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 I suspect this issue of raising children gets mixed up with those of abandoned

wives and broken hearts and have very little to do with the raising of children.

My own "abandonment" was probably the best thing that happened to me.



Sexual Morality, Black Male Abandonment, and Stable Households

By Rudolph Lewis


Part 1 Straying from Official Orthodoxy

The act of black male abandonment of  one's woman and children is as old as American slavery and the “search for the Promised Land.” Indeed, such acts have always been a hot and contentious issue and probably should be avoided, in many cases, especially in self-promoting speeches of the well-to-do and by politicians altogether who wish to damn the poor and the oppressed.  For preaching about it in a middle-class church will not solve the problem. Shutting his mouth on the topic would have been my advice to Obama, especially in that his appeal in his Father's Day Speech was not primarily addressed to those afflicted with the conditions of separation from their children.
My friend the historian Wilson Moses shared this information with me:

When he [Booker T. Washington] visited Charleston on Sept 12, 1898, with his wife Margaret Murray, it was she who spoke at Old Bethel on the "alarmingly increasing illegitimate birth among our women and girls."   (Harlan, ed., BTW Papers 4:464), and of "the dens of abandoned women, of profligate men·" (Harlan, ed., BTW Papers, 4:466).   

Washington devoted some lines during a Sunday evening talk at Tuskegee on Apr. 1891 to matters of sexual morality (Harlan, ed., BTW Papers, 3:139).  But you make a good point, Washington's bootstraps philosophy does not frequently address matters of sexuality or the structure of the black family.

Mrs. Margaret Washington and Mr. Frederick Douglass lived in bourgeois households. From their perch, such moralizing came quite easy. For me it does not in that I was never wealthy enough to establish one. Though I have never suffered the failures of a father in never having been one, I was quite passionate in my critical response to Obama’s Father's Day SpeechStraying from Official Orthodoxyand probably pissed off many Obama enthusiasts who chorused his denunciation of black dads.  Two e-mail correspondents demanded I send them no more opinions on Obama until November. I regret this forced silence with those who differ with me on public criticism of the poor.
Bob Herbert wrote a more reserved and sympathetic piece, which includes this shocking information:

In 2006, for the first time in U.S. history, a majority of all births to women under 30 — 50.4 percent — were out of wedlock. Nearly 80 percent of births among black women were out of wedlock. By comparison, when John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, just 6 percent of all births were to unmarried women under 30. Since then, the percentages have risen across the ethnic spectrum. One-third of white, non-Hispanic women under 30 who gave birth in 2006 were unmarried. For Hispanics, it was 51 percent. . . . One of the main reasons out-of-wedlock births have skyrocketed in recent decades is because it has become so difficult for poor and poorly educated young men to earn enough to support a family. NYTimes

But Obama enthusiasts will also reject and take issue with Herbert's modest views. I too was a hands-over-ears Obama enthusiast after Iowa up until he declared victory so I brooked no criticism directed at the Illinois Senator. For me it was let us defeat Hillary Clinton, first and foremost. We have accomplished much in his racial milestone of “presumptive nominee” for the Democratic Party. I have no regrets for my primary vote or my former enthusiasm. But there are concerns greater than Obama and greater than his winning the presidency. We want a better world and to have that the stances Obama takes on issues are of great import and it's our duty to be as critical as we can of any candidate or political officeholder—whatever his color, religion, or political affiliation.
But "abandonment" in today's reactionary racial climate is a loaded word that should be used with care. It cannot be used without prejudice in every unwedlocked case. In my personal history, it does not explain fully the circumstances with me and my siblings or of that of my family over ten generations. Like my mother sometimes women don't want the men who fathered their child or children or they are in no situation to take up with the father of their child. Or they don't want marriage or a household with that man. I have two nieces who made that choice. Feminism has changed the sexual morality of today's women. They won't give in to shotgun marriages, no matter what Obama's moral values are, or those of the Religious Right.
One should take a closer look at Paul Coates' situation., as described in The Beautiful Struggle. He had children by three or four women. He was no model bourgeois householder, either, as that which is suggested by Obama's Father's Day Speech. Paul became fairly prosperous and it seems he was able to do fairly well for all of his  kids and his households, former and present. In any case Paul's situation as his son Ta-Nehisi Coates relates is an exception.
I am indeed concerned that there are some women who are ever so willing to give into media as well as Obama's stereotypes of black men. And then when there is a questioning of these hyped up views, some women want to speak of black men’s "bruised egos" that should be "placed on a shelf." Or they proclaim Obama's right to speak on this perennial issue because his African father's abandonment of his Kansas wife and son to attend Harvard. After such female pronouncements we retreat to our righteous corners with inadequate responses to the social dilemmas of black families, and racial oppression.
In many cases, I suspect this issue of raising children gets mixed up with those of abandoned wives and broken hearts and have very little to do with the raising of children. My own "abandonment" was probably the best thing that happened to me. I can allow the heroism of my mother while appreciating the situations of her men. One might suggest as well that Obama's abandonment by his father was the best thing to happen to him as well. Obviously abandonment in his case has a positive outcome, not to speak of his father's early death. We cannot allow such Obama moralizing be a divisive element within our communities. Black men and women must have a much more sober view.

