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A compelling case for an intact family unit

Melvin B. Miller
A compelling case for an intact family unit
“Well, you know which road I’m taking.” (Photo: Dan Drew)

Many black children begin life with a great disadvantage. About 72 percent are born to unwed mothers. As a result, about 91 percent of them will live in female-headed households. There is a high incidence of poverty in that kind of household. In addition, it is believed that boys growing up without a father present suffer more developmental problems than girls.

Fifty years ago there was a social and moral stigma attached to intimate relations outside of marriage. Pregnancy was irrefutable evidence that this code had been breached. When the U.S. Department of Labor’s report on the black family published that 25 percent of black children were born out of wedlock in 1964, a rate eight times higher than for whites, black leaders protested that the purpose of publishing the data was to embarrass blacks.

Unfortunately, the black protest was so great that it became impossible to execute the real objective of the strategy. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who later became New York U.S. senator, wanted to provide family allowances to aid impoverished families rather than require the men to leave the homes. His rationale was clear. Racial discrimination had denied jobs to black men who were willing to work. Society was obligated, Moynihan asserted, to provide compensation in lieu of employment to keep the black family together.

Attitudes toward non-marital births have changed substantially during the past 50 years. Now more than half of all births in Norway, Sweden and Denmark are out of wedlock. The rate of 67 percent in Iceland is almost equal to the present rate of black births in the U.S. But Scandinavian countries have had the foresight to provide allowances to keep the parents and the family intact.

The evidence is building that American children living in a household with a mother and no father are five times more likely than those in a nuclear family to live in poverty. They are also five times more likely to become involved in crime and are nine times more likely to drop out of school. And what is even more disastrous, they are 20 times more likely to land in prison.

The problem of maturing productively is significantly greater for boys from fatherless homes. The number of black women who are incarcerated is only 4.4 percent of the number of black men who are imprisoned. That is a clear indication that it is more challenging to keep young black boys on the straight and narrow. Nonetheless, there has been some opposition to programs designed for and directed to men.

In March of 1994, Minister Louis Farrakhan gave a speech at the Strand Theatre for black men. About 2,000 men came. Some women complained because they were not admitted, and one even brought a lawsuit against the Nation of Islam. There also have been protests against President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.” Of course girls in a single parent family also have difficulties, but the problems with the boys seem to be considerably more severe.

According to an article in the New York Times, “a disadvantaged start in life harms boys more than girls,” and the results of several studies indicate that “boys react more negatively to disadvantage.” It seems that the presence of an adult male is necessary to impose discipline on the young boys. Not surprisingly, this relationship also exists with some animal species.

In South Africa, juvenile male elephants were thinned from the herd at Kruger National Park and relocated to Pilanesberg Park. When the juvenile elephants rampaged against other animals in the park, mature bull elephants were brought in to tame the Pilanesberg herd. The mere presence of the adults served as a role model to establish a new code of conduct.

Black boys from single parent homes clearly need special attention. Their discipline and progress will benefit everyone.