Much has been written about the pervasiveness of absent fathers in the Black community; publications like Essence, Newsweek, Jet, and Ebony have featured articles questioning and decrying the lack of fathers present in Black homes.
In fact, according to a Newsweek article, roughly 50 percent of Black children are living in fatherless homes. Reasons cited range from Black women being too career hungry to Black men’s high incarceration rates.
While these reasons are surely components of the issue, I think we do ourselves a disservice, when we fail to articulate the role that patriarchy, with its perverted sense of masculinity, plays in the creation of Black men who grow up to be fathers, and who are absent from the lives of their children.
Fathers who offer more to their child’s life than their presence. Many times the debate over why so many Black men end up in jail, abandon their children, and are killed at dismaying rates, never mentions or references patriarchy. We are told to accept that these are just harsh realities, and that there’s not much that can be done about it, but we should pray that things change. The role we all play in reinforcing, maintaining, and sustaining the system of patriarchy is never acknowledged. It’s swept under the rug with all the other things the Black community does not want to talk about.
Noted feminist bell hooks has written, at length, about the role men and women play into conditioning young boys into patriarchy. She believes that we teach young boys from a very early age that they must not do anything that is considered feminine or womanly. Being nurturing, compassionate, loving, cooperative, kind, tender, accessible, and vulnerable are not attributes that we allow young boys to display. We teach young boys to be tough and hard.
One of the ways we induct our young boys into manhood is through the toys we allow them to play with. Boys are usually given toys like guns in order to prepare and teach them how to be tough and aggressive. Toys like baby dolls that encourage nurturing behavior are denied to young boys. Boys who wish to play with baby dolls are seen as punks, sissies, and weak. Parents are quick to tell little boys that they have no business playing with baby dolls, and little boys are thus conditioned into patriarchal masculinity. To be a man is to be tough. A man has no business in wanting to be tender, caring, nurturing, a man has no business with babies.
Given the way that we raise our little boys and girls, why is anyone shocked or surprised, when the little boys we raised to only be tough and hard grow up to be men who are only tough and hard, and become men who lack skills like compassion, tenderness, love, and the ability to be nurturing. You don’t have nurture a toy gun, you don’t have to be tender with a toy gun, you don’t have to be compassionate with a toy gun. The only thing you have to do with a toy gun is hold it and shoot it. But babies dolls, those precious little baby dolls that we deny our little boys, so often require that the owner be nurturing, that the owner be tender, that the owner be loving.
Children are very impressionable, and they pick up on cues quickly. The notions we teach our little boys stick with them for a long time. The pervasiveness of the absent father in the Black community didn’t just appear out of thin air. There are a number of factors that add to this phenomenon, and one of those factors is the patriarchal masculinity we condition little Black boys within.
The next time you throw your hands in the air about the fact that another Black man isn’t involved in his child’s life, think about the role you played in creating this Black man. Think about the role the Black community played in creating this Black man. Think about the role society played in creating this Black man.
We have more responsibility in the reality than we are willing to admit.
“Patriarchal culture requires that boys deny, suppress, and if all goes well, shut down their emotional awareness and their capacity to feel.” –bell hooks