Part 2 Myths about the Black Family after 1865

The Black family was more in tact—mother and father raising children together—right after slavery than it is now in spite of the slave wages, menial jobs, terrible housing, poor schools, and inhumane segregation that existed after 1865. Miriam

Everyone's sociology is different depending on her sense of morality, and probably her own personal family history. For me bourgeois moralizing  provides an incomplete picture of life lived, especially on the issue of male abandonment when it comes to blaming poor men because they are unable to do what rich man are most capable of doing. Damning poor black men from pulpits because they lack neither wealth nor power is simply wrong. That kind or moralizing reaches a short distance for those it is supposed to benefit. One ends up preaching to one’s blue gowned choir or to the hosting preacher of a 20,000 member church. Or worst, it’s a reaching out to white male racists whose prejudices one attempts to sustain, and whose votes one attempts to secure for one’s own successful election.

This kind of moralizing began after the construction of the Western model of the bourgeois household, which contains the nuclear duo of the dominant male breadwinner and his refined educated woman (wife) as the moral center in the home. This model was sustained by the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the colonies. This bourgeois moralizing plays off black male abandonment (or, in other terms, the runaway slave)—for the integrity of this model depends on one's economic status. The bourgeois householder has to be fairly well off financially to hold together this model. As one eyes move down the economic ladder this bourgeois family model becomes modified and frayed, then shattered, and further scattered into parts so that it can never be pulled together or assembled in a lifetime, especially for the poor, and this is even more true for the black youth and young adults of today.

Here’s a correspondent who shares a similar historical insight:

Obama, the black family, and racial uplift—The belief that the patriarchal, nuclear family is the only proper living arrangement and the only healthy means of raising children was not invented by Africans or American slaves. Scholars have shown that before contact with white missionaries, very few if any black people on either side of the Atlantic believed the patriarchal, nuclear family to be natural or godly. To be sure, some lived in patriarchal, nuclear families, but that is different than the belief in the natural virtue of the institution.

The family ethic that Obama promotes was invented by Europeans and most vigorously promoted by white Americans in the 19th century. Since Frederick Douglass, who condemned "that lazy, mean and cowardly spirit, that robs us of all manly self-reliance" and the "degraded and repulsive" sexual behavior of slaves, African-American political leaders have preached the family ethic as the foundation of "racial uplift." (Thaddeus Russell)
Straying from Official Orthodoxy

Now I have a good sense of my family from the 1870s to today. I knew those who were born around this time in their old age. They were my great grandparents. Some were married and some were not. Some had children in wedlock and some did not. On the whole, in my family, economically, it didn't make a damn bit of difference, whether one was married or single moms and dads. The overwhelming factors were poverty and racism. Were there personal factors? Yes, humanity always oozes over the sides of societal structures, and called illicit.

Mama's mother Laura was married but her husband TeeJay worked on the other side of the county (40 miles away) in the lumber business (cutting logs to be milled) and came home usually about once a month maybe every two months. At the most TeeJay earned for harvesting the forest for Gray Lumber Company was probably three or four dollars a day.  Laura and TeeJay had about nine children. The youngest, Mama, only got to the third grade. During this period she claims she had one pair shoes and two dresses. And her papa managed to send only $15 dollars home a month. But that's a child's memory. What transpired between TeeJay and Laura one can only imagine.

