July 31, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
We’ve all heard the statement “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and usually it makes a certain sense. But not here (Salon.com, 7/30/13). In a feat only Salon.com could pull off, both the writer of the article and the person she criticizes are wrong on the subject of single parenthood. If this is Stacia Brown’s idea of defending single motherhood, she’d better let someone else try.
It seems that CNN’s weekend news anchor Don Lemon has taken upon himself the job of excoriating the African-American community for the behavior of some of their less educated, less savory members. Apparently he took to the airwaves recently to complain about young African-Americans who wear their pants too low, freely bandy about the N word and produce children out of wedlock. Like Bill Cosby’s similar rant many years ago, Lemon’s brought a storm of protest causing him to proclaim that he was about to receive the “Uncle Tom Award.”
Whatever the merits of the specifics of Lemon’s short on-air messages, my take on them is that their essence can be summed up as “if you don’t respect yourself, no one else will.” Now, I only know what Lemon said and, since he’s on television, he was limited to so few words that no sort of depth, breadth or nuance was possible. Whether Lemon is capable of said depth, breadth and nuance, I can’t say.
But certainly, if admonitions like “pull up your pants” are his idea of the solution to the multiple problems African-Americans face in contemporary U.S. society, we can all safely ignore him and move on to those with a reach that doesn’t exceed their grasp. However, I suspect that Lemon has a bit more under his hat than that, but whether he does or not, his final demand, “Stop having out-of-wedlock babies,” is spot-on. And that’s true despite the fact that he places the problem squarely at the door of “absent dads” instead of where it should be, i.e. mostly with single mothers, but also with single fathers.
Like President Obama, Lemon seems to want his viewers to believe that if fathers were just more responsible, their children would have two parents and all would be well in the garden. The only thing that formulation ignores is the entire body of family law and family courts that - day after day, year after year – act like a well-oiled machine whose sole purpose is to remove fathers from the lives of their children. Well, it ignores adoption law too. And CPS agencies that do their part to make sure fathers don’t get a chance to parent their children. And the news media that go to sometimes hilarious lengths to depict fathers as unworthy of the name. And popular culture that does the same. Oh, and child support laws too. And non-existent laws on paternity fraud. Yes, they’re all blissfully ignored by those who pretend that “absent dads” are solely to blame for children with a single parent.
So Lemon’s brief sally into the national parenthood debate was both right (stop having babies out of wedlock) and wrong (single parenthood is all the fault of fathers).
Meanwhile his critic, Stacia Brown, does not a bit better and in fact worse. For one thing, despite her article’s headline that would lead us to believe it deals mostly with the issue of single motherhood, little of what Brown has to say is actually about that. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, when your job is to defend single motherhood, you quickly find you don’t have much to say. Perhaps realizing that, Brown spends most of her word-count on things like the Zimmerman/Martin case and unsubstantiated guessing that what Lemon is doing is all about ratings and “allying himself with Bill O’Reilly.”
Those irrelevancies take up over half her article, but eventually she buckles down to the job at hand by attacking Lemon’s description of a single mother.
The most egregious example of this is the lone mother Lemon references in both of his “Get it together, black folks” segments. Lemon paints her as emasculating and cruel, in describing the way she’s scolded her young son for crying before calling him — and eventually Lemon — N-words. He claims that, when he intervened, she went to a deli and emerged wielding an umbrella, poised to strike him.
Not only do none of us have any way of verifying that this happened the way he said it did, but it’s the only example he proffers to support his idea that the black family is disintegrating due primarily to unwed motherhood.
I can’t speak for Lemon, but to pass off the wide-ranging personal and social problems associated with single parenthood the way Brown does is far more than simply irresponsible; it begins to look like an excuse for one of the most pernicious of social trends. I don’t care if Lemon made up the mother and child incident entirely. The point is that children raised by single parents, white or black, (and probably male or female, although we don’t have much data on children raised to adulthood by unmarried fathers) display a range of social and personal dysfunction that any society without a death wish would be wise to do its utmost to correct. Brown wants to make the matter personal, as if a take-down of Don Lemon in some way substituted for an argument in favor of single parenthood.
Quixotically, Brown goes on to recognize the fact that the problem of single motherhood is more than just that of “absent fathers,” and thank goodness for that. But she then skewers herself on this lance:
And just this weekend, conservative columnist George Will pointed to single motherhood as a large part of what he called “Detroit’s cultural collapse.” Despite being the laziest explanation for the majority of society’s ills, single motherhood is not the bogeyman without which we’d all live morally spotless, fiscally responsible, racism-free, crime-reduced lives. And marital status is not an automatic or accurate indicator of father involvement.
First, this is nothing but a straw man argument. No one on the planet believes or has ever said anything to the effect that a society without single mothers “would be one in which [we live] morally spotless, fiscally responsible, racism-free, crime-reduced lives.” That’s just silly but it gives a good idea of the weakness of the pro-single-mother argument. No one claims two-parent families are a panacea, just that society would be greatly improved if more children were raised in them.
And Brown’s reference to marital status is once more a straw man. Again, no sensible person believes that forcing unmarried couples to the altar is a magic potion for what ails us. What’s needed is a systematic approach to teaching children and young adults the necessity of children having two parents for the duration of their childhoods. That means teaching that divorce is not “just another lifestyle choice,” but a last resort. It means teaching boys and young men that unprotected sex can produce a baby and, if it does, that baby is as much theirs as it is the mother’s. That in turn means providing for the child and being its everyday father not for a month or a year, but for 18 years. And it means teaching girls and young women that children are not theirs alone, that just because their mother did it, doesn’t mean that single motherhood is a safe bet for optimum child well-being. For the most part, accomplishing those things will mean marriage for mother and father, but if the couple can remain together in a stable and loving – but unmarried - relationship, that works too.
Finally, Brown engages in the popular fantasy that maternal behavior and children’s outcomes are, in some way, the same.
We respect ourselves quite well. We fight on behalf of those too weary to keep marching. We call out racism — including that which is perpetuated by members of our own race — when we see it. And we love ourselves in ways that have, for several generations, been willfully ignored by mainstream media.
I couldn’t be happier that Brown and the rest of the “we” she refers to respect and love themselves. But whatever her mutual admiration society may believe, children need two parents and much social science shows that single mothers are a big part of the reason fathers remain so distant and uninvolved. It’s a message she doesn’t want to hear, but she’s going to keep hearing it because it keeps being true.
The National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
The National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting. Thank you for your activism.
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