is 69.4%. Thus, approximately 7,020,000 Black children had only one parent in 2017.
If we assume that every single incarcerated Black individual had at least one child, and if those individuals were freed in 2017, at a minimum 475,900 Black children would have gotten their parent back. That would still leave 6,544,100 Black children (or 64.69% of ALL Black children) with only one parent. This also assumes that every child is ALREADY with a parent, which is certainly not always the case.
So, even if the entire Black prison population were freed, the Black community would still have a much higher single-parenthood rate than other demographic groups, which would mean that millions of Black children would still suffer from the negative effects of single-parent child-rearing.
NOTE: This does not include mixed race children, so this is a conservative estimate.
Prison reform, while critical and necessary, will not solve the problem of single-parent households in the Black community.
Obviously, there are other systemic issues at play that need to be dealt with. Simply chastising single mothers for having children out of wedlock is as immoral as it is ineffective. I am not debating the need for change to alleviate poverty in the black community. I’m simply stating that the change needs to ultimately result in a decrease in the percentage of black children born out of wedlock. The organization Black Lives Matter is severely misguided in attacking the nuclear family.
BLACK LIVES DO MATTER.
A.  Black Lives Matter. (2020). “What We Believe.” https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/
B.  Yeung, Wei-Jun Jean., Desai, Sonalde., Jones, Gavin. (2018). “Families in Southeast and South Asia.” Annual Review of Sociology. 44:469-95. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-073117-041124
C.  Jeffreys, Branwen. (2019). “Do children in two-parent families do better?” BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/education-47057787
D.  Rowe, Ian. (2020). “The power of the two-parent home is not a myth.” American Enterprise Institute. https://www.aei.org/articles/the-power-of-the-two-parent-home-is-not-a-myth/
E.  Office of Policy Planning and Research. (1965). “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” United States Department of Labor. https://www.dol.gov/general/aboutdol/history/webid-moynihan
F.  National Vital Statistics Reports. Vol. 68, No. 13 (2019). “Births: Final Data for 2018.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr68/nvsr68_13-508.pdf
G.  Shlaes, Amity. (2019). “Great Society: A New History.” Harper.
H.  Taylor, Paul. (1991). “NONMARITAL BIRTHS AS RATES SOAR, THEORIES ABOUND.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1991/01/22/nonmarital-births-as-rates-soar-theories-abound/9bcc65f3-6c64-4012-b2da-fbe6eeaf0090/
I.  Samuelson, Robert J. (2018). “Don’t deny the link between poverty and single parenthood.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dont-deny-the-link-between-poverty-and-single-parenthood/2018/03/18/e6b0121a-2942-11e8-b79d-f3d931db7f68_story.html
J.  Working Group on Poverty and Opportunity. (2015). “OPPORTUNITY, RESPONSIBILITY, AND SECURITY: A CONSENSUS PLAN FOR REDUCING POVERTY
AND RESTORING THE AMERICAN DREAM.” American Enterprise Institute & The Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/full-report.pdf
K.  Sawhill, Isabel V. (2014). “Are Children Raised With Absent Fathers Worse Off?” The Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/are-children-raised-with-absent-fathers-worse-off/
L.  The Pew Charitable Trusts: Pew Center on the States. (2010). “Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility. “https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2010/collateralcosts1pdf.pdf
M.  Gramlich, John. (2020). “Black imprisonment rate in the U.S. has fallen by a third since 2006.” Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/05/06/black-imprisonment-rate-in-the-u-s-has-fallen-by-a-third-since-2006/
N.  Gramlich, John. (2019). “The gap between the number of blacks and whites in prison is shrinking.” Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/30/shrinking-gap-between-number-of-blacks-and-whites-in-prison/
O.  Kids Count Data Center. (2020). “Child population by race in the United States.” The Annie E. Casey Foundation. https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/103-child-population-by-race?loc=1&loct=1#detailed/1/any/false/37,871,870,573,869,36,868,867,133,38/67,72/423,424