the effect of fatherlessness on young black women
With Father's Day having recently descended on the UK, we look at black fathers, their portrayal in the media and specifically the relationships they have with their daughters.
Father’s Day cheer recently descended upon us in the UK. Perhaps you noticed the Tesco’s Value greeting cards simply stating ‘Happy Father’s Day’, or the more sophisticated, sentimental messages such as ‘Dad, thanks for wiping my bum’, and were overwhelmed with emotion. It’s a time to express communal gratitude for the life lessons, emotional support and cash that fathers all over the world have doled out willingly and with love. A moment when men could be celebrated unreservedly without the stench of #metoo, our gaze resting in soft focus on the beautiful relationship between father and child.
And yet, Father’s Day is not just an opportunity to raise pressing questions about Tesco’s credibility as a stationers. It’s not even just an opportunity to question whether men really need a whole day dedicated to their excellence. It’s also prime time for public figures to roll out of bed and suggest that black men need to be better fathers.
This public discourse on the absent black father is both hugely inflated and woefully unexplored. Typically, a scenario is presented in which a high incidence of single parent families in the black community is linked with young black men committing knife and gang crime. And although this reads like a Daily Mail headline on any given Tuesday, it’s also the story being told by respected black leaders in the UK and America. In 2010, David Lammy urged black fathers to be more involved with their children in order to tackle social problems, while in 2008 Obama jumped on the finger-pointing train when, in a Father’s Day speech, he chastised those who have “abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men [making] the foundations of our community ... weaker because of it.”
Missing from these throaty cries of moral panic is any investigation into the effects of parental engagement versus the structural racism that permeates our institutions. Miranda Armstrong, whose PhD research concentrates on black lone mothers and their sons, worries that, “single mothers have been scapegoated for a lot of issues that are systemic and structural”.
"Single mothers have been scapegoated for a lot of issues that are systemic and structural." -- Miranda Armstrong.
Miranda suggests that the very idea of the ‘absent’ black father is a misnomer, as there is actually a spectrum of absence/presence, with many separated fathers involved in their children's lives to varying degrees. It’s an oversight given as little attention as the question of how Lammy, Obama and the legion of other successful black males from single parent families managed to dodge the degenerate bullet. Yet, for me, the most bizarre omission from this discourse can only be the impact of single parenting on black girls. If absent fathers are turning their sons into amateur gun enthusiasts -- then where are the daughters in this scenario?
According to Race Equality Think Tank Runnymede, in the UK, 59% of black Caribbean and 44% of black African children grow up in single parent families, compared to 22% of the population overall. Given those statistics, it would be asinine to suggest that there isn’t an issue. The problem is that the mainstream media seems wholly uninterested in exploring the nuances of the statistics or in hearing the female stories associated with the numbers. Employing fairly basic logic, we can assume that approximately half of the children in these black families are girls, yet the headlines consistently imply otherwise.
Joy Francis, executive director and founder of Words of Colour Productions, launched The Black Love Project in 2017 with Patsy Isles partly as a response to the lazy mainstream reporting on black relationships. “We needed to look at the source,” says Francis, whose initiative seeks to challenge misconceptions on who black people are and how they love. “The absent father is one element of a more nuanced picture.”
“We needed to look at the source. The absent father is one element of a more nuanced picture.” -- Joy Francis, executive director and founder of Words of Colour Productions.
Joy sees the exclusion of girls as part of a wider issue in the UK where black females are not visible. “No one has taken the time to find out what we think and who we are,” she says. While young black men and black fathers in the UK are unfairly scrutinised and lambasted publicly, black women and girls are conspicuously ignored. It’s been argued that the reason behind this is that black women are not a strong enough ‘stereotype target’. Typically, when the media are examining race, they are referring to black men and when they are exploring female issues the focus is on white women. Black women fall through the cracks because, on the one hand we are rarely participating in the crime and violence that titilates the tabloid reader, and on the other we are not viewed as attractive or feminine enough to trouble the Sidebar of Shame.
The scandal here lies not only in the ongoing damage that being unheard has on black women’s sense of self-esteem and worth, but also in the vacuum it creates in understanding the dynamics of British society. When we are both estranged from our fathers and it’s ignored as a problem, the double impact is that feelings of abandonment are internalised while the insidious experience of powerlessness is exacerbated. The very real, utterly varied outcomes of fatherlessness are not limited to the black community, however the phenomenon experienced by black girls is unique enough to warrant further investigation.
Black daughters are unceremoniously overlooked and/or positioned as too angry, too strong, too resilient to experience any suffering, while the fathers are grouped together as a collection of heartless reprobates with a penchant for gold chains. Peddling a one-dimensional portrait of the black father and his criminal sons is sloppy and embarrassing. Erasing all daughters from the equation is just as offensive too.