WASHINGTON, August 1, 2013 — Watching FOX’s Bill O’Reilly and CNN’s Don Lemon comments on race recalls the Mark Twain aphorism that, “One gets such a wholesome return of conjecture, out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
Such was the case with O’Reilly’s pronouncement that “The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is the disintegration of the African-American family.”
Lemon chirped in that O’Reilly’s upbraiding didn’t “go far enough.” He proffered five talking points for how black Americans could get their act together, including “pull up your pants” and don’t be a litterbug.
Zeroing in on only Lemon and O’Reilly’s claims about black family, here’s a corrective to much they had to say:
O’Reilly: We should be “telling black girls to avoid getting pregnant.”
We are. Apparently O’Reilly has missed the memo that teenage pregnancy has been in a decades-long nosedive in this country. In 2011 teenage births plummeted to the lowest level ever since the CDC has been keeping numbers in 1940. Specifically for black girls 15 to 19, pregnancies tumbled from 118 of every 1,000 black girls that age in 1991 to just 47 of every 1,000 in 2011.
Worse than being wrong is O’Reilly’s fraudulent pretense of caring at all. If O’Reilly were truly interested in reducing all teenage pregnancy he’d support comprehensive sex education, not wince at it, as he does on his show, and give platform to abstinence-only activists. It is now well-established that states which teach abstinence-only have the highest teen pregnancy rates; whereas, states which teach kids about contraception have the lowest rates.
Lemon: “More than 72% of children in the African-American community are born out-of-wedlock; that means absent fathers.”
Actually, it doesn’t. One of the biggest problems in these discussions is that “out-of-wedlock” is conflated with having no father, or no father figure. But, “unwed” is not a synonym for “absent.” Several studies have shown that of fathers not living with their children, black fathers are the most involved of all races. Specifically, 44% of unmarried black fathers were visiting their child, compared to only 17% and 26% of white and Hispanic noncustodial fathers, respectively.
Further, unwillingness to escape the family model of “Leave It to Beaver” envisage means inability to see that especially in black, Latino, and low-income communities, families take on non-nuclear structures where non-biological fathers assume fatherhood duties. In other words, there can be father figures where there are not fathers. Columbia sociologists Roberta Cole and Charles Green call these “social fathers”—uncles, grandfathers, coaches, pastors, and more. Nevertheless, acknowledging superb surrogate fatherhood is no negation of the responsibility of biological fathers, to wit:
O’Reilly: What ails black America is “you derelict parents”
Not so much. Consider monetary support. A Rutgers study reported that, in violation of federal welfare rules, about 40% of mothers receiving child support engage in “covert non-compliance” by under-reporting to the government the amount of child support fathers pay. Further, the average amount of support received was more than twice the amount they would have received through the official system of enforcement.
And, in a UC Davis Law Review article which asked: Deadbeat or Deadbroke?, black fathers not living with their children but who are very poor “make in-kind contributions to their children—buying them diapers, baby formula, and groceries as well as clothing, toys, and baby furniture.” They noted the superiority of this too, since in-kind contributions are delivered in-person, facilitating father-child bonding; whereas court-ordered payments are generally remote.
Still a third area of involvement generally overlooked is nontangible contributions: taking children to and from school or daycare, to doctor’s appointments, or living with them part-time. Here noncustodial fathers who are poor attempt to compensate for this by investing more time.
O’Reilly: Out of wedlock childbearing “drives poverty”
In fact, the opposite is truer. Sloppy analysis is typically undertaken here of the sort: children who grew up without fathers are X% more likely to do this bad thing and Y% more likely to do that bad thing. Statistics oft-cited include suicide, dropout rates, crime. But this commits the logic fallacy of confusing correlation with causation. Certainty absent fathers contributes to poor life outcomes, but both are supervenient upon more fundamental causes, namely poverty and education.
To say, for example, children without fathers are more likely to grow up to be poor misses the ugly truth most would rather not face: all children who are born poor are more likely to grow up poor. That is, due to decreased income mobility, fewer people than historically in America are moving out of poverty and up the income ladder.
On education, longitudinal scholarship by Howard’s Ivory Toldson has shown “a black student from a two-parent household with just one parent who dropped out of high school was three times more likely to repeat a grade in school than a student from a single-parent household where the primary caregiver had an associate’s degree or higher.” In other words, educated single parents often do a better job than less educated two parents.
Viewed this way, absent fathers are a symptom, not the problem.
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