Fatherless Black Males and Same-Sex Parenting

Fifty Years ago in his essay A Family Policy for the Nation, Daniel Patrick Moynihan added to what he had already warned of  in his report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action by stating that “there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectation about the future -- that community asks for and gets chaos.”

Moynihan’s word taken in the present context of same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting casts a light on black lesbians as a new matriarchal structure within the black community that is being acknowledged. However, what is rarely mentioned is that the African American community already has many years of experience with female same-sex parenting in the forms of structures such as mother/grandmother, mother/aunt, and mother/female family-friend co-parenting.  

I argue that all forms of female same-sex parenting in the black community have been incomplete in general for raising black males, and adding another female same-sex parenting structure (lesbian couples) as a new accepted norm further distracts from the importance of black men as fathers in the black community.

Due to high-rates of out-of-wedlock births (71.5%), low rates of father co-residence (41%), low percentages of black children that have grown up with their biological parents always married (17%), low rates of black children starting out living with both their parents (30% of black two year olds), and low marriage duration, it is assumed that black mothers have raised their children by themselves. However such an assertion is not precise. A more accurate picture reflects that black mothers usually have a female co-parent helping to raise their children in the form of the child’s grandmother, aunt, sister, or female family-friend

A co-parenting literature review noted that the single-parent African American mother view is too narrow and needs to be extended to a larger kinship system:

“Accordingly, the ‘lens’ through which we have viewed African American single mother families has been far too narrow, with little attention to the broader extended family networks within which the dyads that we study are likely to be embedded. In turn, our research to date has largely overlooked a potential strength of African American single mother families, the involvement of other adults and family members who assist with childrearing.”

Recent research regarding African-American co-parenting has revealed that it is women by far who dominate co-parenting. One study that included samples from both the black lower and middle-class found:

“Adolescents' maternal grandmothers constituted the largest proportion of coparents in the sample (37.2%), followed by the mothers' female family friends (22.5%), adolescents' maternal aunts (12.7%), and adolescents' fathers/social fathers (11%)....  Specifically, grandmothers, aunts, and female family friends provided significantly more instrumental support than fathers.”

Another study found that that “the majority (87.2%) of coparents were female (and) included the single mother’s mother (i.e., youth’s maternal grandmother; 38.3%), another maternal relative (e.g., aunt; 19.1%), or some other adult (e.g., maternal friend; 36.2%). Only one coparent was identified as the youth’s biological father and two coparents were identified as the mother’s father (i.e., youth’s maternal grandfather).”

Some of the research noted above contained non-residential female coparents, however the CDC reports shed a light on coresidential grandmothers, stating:

“Black children who lived with a grandparent were more likely to live with a grandmother and a single parent or a grandmother and no parent compared to other children who lived with a grandparent… Black children with a coresident grandparent (14%) also had the highest percentage living with a mother with no father present; about half of coresident Black children (53 percent) had only a mother present.”

It should also not come as a surprise that black grandmothers usually play the lead role as coparents to their grandchildren. Historically, black grandmothers have acted as the link to preserve intergenerational family connectedness, raised children during slavery, and have been the most common relative for kinship foster care placement. Aside from the literature presented above, there is a small body of  research which challenges the view that the majority of coparents are women, and states on the contrary that cohabitating boyfriends are the primary coparent. 

In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan emphasized:

“the matriarchal pattern of so many Negro families reinforces itself over the generations. This process begins with education. Although the gap appears to be closing at the moment, for a long while, Negro females were better educated than Negro males, and this remains true today for the Negro population as a whole.”

Fifty years later Moynihan’s warnings have proven correct in that black males fare worse than their female counterparts in areas that include lower levels of educational achievement and higher levels of behavioral problems. Although  the rate of black males ages 25 and over who have graduated high school and obtained a bachelor’s degree has steadily increased, black males still lag far behind their white counterparts and black females on all levels of educational attainment. Low levels of college entrance and graduation rates contribute to low income as adults, and result in many black, college educated women either having to marry down or not marry at all. The same goes for high levels of behavioral problems which contribute to high rates of suspension, detention, arrest, conviction, and incarceration.

One could make the argument that black males are at a disadvantage due to limited resources, impoverished neighborhoods, historical discrimination, etc., and I agree that those are factors to low black male achievement and behavioral problems. However, the black female counterparts have been under similar disadvantages, but overall they are still better off than black males.

The key component is the absent father factor. New research found that non-marital births and father absence is a strong precursor to the low college enrollment of black boys versus girls, even amongst siblings. Moreover, in their paper “The Influence of Female-Headed Households on Black Achievement,” Madyun and Lee concluded that the absence of fathers and male role-models not just within the house, but also within the neighborhood as well, had a much greater negative impact on black male’s education achievement than that of black females. Furthermore, Autor and Wasserman concluded that single-mother households exacerbate existing gender differences in behavioral problems, and in their latest paper concluded that black boys are behind their female siblings and counterparts in school test scores from kindergarten through high-school.

So how does lesbian same-sex parenting present a problem to the raising of young black males, especially when black males are already being predominantly raised by women?  One might argue that black lesbians are such a small population in the black community that their raising of children in the backdrop of a high illegitimacy rate and low father involvement would actually help to strengthen the black community, not weaken it.

However, one problem is that black lesbians are intentionally creating fatherless black babies using IVF. Social media is overflowing with examples of black lesbians using IVF to create fatherless black children. Another factor that has gone largely unnoticed is that it’s not just black lesbians that are both adopting and creating black children; white lesbians are as well.

In addition, there are 48 to 51% of black lesbian households raising children and many more plan to have children. A paper that pooled from National Survey of Family Growth notes that black lesbians are almost even with white heterosexual women in regard to having a biological child. Another problem is that the mere inclusion of same-sex couples into family law through the legalization of gay marriage changes the family-law for all couples resulting in negative outcomes. Since African-Americans have the highest rates of divorce, low socio-economic status, low rates of marriage, and thereby the most unstable marriages and family formations, same-sex marriage is and will continue to negatively affect black children, marriage, and communities the most out of all races.

One way family law will be altered is through the “presumption of marriage,” which in the context of gay marriage and state artificial insemination statues, would give full custody and parental rights to the non-biological lesbian parent over the sperm-donor father. Two black lesbians are currently in the middle of a parental rights dispute with the sperm-donor father, and since they will most likely win the case due to the legalization of a gay marriage, another black child will grow up without a father and many more to come. In California, family law has recently been altered to both make it easier for lesbians to undergo cheap methods of insemination, and for a non-biological lesbian to have equal parent rights with her partner and the child’s father.

On the subject of lesbians raising boys, there is research that concludes boys were more effeminate in behavior, emotional, cried more under stressful situations, some regretted not having a father, and some became transgendered.

The few options to close the gender achievement gap and lower behavioral problems in the context of absent fathers include the continuation of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative,  providing  single-sex education counter spaces, community-based mentor programs, and help male students develop  social and cultural connections to help them become more successful entering adulthood.

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