Black families in America are a diverse group within a group of people already considered ‘diverse’. Black people come in a variety of hues and complexions as well as different geographic/ethnic backgrounds. Black people cannot always be immediately identified as being black, because of the multi-racial lineage, also. As a wholly inclusive group of people, black families live in a system that has been shaped by a long history of racism in laws, policies and practices in the U.S.
The continued structural racism in systems that privilege white people, therefore has resulted in intentional disadvantage for black Americans. While research-based sources confirm the presence of racist institutions and the persistent inequalities, die-hard deniers insist on ‘blaming’ the victims. Some are quick to direct our attentions to those specific individuals and families who have ‘made it’ and have experienced a modicum of success in this country. This confirms their beliefs of non-existent inequities.
President Barack Obama, in a nationally televised talk after the death of Trayvon Martin, suggested that that young man could have been his own son[or himself as a young man] who was killed when walking in the ‘wrong’ neighborhood. He posed no threat to anyone, nor was he armed at the time of his death. That was an incident in which black youth are still viewed as criminals or suspects, presumed guilty before innocence is considered a remote possibility. Why is there such uncontrollable fear of black men, especially? Sigmund Freud would label that condition ‘projection’, paranoia and misplaced guilt.
Statistically speaking, there will always be ‘exceptions’ to the rule that defy the expected norm. Among many in the black community, to become successful, is called ‘making it out’. It should be noted that not every black family lives in poverty. However, virtually every facet of the lives of Black people in the U.S. is shaped by race, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or social standing. Black Americans currently number about 42 million, which is about 13 percent of the total population.
As of 2019, there were 2.68 million black children under the age of 4 in the U.S. Yes, as other groups, black people value romantic partnerships, marriage and children. However, structural barriers often prevent them from being able to realize these values. This is particularly true for those with low incomes. At a rate similar to women from other groups, from 1987 to 2017, among black women between the ages of 19 to 44, cohabitation increased from 36 percent to 62 percent.
Lower than any other group, black women who’ve ever married is 37 percent. Reasons for this seemingly low number include the earning potential and availability of Black men. Also the lack of employment opportunities for black men, a lack of earning parity between black women and black men, and the disproportionate representation of black men in the criminal justice system contribute to the lack of ‘marriageable’ partners. Each of these factors can be, in part, attributable to structural racism.
Thirty-seven percent of black women have their first birth between age 20 and 24, and birth rates are highest from ages 25 to 29. Black women are having children at the same ages at which they may be enrolled in school or entering the workforce. At the end of their childbearing years[ages 15 to 50], black women have had 2.1 children on average. This statistic is in contrast with public perception, whereby black women are believed to have ‘broods’ of children, and largely out of wedlock and with numerous ‘baby daddys‘.
Black children live in a host of family structures. Sixty-four percent live in single parent families, which includes parents living with an unmarried partner or with another family. Among black women ages 15-50, about 60 percent were married or living with an unmarried partner at the time of their first birth. This indicates that roughly 60 percent of black fathers[2.5 of 4.2 million] live with their children. This is in stark contrast to the public perception of black men with children.
While American fathers of every race and ethnicity are generally more involved with the care of their young children than in decades past, Black fathers, those who live with and live apart from their children, are more likely than White or Hispanic fathers to feed or eat meals with, bathe, diaper or dress, and play or read to their children on a daily basis.
Higher parental earnings (more common in married and/or two-parent households) have been associated with increased stimulation and response among infants and young children; this, in turn, has direct links to brain development. In addition, children from families of middle and lower socioeconomic status have shown reduced levels of language development from as early as 18 months, compared with their more affluent peers. Hypotheses suggest that upper-income parents who generally have higher levels of education may have more free time and/or ability to invest time and resources in their children than middle- and lower-income families. In addition, higher incomes facilitate better access to stable and safe housing, which is a determining factor for a number of child outcomes.
Black parents participate in the U.S. workforce in high numbers, with three in four Black children under age 6 having all residential parents actively engaged in employment. Half of Black female workers are mothers and more than two thirds of working Black mothers are single. These high rates of workforce participation, however, do not translate to higher earnings. Among all full-time workforce participants in 2018, Black men earned 70.2 cents for every dollar earned by White men and Black women earned 61.9 cents; in contrast, White women earned 78.6 cents for every dollar earned by White men.
In addition, Black men and women are over-represented in jobs that are have nonstandard hours of employment. Thirty-four percent of young Black children living in a single-parent, low-income household, and 70 percent of young Black children living in a two-parent, low-income household, have parents who work a combination of standard and nonstandard hours. Nineteen percent of Black children living with two parents had one parent who worked overnight hours, and 6 percent had both parents working overnight hours. Furthermore, 23 percent of those living in a single-parent household had a parent working weekend hours.
As you can see, these statistics identify the basic makeup of the black family in America. Other than the fact that black women are allowed the freedom to procreate and that black men can father children, every other aspect of their lives are influenced by the systems they navigate or that intersect on a daily basis. The structural racism that permeates systems negatively impacts black families, still as originally intended-even into the year 2021.
Additionally, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected all who have historically experienced disadvantage in this country, which specifically includes blacks, children, individuals and entire families. We must realize that in a system within which hundreds of years of policies and practices intentionally targeted black people as the primary recipients of harm and disadvantage, eliminating that harm cannot be done by one single agency or policy. Solutions must come from a wide range of places, organizations and individuals across generations.
Those whom are to be instrumental in designing solutions must have a variety of lived experiences, in order to envision relevance in attacking a myriad of the historical wrongs perpetuated against black people in America. The collaborative approach to solutions finding and cross systems change is the best chance that America has for implementing institutional ‘reparations’ necessary for change. If this is to be a democracy in the purest form, then it behooves us all to ensure that full rights and privileges of citizenship apply across the board.
In an America such as this, when discussions of race and racial justice begins, it is only white people who conveniently declare their ‘colorblindness’. The only time when colorblindness should apply is when EQUAL justice, access and opportunity is sought…..that is, once equity has been effectively achieved. But, first things first—IDENTIFY, ADDRESS AND AMELIORATE POLICY-DRIVEN INEQUITY.