Denzel Washington is dead wrong about the “bad” black father
Can’t get a job or a promotion? Blame the bad black father, not legions of corporations, government and public agencies that countless studies thoroughly document have a storehouse of ploys and tactics to deny black men jobs and promotions. Can’t afford or find affordable health care? Blame the bad black father, not the insurance companies and health care providers that have erected iron barriers of cost and access to exclude blacks from coverage and care.
Can’t get a home or business loan, or find an apartment in a safe and affordable neighborhood? Blame the bad black father, not lenders, realtors, and apartment owners who have erected a mountain of dodges to deny blacks desirable housing and business loans.
Now we come to Denzel Washington and his contention that black families (read: black fathers) must shoulder much of the blame for mass incarceration. So, can’t stay out of America’s jails and prisons? Blame the bad, black father and not the fact — which endless studies document — that blacks are more likely to be arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned for drugs, detained for petty crimes (or no offenses, at all) and serve far longer stretches than whites. Then they are slapped back into prison at far greater rates than whites for any violation. Even more studies show that a white felon is more likely to get hired than a black with a college degree.
Then, top it off by ignoring the countless instances where caring, concerned, black fathers that are businessmen and professionals, are more likely to be stopped searched, spread eagle on a sidewalk, arrested, or even shot by police than white felons. The list includes one very prominent black father, former President Obama, who told of his experiences with racial profiling.
The vicious and self-serving stereotype of the bad black father has been around a long time and has been thoroughly debunked. In 2008, Boston University researchers released a wide ranging, comprehensive study on the black family. It found that black fathers who aren’t in the home are much more likely to sustain regular contact with their children than absentee white fathers, or, for that matter, fathers of any other ethnic group. Numerous studies, surveys, and articles since then have confirmed this finding. Here’s something else: The big finger point at blacks is that more than half of black children live in fatherless homes. But that’s only a paper figure. When income, education, individual background, and middle-class status are factored in, the gap between black and white children who live in intact, two-parent households is much narrower.
This points to the single greatest reason for the higher number of black children who live in one parent households. That reason is poverty. Every study ever done on the American family has found that a father’s ability to financially contribute the major support in the home is the major determinant of whether he remains in the home. A man who falls short of that standard is considered a failure and loser. This includes millions of white, Hispanic and Asian men, but their single parent households are not routinely finger-pointed as the sole cause of their poverty, and economic deprivation. There is certainly no intimation that if their children are imprisoned it’s because of their laggardness as fathers.
Washington, in his rap against black men as fathers, says nothing about the economic devastation that drives many black men from the home or prevents them from being in the home in the first place. These facts have long been out there for all to see. Denzel committed the cardinal error that every critic from the packs of sociologists, family experts, politicians and moral crusaders have made for decades. They conveniently omit the words “some,” “those,” or “the offenders” before black fathers. Instead, they make the assumption, or at least give the impression, that all or most black men aren’t in the home, and are irresponsible.
This condemns black men for the crime-drugs-violence-gross underachievement syndrome that young black males are supposedly eternally locked into. This neatly deflects blame from the gaping racial disparities in employment, health care, education, the criminal justice system, and housing. Meanwhile, elected officials, business leaders and public officials skip away scot-free from responsibility by simply blaming the victim with a vengeance.
Denzel undoubtedly is well intentioned in his criticism of black family problems and certainly doesn’t mean to slander all, or even most black men, as derelict, laggards and slackers as fathers. But the brutal reality is that he’s a famed, lionized actor and his words make instant news. Worse they are taken as fact by hordes of his supporters and admirers. This makes them even more painful because he’s dead wrong.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.