The perceived image of the typical young African American male who doesn’t take care of his kids was blown to smithereens downtown at the library. It happened in less than an hour. Three Black fathers respectively escorted their children through a secluded corner where I was hunkered down to get some work done.
All seemed of rather modest means. One by one they entered and escorted their kids through the section. With gentle, hushed tones, each dad patiently nudged his children toward selections, then filed.
The individual scenes that played out collectively moved me to tears. Well actually it was more eye-watering than an avalanche, yet the power of the moment was undeniable.
Three Black fathers does not a statistic make? Ah contraire mon ami. Remember, this is a society that has historically cast blame on and continues to unfairly stigmatize young men of color. So it should come as no surprise that a person who sympathizes with all human beings might revel at a procession of ordinary dads engaging in natural fatherly duties during the course of a typical afternoon.
Unlike what popular culture would have us believe – “us” meaning those who have no personal knowledge of, nor meaningful relationships with, any African American young fathers – men of color do in fact tend to their kids. They love and cherish them, many dotingly. Yet despite what is right before our eyes, we have been systematically conditioned (thanks to TV) to believe otherwise.
Meanwhile on the other side of the tracks, many white men proudly claim to be good fathers. Though outwardly upstanding, upper middle class types, inwardly they covet the size of their vehicles and wallets, regard wives as trophies rather than partners, and behind closed doors treat their families emotionally (and many times physically) abominable.
This brand of man abuses his family in ways that most would agree is reprehensible, yet is regarded with unqualified adoration. This is largely the case because money and social rank afford ways and means of hiding abusive behavior.
After all, how can some kid cry neglect when they live in the “right” neighborhood, go to the “right” school, rock the latest iPhone, X-Box, and whatever else that can be materially had? But it’s all merely short term balm designed to numb their children’s psyche and replace authentic parenting.
Many will cry foul that well-to-do men are being targeted. They will insist the majority of bad parenting occurs at and below the poverty line. The media says so, right? Maybe. But what happens if all the resources associated with wealth, power and position are taken into account?
You get a different picture when you remove from the equation all the assets people with means wield to conceal their true private lives. Top shelf lawyers, personal relationships with politicians and law enforcement, access to the best substance abuse clinics – all of that has the uncanny ability to make trouble disappear and re-write family history. Like magic, except it’s not; it’s privilege.
But I ain’t hatin’. In fact, I count myself as one of those middle class fathers, out there on the clock, humping day after day to afford my kids the best possible life (and protection). The difference is I don’t cast blame for society’s ills solely on those with lesser means.
Back to the library. What I witnessed there, I see on the street every single day. Young Black men loving their kids and taking care of them. At parks, in grocers and stores. In the mall and out at bus stops. They’re everywhere. I’m so glad I’ve learned how to soften my gaze in order to more clearly see them.