Mia Birdsong says it’s time to elevate examples of engaged Black fathers in America and stamp out stereotypes
A prevailing stereotype in this country is that Black fathers are merely “baby daddies”—underemployed, uneducated, and disinterested in fulfilling their role as fathers. This belief is perpetuated not just by thinly disguised racism from the usual suspects in politics and media, but by a barrage of finger shaking from the black respectability politics brigade (side eyes to you President Obama, Bill Cosby, and Don Lemon), who believe Black fathers need to be told to care about their children and instructed on how to do so. These critiques are damaging, tedious, and simply not accurate.
Studies like the ones highlighted in this recent Think Progress article are beginning to chip away at the tired narrative that Black fathers are absent from their children’s lives. What I see in my community and from my vantage point at Family Independence Initiative is Black men caring for, loving, playing with, and co-parenting their children. But those stories don’t get told often, or loud enough. It’s time to change the rhetoric and shine a light on the numerous very real examples of engaged Black fatherhood in America.
Take Shaka Zulu in New Orleans, for example. Shaka, along with his wife Na’ima, is raising two beautiful, incredibly smart, and talented young women. Believing the adage “it takes a village to raise a child,” Shaka, Na’ima, and some of their friends created Camp Congo Square, a place for their children to deal with the post-Katrina displacement and trauma they all experienced, learn about their history, and gain a deep sense of pride and heritage that would inspire them to return to New Orleans and help rebuild their city.
Or Jimmie Wilson Jr., a father of six in San Francisco who, along with his wife Whaticia, not only cares for his own children, but also regularly cares for several children from the foster care system. Last year, they created STOP (Senseless Tragedies Oppressing our People), a community project that connects young people, particularly young men, with each other and with caring adults from their own community to help them chart a path toward success.
Maybe you caught the viral photo of Kordale and Kaleb, a gay Black couple raising three children in Georgia, who are just being dads but people are all, “Oh my god, they’re gay Black men and parents!” When asked about the controversy generated by their Instagram family photos, the pair stated their goal as parents—just like other fathers—is to “provide, love, educate, support, encourage, and love some more.”
And there’s Charles Jones Jr., an Oakland-based writer, photographer, and father of six—our kids go to school together. I see him walking his children to school every morning. He also volunteers in their school. He’s a deeply loving, very proud father, and it shows in the beautiful photos he takes of his family.
None of these dads are perfect. They struggle with depression and anger, with money issues, with being good partners, and with parenting children in less-than-ideal environments. My point is not to counter the stereotype with an invented ideal. My point is to make clear that black fathers are human beings who are of course flawed and of course care about their kids and of course try to do a good job as parents. Just like everybody else. Being a dad is challenging enough without also having to face down the widespread assumption that your Blackness makes you inherently bad at it.
This Father’s Day, let’s give Black dads their due. Let’s collectively shine a light on the dads who are out there doing their part. Let’s tell a new story about black dads in America. Post a photo of a black father you admire to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #BlackDads, and tell us what makes him great.
Photo: Vox Efx/Flickr