Keeping her marital vows, Laura kept a garden and worked as a washerwoman and maid in the house of the nearby white Hartleys. From whom she received hand-me-down clothes and at times milk and cheese. Manhood needs and a need for excitement led TeeJay to do some bootlegging (not unlike the drug-selling of young men today) and to have a son, Uncle Henry, in the adjoining county by another woman. I made an effort to put the events of TeeJay's story in fictional form, not so much as a justification of TeeJay’s manliness, but to relate the facts of black existence around the turn of the 20th century.

On the other hand, Daddy's mother, Mary Lewis, had eight sons and was never married to any of the six fathers, including the father of her half white son. Mama likes to think that Laura, the suffering wife, was more respectable, holding down the moral center of her household. Maybe she was more respectable but I am certain she lived a much less interesting life than Mary Lewis. Mary worked in the fields along with her sons. Both Laura and Mary died poor, though Laura died dirt poor, passing down three acres and a house inherited from her father. Mary never owned anything but her body and when she died that turned to dust.

Now one can moralize, all one wants about these and like situations. If one is just, the facts make obvious the drudgery of these economic generated situations. Poverty crushes: it does not sustain the artifices of bourgeois morality. TeeJay was barely able to feed his family, not to speak of the one in Southampton. Whether he was in the household every day would have made little difference. TeeJay did what he could do and Laura understood even if his children did not.

Uncle Percy’s father was the owner of the land on which he and his brothers and his mother worked, including Daddy, who was the son of a former slave. With greater wherewithal, that white landowning father did less than TeeJay. But the overall problem was a combination of poverty and a lack of political power. More specifically, problems generated by racism complicated the whole issue of black male abandonment. One can toss in the problem of womanizing as an indictment, like Alice Walker in The Color Purple. But that is looking at a crooked pine of sexual boredom while blind to the forest of racial oppression. For a black man or a woman then and now, money was to be made in the professions or as a government worker. TeeJay nor any of his sons and daughters rose to those heights.

That too was the case with Mary Lewis. None of these in my family lived in or were able to pass along the means for their children or children's children to rise to the bourgeois household. Some approximated it, like Daddy and Mama or like Uncle Richard and Aunt Katherine. But that is only a seeming, for their households were much closer to that of their parents. That is, these women were forced to work outside the households as well, most often as menials. But their husbands were able with their skills and talents to do as much or more physically for their households than their wives. And even with all the work of Mama and Daddy, working in white folks’ kitchens and white folks’ fields, it was not enough to sustain the security and education for their five daughters, most of whom were forced to marry as teenagers or young adults poor men who could not sustain those households.

Some of these men born and raised in these agricultural counties, with their little education, migrated to Jersey, or Philly, or B'more and found jobs that paid quite a bit more than the $3  a day of Down South jobs. Most started in the most lowly jobs at industrial plants. A few were lucky to get higher paying positions in government jobs to the point that some were able to retire with pensions. But for most who worked at plants like Bethlehem Steel they did not make enough to sustain a household without a working wife because of the cost of living in urban centers. And that was the case even if there were union shops; without a high school diploma there was hardly a chance.

None of those urban center "advantages" exists today in our service economies. In the real world, most 19 to 24 year olds have job opportunities with minimum wages less than (inflation adjusted) than their grandfathers made. Facing that kind of situation how can they even make homes for their children that their great great grandmothers and fathers made for theirs? They can't. Thus, there’s the need for government intervention between today’s deregulated capitalist enterprises and the black working man and woman.

Check out these recent reports on how "Black Male Oppression in USA Deepens":

The share of young black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990's. In 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless — that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts. Even when high school graduates were included, half of black men in their 20's were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000. Incarceration rates climbed in the 1990's and reached historic highs in the past few years. In 1995, 16 percent of black men in their 20's who did not attend college were in jail or prison; by 2004, 21 percent were incarcerated. By their mid-30's, 6 in 10 black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison. In the inner cities, more than half of all black men do not finish high school. (Erik Eckholm, Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn. NYTimes)

Then there is the impact of the drug laws in which even the presidential candidates are familiar. It is another situation in which the Obamas refused to consider in his infamous Father's Day Speech There’s the study by Renny Golden, War on the Family: Mothers in Prison and the Families They Leave Behind. Below is a partial review by Sojourner Magazine:

War on the Family is a searing indictment of the booming prison industry and the hell it has unleashed on the victims of its "success"—primarily African Americans, Latinos, and Arabs. "We can't build prisons fast enough to hold this world's cargo of dark-skinned prisoners," Golden writes. "The U.S. incarceration rate rose almost 300 percent between 1980 and 1998, eclipsing both South Africa and Russia's all-time international imprisonment record.. . . 

