THE VAST MAJORITY OF BLACK CHILDREN ARE RAISED IN STABLE, LOVING HOMES
It’s not lone parenting but institutional racism that is failing African Caribbean boys…
Tony Sewell claims that “more than racism, I firmly believe that the main problem holding black boys back academically is their overfeminised upbringing” (Black Boys are too feminised). But this falls into the easy route of blaming lone mothers and the absence of fathers for wider problems of institutional racism and structural inequality that black boys (and black girls) encounter in the educational and criminal justice systems.
I have researched black families for over 10 years and all the evidence shows that black mothers and fathers are doing their utmost to provide their children with the best opportunities, despite experiencing issues of economic disadvantage and social exclusion. Regardless of whether black children live in lone-mother or married/partnered households, I have found that the vast majority are being raised in loving, caring and stable family environments.
Sewell cites figures that “59% of black Caribbean children live in lone-parent households, compared with 22% of white children”. But my own research shows that many non-resident black fathers are actively involved in parenting and family life, fully committed to their fathering role, despite the statistical data officially recording them as “absent”.
Of course there will be always be those fathers who have little or no contact with their children. But are we truly to believe that in such situations there is a complete absence of male family members in these children’s lives? What about the stepfathers, uncles, grandfathers, brothers and male cousins, who often perform the fathering role in the absence of the biological father?
In fact, the views of the fathers themselves are rarely, if ever, heard in this debate. Most public knowledge about absent black fathers is based on myths, folklore and sensationalised media images, with little known about the way they engage with their children.
This debate has exclusively focused on the negative impact of black fathers’ absence on children’s lives. Mentoring programmes, with black male role models and authority figures, are frequently touted as a quick-fix solution. Yet a disturbing trend with these programmes is their casual attempt to link explanations of educational outcomes for boys to particular ideas about what the “right” types of family and parenting are.
Similarly, Sewell’s assertion that “mothers provide security when the child is distressed, whereas fathers provide reassuring play partners”, also relies on outdated and stereotypical notions of appropriate gender roles for parents – ignoring the diversity of family forms and relationships people now live in.
When investigating the relationship between black family life and children’s educational success (or failure), it is vitally important to take a contextualised approach. Just as Sewell is critical of policymakers and practitioners, and the “wasted years, and lives, looking in the wrong direction as to the causes of crime and education failure”, it is dangerous and misleading to blame the black family, especially given there is no substantive evidence to support this view.