The Decline of the African-American family
Race in America is set against the backdrop of horrible historic realities, minefields few want to cross -- just ask Representative Paul Ryan. But if we are ever to focus on children who, for no fault of their own, are often raised in environments where a stable father is missing, violence is predictable, education is eschewed, drugs are prevalent and dependency threatens freedom; we must stand up and speak facts before another generation of children are lost.
Racism is the normal explanation for the decline of the black family, but that analysis does not hold up. Thomas Sowell has shown that “the black family survived centuries of slavery and generations of Jim Crow where most black children grew up in homes with two parents.” In fact, “when blacks were just one generation out of slavery, the census data of that era showed that slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than had white adults.” One would be hard pressed to believe that race issues in America are bigger today they were in the past.
Still others look to socioeconomic discrepancies for difficulties within the black family. Again Sowell’s research shows that “the particular culture or ‘human capital’ available to a people has often had more influence on their economic level than their existing material wealth, natural resources, or individual geniuses.” Even factoring for economic differences and severe social disadvantages, examples of a vibrant black family institution in America’s are too numerous to ignore.
• In the 1890s, there were four public high schools in Washington D.C.; one black, the M Street School/Dunbar High School, and three white. In 1899, Dunbar averaged higher standardized test scores than students in two of the three white schools. From 1870 to 1955 Dunbar repeatedly equaled or exceeding performance on national standardized tests.
• As late as 1910 more than two-thirds of the black population of Chicago lived in neighborhoods where most residents were white.
• In 1950, 72 percent of all black men and 81 percent of black women had been married.
• Every census from 1890 to 1950 showed that black labor force participation rates were higher than those of whites.
• Prior to the 1960’s the unemployment rate for black 16 and 17-year olds was under 10 percent.
• Before 1960, the number of teenage pregnancies had been decreasing; both poverty and dependency were declining, and black income was rising in both absolute and relative terms to white income.
• In 1965, 76.4 percent of black children were born to married women.
So what changed the equation?
By the 1960s, American society was riddled with generations of “white guilt.” In reaction and repentance sparked by Dr. King’s nonviolent civil disobedience and the systemic introspection of social norms by whites, Americans overcompensated with sweeping entitlement programs under President Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” and by turning a blind eye to accountability on longstanding values and principled behavior within the African American community. While affirmative action and desegregation jump-started social change, the unintended consequences of shifting the cultural incentives upside down were ignored.
This caused what Democrat Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called “defining deviancy downward.” And with Civil Rights Act of 1964 giving legal credence to making any sort of behavioral judgment toxic, the cultural glue that held together the African-American family was fundamentally changed.
This destabilization has created turbulent neighborhoods that have devastating costs to children ranging from poverty, educational deficiencies, violence, crime, drugs, and a culture of victimization and entitlement.
Basic developmental psychology tells us that boys and girls growing up without fathers and stable homes are overwhelmingly more likely to lack self-discipline and personal responsibility than children growing up with married parents. The economic, emotional, and spiritual guidance that two parent families provide are the cornerstones of effective family institutions. Without that stability, institutional collapse is eminent.
The statistics since 1960 support this analysis.
• Between 1960 and 1964, blacks were rising into professional and other high-level positions at a rate greater than the five years following passage of the Civil Rights Act.
• The 1960 census showed the first signs of a decline in black marriages, with acceleration in later years.
• Since the 1960s the black labor force participation rates have been lower than whites and unemployment rates for black 16 and 17 year olds has never dropped below 20 percent.
• In 1980, 31 percent of all black first-born children were born to teenage mothers.
• By 1992, 54 percent-of all black children were living only with their mothers.
• From 1990 to 1994, 77 percent of first births to black women were premarital.
• In the 1980s and 90s, an absolute majority of those black families with no husband present lived in poverty.
• By the 2000s, 75% of blacks with a high-school degree or some college were not married.
• In 2005, Black people accounted for 13% of the total U.S. population yet they were the victims of 49% of all the nation's murders; and 93% of black murder victims were killed by other black people.
• Less than half of black students graduated from high school in 2005.
• In 2009, 73% of black children were born to unmarried mothers.
• In 2012, blacks in New York constituted 78% of shooting suspects and 74% of all shooting victims even though they are less than 23% of the city’s population. Young black men in New York are 36 times more likely to be murdered than young white men.
• Today, black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at ten times the rate of white and Hispanic males of the same age combined.
• In many urban areas, the black illegitimacy rate is well over 80 percent.
• The national unemployment rate for blacks is over 13%, nearly five points above the average for all Americans. And black teen unemployment is over 40 %.
The good news is that things can be turned around because a thriving nuclear family is at the heart of African-American tradition.
First, we must acknowledge that well-intentioned social have uprooted traditional cultural incentives and legitimized an entitlement attitude that is counterproductive and harms children.
Second, we must stop ignoring bad behavior and choices in the African-American community. Discriminating between proper and bad behavior as a legitimate judgment, it is not discrimination or bigotry. Basic psychology tells us when you are allowed to get away with and are rewarded for bad behavior; you reinforce and get more progressively worse behavior that harms children.
Third, there must be an admission that clinging to a counterproductive culture that is supposedly “authentic” in the name of group pride or to avoid self-reliance and personal responsibility is not only historically incorrect, it harms children. Thomas Sowell has shown that no group has ever successfully improved their circumstances by doing so.
Lastly, the African-American community, with or without the civil rights “establishment,” must acknowledge and demand that the family is, and will forever be, the originator and primary transmitter of social capital -- values and character traits -- that enable children, on becoming adults, to seize opportunities and become productive citizens. Toxic role models that guide children into a culture of destructive behaviors must be challenged.
In short, if the family structure is a primary predictor of an individual’s life chances, and if family disintegration is the principal cause of the transmission of poverty and despair in the black community over the last 50 years, then family integration will stabilize the institution and offer children hope.
For once and for all, we must reach out and “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Walking on eggshells out of fear or guilt, being angry at the sins of the past, or throwing money at a problem that only the heart can solve must end.