Her statistics are revealing: "...the female state and federal prisons population increased 275 percent between 1980 and 1992, while violent offenses increased only 1.3 percent." While not suggesting that incarcerated women live admirable lives or are only victims, Golden proves the idiocy of the race-based "drug-addicted welfare mother" stereotypes that are often propagated by the "family values" Christian Right. She deconstructs the myth that it is "personal choice and individual character, rather than social opportunity" that enables social transformation.  Sojourners Magazine

There were some government regulations and programs that provided some defense against our boom/bust economy but the Clintons and their black political allies in the 1990s cut back on that. Thus we arrive at the exceedingly serious crisis today that we have in our urban centers as well as in the rural counties like Sussex. As Herbert as written, "it has become so difficult for poor and poorly educated young men to earn enough to support a family." The Obamas should know as well as Renny Goldman the need  to "deconstruct"  the myths about "personal choice and individual character" and the dire need for greater "social opportunity" for the poor and oppressed.

I do not deny the need for "parenting." But maybe grandmothers and grandfathers or whatever man or woman who is skilled to parent should take over the duties and responsibilities that most poorly uneducated teens and young adults within a radically changing economy are unable to do. Obviously the nuclear model the Obamas suggest is not going to happen by speaking of its necessity or demanding that it exist. Moralizing on such subjects only works for the moralizer.
So if there are those who have a solution other than moralizing the issue I am with you.
Those who call for expert parents, maybe the state, which has already intruded with punitive measures, should indeed take over fully the task for poor parents, if indeed the problem is so dire for the political moralizers. Like education the government only sets up demands and markers without providing the full necessary monetary supports. I would even accept mass adoption by those middle-class folks who think themselves experts and skilled to do what the birth parents are unable to do, namely, provide a home in which moralizers can provide the whole range of education absent in poor homes and protect these children from their immediate world of drugs and crime.

The Obamas are millionaires. Their "contemporary model" is only a slight variation on the bourgeois household, tempered by feminist gains of the last 20 or 30 years. Again, I say it is not appropriate for those not millionaires or very well off (say a $100,000 household). For usually among the poor even if you have partners, the two cannot even reach an economy that approximate a living wage of one worker. Yet there are those who say money has nothing to do with partnerships and that lack of money is even more reason for people to work together and support each other. But that is a disturbingly naïve view.

It is when people lack money that they are most at each other's throat. I'm with D. H. LawrenceChristianity is for the wealthy. And so is parenting and childrearing. The rest of us by circumstances go about it haphazardly. It is a hit and miss proposition. Sometimes one gets lucky. It is the toss of the dice, predestination, or some kind of witchcraft that some child of the poor succeeds at all. And in those instances, like a certain Supreme Court Justice, we wish the person had not been so successful. 

Beyond the bitterness of divorced and abandoned women and their advocates, we are in need of an extensive and objective book on the economics of love and financially stable nuclear households and how they work or don’t work in reality. We need working solutions not moralizers spouting their prejudices from pulpits. Most of all we need leaders to cease their jibes about the inadequacies of black men.

posted 26 June 2008

Barack Obama's Father's Day Speech (video): Note the prepared speech is not the same as the spoken speech

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The Crushing Economic Reality for Black Dads

Black American males inhabit a universe in which joblessness is frequently the norm: 'Seventy-two percent jobless!' said Senator Charles Schumer, chairman of Congress's Joint Economic Committee, which held a hearing last week on joblessness among black men. 'This compares to 29 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts.' Senator Schumer described the problem of black male unemployment as 'profound, persistent and perplexing.' Jobless rates at such sky-high levels don't just destroy lives, they destroy entire communities. They breed all manner of antisocial behavior, including violent crime. One of the main reasons there are so few black marriages is that there are so many black men who are financially incapable of supporting a family. 'These numbers should generate a sense of national alarm,' said Senator Schumer. . . . Robert Carmona, president of Strive, an organization that helps build job skills, told Senator Schumer's committee, 'What we've seen over the last several years is a deliberate disinvestment in programs that do work. Bob Herbert. The Danger Zone March 15, 2007

