It's Time to Fight for the Black Family | Opinion

One of the most memorable moments from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a scene in which Will Smith took viewers on an emotional rollercoaster of joy, disappointment, and anger during a short interaction with his character's father. The scene ended with Smith's unforgettable cry, "How come he don't want me, man?"

Many viewers still feel the emotional weight of that exchange more than 25 years later, especially those who have asked the same question at some point about their own fathers. Absentee fathers are sadly a growing trend across America. Almost a quarter of children in the U.S. live in homes with just one parent. The decoupling of marriage and childrearing has become commonplace, as men and women unable to make a lifetime commitment to each other are somehow able to commit to having kids.

These adult decisions impose significant costs on their children, and more broadly, on society at large. Decades worth of research have shown that children raised in homes with married parents have better social and emotional outcomes than children in any other familial arrangement.

Non-marital birth rates have risen over time for all ethnic groups but especially in the Black community, where over 70 percent of children are born to unmarried parents. These family dynamics are often attributed to the legacy of American chattel slavery, but US Census data show that from 1890 to 1960, Black men and women were more likely to be married by age 35 than their white counterparts.

The truth is that economic forces, broader cultural shifts around sex, marriage and children, and targeted policy interventions since the 1960s are a much more likely proximate cause for the increase of non-marital births among African Americans today than anything that happened on a southern plantation in 1822.

Black father and son
iStock

And yet, despite the huge amount of data showing that the breakdown of the nuclear family has been disastrous for the Black community, discussing it is verboten in Democratic circles. There is the sense among liberal elites that discussing this issue might somehow offend Black voters—the Democrats' traditional base. This code of silence underscores the difference in worldview between many in the Black community who understand the importance of family structure and Black elites in media and academia—who practice marriage before children in their own lives, but preach Democratic orthodoxy in public.

Recall how President Obama was viciously attacked by his fellow liberals for talking about the importance of marriage and fatherhood. They wanted him to focus on more resources for single mothers and their children, not "pathologize" Black family dynamics. And it revealed a troubling tendency on the Left to minimize Black agency and maximize white benevolence.

Think of Michael Eric Dyson on MSNBC framing supporters of the nuclear family and Black fatherhood as believers in the "magical black daddy" myth. Three years later Dyson was on Fox News arguing that white Americans should fund individual reparations accounts for Black people. The message to this day from Dyson and his peers is the same: the key to improving the quality of life for Black people is to change the way white people think, speak, and behave.

This is exactly backward. The path forward for our community must revolve around restoring the nuclear family. Accomplishing that goal is a complex and multi-dimensional effort that requires addressing at a range of historical, ideological, and political root causes.

The first step is to frame it as an issue that deserves national attention. Conservatives have spoken about the importance of the family for decades. The GOP's platform in 2020 has an entire section on marriage and the natural family. It also makes a direct link between the family and the state that captures what is at stake in this fight: "Strong families, depending upon God and one another, advance the cause of liberty by lessening the need for government in their daily lives." The 2020 Democratic platform, by contrast, only used the word "marriage" once, and that was in reference to forced marriages in foreign countries.

This must change.

Every American should become familiar with the "Success Sequence" that shows 97 percent of Millennials born between 1980 and 1984 who finish school, secure employment, and marry before having children are not poor by their mid-30s. That message is tangible, achievable, and measurable. It is also something that can be introduced to children long before they make the decision to start a family.

Liberal politicians and public figures have historically been reluctant to publicly moralize about the personal lives and individual decisions of American citizens. This has to change. Every available resource in politics and culture should be marshaled to promote traditional marriage and family formation. Websites like Black and Married with Kids have shown there is a market for promoting positive images of marriage and sharing resources for parents. Other outlets can follow a similar model.

The Fresh Prince episode ends as the camera zooms in on a tabletop sculpture of a man cradling a child in his lap—a gift Will had bought for his father before being abandoned again. That model of loving fatherhood stood in stark contrast to Will's own experience and those of millions of children across this country.

That needs to change. We need to make marriage before children the ideal for all people regardless of their skin color, religion, or income. The fight for the family will not be easy, but the health and well-being of our children are worth it.

Delano Squires is a contributor to BlazeTV's Fearless with Jason Whitlock. He has previously written for Black and Married with Kids, The Root, and The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter @DelanoSquires.

The views in this article are the writer's own.