As we come closer to the “post-racial age” of a Barack Obama presidency, I am intrigued to find that post-racial racism is already being propagated in the pages of the Washington Post. In “An Enduring Crisis for the Black Family,” Kay Hymowitz blames the economic disfranchisement of African Americans upon the personal behavior of Black people and the silence of Black leaders concerning this behavior. Ms. Hymowitz portrays the massive national growth of single parent homes as a Black pathology. She uses the real challenge of the breakdown in the traditional family to further stereotype and lay blame on African Americans for racial inequality in this country.
As one who studies racial inequality and the African American condition in particular, I have often been told to ignore the studies that show there is still racial prejudice in employment, homeownership, and predatory lending, and to instead look at the rapid decline of two parent households for African Americans. In the report “40 Years Later: The Unrealized American,” I looked at the decline of the two parent household for Blacks and whites and found some surprising results. Using data from the 2007 State of Our Unions report I discovered that the share of Black children living in a single parent home increased by 155% between 1960 to 2006. The share of white children living in single parent homes increased by 229% during this same time period. The white two-parent family has declined at a faster rate than the Black family. Yet, Ms. Hymowitz never once mentions that the increase of single parent Black families exist in a context of an even greater rate of increase in single parent white families. Ms. Hymowitz attacks Black leaders for not addressing this issue yet as a white woman she never sees fit to mention this issue as it relates to white Americans.
Was Ms. Hymowitz so concerned about the African American community that she failed to consider that Blacks were part of a national social trend that was cutting across racial lines? I do not know. What I do know is that she is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, an organization with a history of concluding that the “deficiencies” of African Americans are the primary cause of inequality. Charles Murray, formerly of the Manhattan Institute, is the most renown example of this tradition. In 1994 he co-wrote the book “The Bell Curve.” This best selling book argued that Black/white inequality could be explained by the inferior intelligence of African Americans.
Ms. Hymowitz’s charge that civil rights leaders historically and today remain silent on the topic of Black family and single parent households is as misleading as her portrayal of the break up of the family. Growing up in the 1980’s, I remember listening to Rev. Jackson as he urged Black men to stand up to their responsibilities as fathers. In 1995 I was proud to participate in the Million Man March, the largest Black gathering this country has ever seen. Over a million Black men came together to pledge greater responsibility for their families and to atone for their sins. The Black community and its leaders have always engaged the issue of greater self-responsibility. One can look back to Garvey, Dubois, Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Tubman for this tradition.
In his book “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” Dr. King stated “History continues to mock the Negro today, because just as he needs ever greater family integrity, severe strains are assailing family life in the white community.” Someone seriously concerned about the decline of the two-parent family would not racialize a serious national problem. They would, instead, challenge the nation to address this problem in unity. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who grew up in a single parent home, stated in 1988 that “Protecting America’s families is not simply a problem of the poor. It is a challenge to the entire society, a practical as well as moral challenge.” Jackson proposed a Family Investment Initiative, an initiative that would go beyond talking about family values and instead place societies’ resources behind valuing families. As we approach the inauguration of Barack Obama, we look to the President Elect to enact legislation and inspire a national commitment to strengthen all American families, and to bridge the racial divide that for too long has divided this nation.
DEDRICK MUHAMMAD works for the Institute for Policy Studies as part of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good.