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Profiteering From Crime -- "Today we are changing the course of our country," said Nanci Pelosi, the new speaker of the US House of Representatives at her swearing-in ceremony. The Democrats are committed to act against a commercial sector that specializes in prisons with assets estimated at nine billion dollars. US Private prisons take advantage of the labor force of convicts. The industry leader in private prisons is the Correction Corporation of America (CCA) that has become a genuine empire. It holds half of the market and is one of the top five companies on the rise at the New York Stock Exchange. -- In the United States there are some two million inmates, the largest prison population in the world. Although the crime rate has not increased, the number of prisoners is ten times greater than in 1970. Many of the prisoners are held in one of the 120 private centers that are part of the Prison Industrial Complex, which takes advantage of a correctional policy outlined by "the war on drugs" started by Ronald Reagan in 1981 that is founded on repression and minimizes education and efforts at reinsertion. Jose A. Fernandez Carrasco Radio Habana Cuba


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2006, 44 million workers were employed in low-wage jobs: A new report from The Mobility Agenda finds that over 40 million jobs in the United States - about 1 in 3  - pay low wages ($11.11 per hour or less) and often do not offer employment benefits like health insurance, retirement savings accounts, paid sick days, or family leave. Moreover, these jobs tend to have inflexible or unpredictable scheduling requirements and provide little opportunity for career advancement. . . . The authors define a low-wage job as one paying substantially less than the job held by a typical male worker. The trend since 2001 has been a sharp decline in wages for these jobs. Worse, reviewing the evidence on economic mobility, the authors conclude, "In the U.S. labor market, it is not possible for everyone to be middle class, no matter how hard they work. Moreover, it has been getting harder to do over time." March 2007, Heather Boushey, Shawn Fremstad, Rachel Gragg, Margy Waller, Understanding Low Wage Work in the United States

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William P. Quigley, Ending Poverty As We Know It: Guaranteeing a Right to a Job at a Living Wage. Temple University Press, 2003

In cities and counties across the country Americans are asserting their right to a job at a living wage. This campaign has been built around the idea that those who work full time are entitled to live above the real poverty line. Professor and public interest lawyer William Quigley, who helped lead the fight to give the workers of New Orleans a raise, presents the moral case for doing so, and argues that Americans should codify the right to a job at a living wage in the Constitution..—From the Publisher

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Beth Shulman, author of The Betrayal of WorkThis week's raise from $5.15 to $5.85. It was frozen in place by Congress for a decade. It will go to $6.55 next summer and to $7.25 the summer after that.But it will remain far short of the real value it had a half-century ago. In 1956, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the minimum wage was 56 percent of the national average wage. The value shriveled to 31 percent last year. But EPI analyst Liana Fox said that even with the increases, she projects the $7.25 will be only 41 percent of the national average wage of $17.86. The real value of the $7.25 an hour in 2009 will only be $6.42. Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, concurred with somewhat different numbers, projecting a drop in value down to $6.93. . . .[Joe] Biden is worried about his net worth being as low as $70,000. At $5.85 an hour, it would take nearly 12,000 hours, or nearly six years, to earn that amount. Even six rolls of toilet paper requires a half-hour of work at minimum wages.—Derrick Z. Jackson An unlivable minimum BostonGlobe

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President

By Ron Suskind

A new book offering an insider's account of the White House's response to the financial crisis says that U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner ignored an order from President Barack Obama calling for reconstruction of major banks. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind, the incident is just one of several in which Obama struggled with a divided group of advisers, some of whom he didn't initially consider for their high-profile roles. Suskind interviewed more than 200 people, including Obama, Geithner and other top officials . . . The book states Geithner and the Treasury Department ignored a March 2009 order to consider dissolving banking giant Citigroup while continuing stress tests on banks, which were burdened with toxic mortgage assets. . . .Suskind states that Obama accepts the blame for mismanagement in his administration while noting that restructuring the financial system was complicated and could have resulted in deeper financial harm. . . . In a February 2011 interview with Suskind, Obama acknowledges another ongoing criticism—that he is too focused on policy and not on telling a larger story, one the public could relate to. Obama is quoted as saying he was elected in part because "he had connected our current predicaments with the broader arc of American history," but that such a "narrative thread" had been lost.—Gopusa

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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Related files: Obama Insults Half a Race   What do you say to fathers  Straying from Official Orthodoxy  The Parade of Anti Obama Rascals    Feminism and the Criminalization of Masculinity   

Rattlers and Other Acts of Love   Economist Glenn Loury