By LENNOX FARRELL
This is a farewell article. It also considers a general condition that has significant implications and realities for Black communities here and elsewhere. This condition is that of out-of-wedlock childbearing. There are many factors: historical, sociological and others which play into this trend; a trend that is becoming more and more general among all races.
There are also instances in which communities were deliberately disappeared as the result of planned policies. Among others, Canada’s First Nations communities from their experiences with the officially established ‘Residential schools’, can speak most specifically to such iniquitous policies; policies designed to scuttle families of First Nations.
In other regions, for example, South America’s Argentina, Black communities have been similarly disappeared. Today, census percentages of individuals identified as Afro-Argentine are less than four per cent. In the mid-19th century these numbers were about 50 per cent. What subsequently occurred included official policies which, combined with other factors such as starvation, infant mortality, cholera, emigration of Europeans and subsequent miscegenation, reduced the Afro-Argentine population to current numbers. Similar conditions also obtained elsewhere, like Chile. There were also plans in Brazil, but which failed primarily because the Black populations there had had long experience of freedom during their two centuries of an independent Palmares. In short, the survival and subsequent elimination of Black families have a history in this Hemisphere.
In tandem with the above reductions and survivals, any discussion about out-of-wedlock childbearing is not a straight line. It is one convoluted. Convolutions aside, I am, from experience, a supporter of marriage; of marriage before having children.
My position is not intended to be a put down of the many parents who, against great odds, do their best to care for their children. These parents also include single parent Black men. However, there is no questioning the fact that most single parent families in our communities here and elsewhere are headed by Black women.
This feature of our communities, in my opinion, is used to define and brand us. The most iniquitous and unfair characteristic of this is seeing Black women as ‘cheap'; and worse, as being primarily responsible for the negative conditions affecting Black communities here and elsewhere. Again, this conclusion is based on false premises. However, widely held, it carries in art and life, the power of truth. I will return to some of the origins of this later.
Among the significant implications for out-of-wedlock childbirths is that it puts at risk, not only any health and wealth of our communities, but also the very future of our communities. For example, a national study done in the U.S. is explicit on these risks. The data was published in an article titled: “The Consequences of Marriage for African-Americans: A Comprehensive Literature Review (2005)”. Its conclusions were made by Prof Loraine Blackman. According to her, “on average, married African-Americans are wealthier and choose healthier behaviours than their unmarried peers”. She adds that “today, the number of children born into married Black families average less than 0.9 per cent”. Similar studies, for example one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009), logged these at 71.6%.
Do these numbers represent our only options going forward? With what possibly consequences? Prof. Blackman cites, in addition, three startling possibilities: that “the birth rates of married Black women have fallen so sharply that (without) out-of-wedlock childbearing, the African-American population would not only fail to reproduce itself; but would (also) rapidly die off.”
To return to an earlier point of finger pointing against Black women, in addition to their bearing the brunt of parenting, they have also been blamed officially for these conditions. The official grandparent of this perception and blame was in a published report (1965) written by then Assistant Secretary of Labour, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sociologist and later U.S. senator. The Report focused on the deep roots of Black poverty in America. Among other points made, Moynihan argued that the crisis in the Black family was largely the result of “five forces: slavery, segregation and continuing discrimination, urbanization, unemployment and poverty, and low wages”. In short, Black Americans had been given liberty, but not equality, and that “economic conditions (still) determine social conditions”.
Moynihan further stated that “the structure of family life in the Black community constituted a tangle of pathology … capable of perpetuating itself without assistance from the White world”, and that “at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family”. At the controversial heart of this “tangle of pathology”, as he described it, was the Black woman; a negative Black matriarchy, whose primary impact was the emasculation of the Black man.
If these are the general conditions, and possible perceptions, what might our decisions be? On the individual level – in my opinion the most significant history and world-changing level – what are my responsibilities as a Black man? I do not speak for Black men. I speak as someone who has been for most of my life in the Toronto Black community, and as such opines on all creatures, great and small.
My marital expectations have been shaped by others, male and female who had explicit and clearly stated expectations therein for me. Among these would be that becoming a father – something of which my masculinity assured me – would occur in wedlock. All of my many siblings have dutifully observed these injunctions building their own families.
The person who in my estimation set this generational benchmark was our maternal grandmother, Augusta Wilhelmina Niles, nee DeBique. She had known her grandmother, a former slave, DearDear. For these firsthand survivors of slavery, if emancipation established any fundamental rights, these returned to Black women, sole rights to their bodies, and to marriage as our right to family.
Joan`s family were likewise in attitude and behaviour. The letter I wrote Pupa, her father, requesting her hand, she still has … including the expected good grammar. Generations following each other, in the same way our parents stood by each other, we stand by each other. It is never easy. Also, it is neither under- nor overstatement saying I have made several serious errors. Among these, absent too often from home, ‘building community’, and missing many of our children’s graduations.
Of our Dad, despite his manly failings, our Mom’s summation was that during their 60 years of married life, he “never once raised his hand or voice over me”. Likewise for me, to our children, especially our boys relating to women, Joan’s advice has been, “do it the way your father did”.
Benchmarks are goals, oft not reached, but they remain goals to which to aspire. Without family-established goals, the society will establish its own for us: goals evolving ever downwards: morally, financially, socially and communally.
I must also say how appreciative I remain of the publisher, editor and owner of Share, Arnold Auguste. He allowed writers as I, wide range in writing that which might not always be mainstream. For example, while today many in and out of our community publicly say, “Dudley Laws speaks for me”, Share was publishing this in editorials, articles and news when it was not as popular. I wish him, his family and our community well.
For me, approaching in days, the 45th wedding anniversary, I wish to more practise what I preach: taking more time with Joan, the mother of all my children, staunch friend and companion, and maiden of my youth.