Growing up in Harlem, I would often hear the following phrase: “Black males are an endangered species.” That particular gloomy phrase has an unambiguous premonition of death and destruction for Black males in a society that is misanthropic and xenophobic of Black males. However, in 2012, Pan-African scholar and strategist Reggie Mabry postulated a groundbreaking theory that determined by deduction that the African is indeed the human species and everyone else is a member of the human race who simply came from the African species. Due to the Arab slave trade and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as a species, we are endangered. Simply put, we are at risk of economic, political and cultural extinction given the reality that in the United States, we do not control our economics, politics and culture. Structurally and systematically, we are inhibited from properly controlling, managing and influencing our children, families and communities.
In his vintage work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Pan-African scholar Walter Rodney (1981) states the following:
In Africa, before the fifteenth century, the predominant principle of social relations was that of family and kinship associated with communalism. Every member of an African society had his position defined in terms of relatives on his mother’s side and on his father’s side. Some societies placed greater importance on matrilineal ties and others on patrilineal ties. Those things were crucial to the daily existence of a member of an African society, because land (the major means of production) was owned by groups such as the family or clan – head of which were parents and those yet unborn (p.36).
Undoubtedly, the family is a major source of economic, political and cultural power. Currently, we don’t have such power because the fabric of our lives, our families, has been seriously damaged and disabled. In his classic tome, Blueprint for Black Power: A Moral, Political, and Economic Imperative for the Twenty-First Century, Pan-African scholar Amos N. Wilson (2011) states the following:
The family is a primary organization, a fundamental generator or source of power where human and non-human capital resources of its members are pooled and shared as means of achieving its vital goals. These goals include sexual reproduction, socialization of its children, securing a common habitation, providing protection and affectional relations among its members, maintaining and enhancing the social status of its members and providing for their economic well-being. The family is a system where power is customarily and legally exercised; where its members are not only related by kinship ties, by blood and a shared history, but relate to each other in terms of membership rights, duties, behavioral expectations and authority. The character and personality of individual family members, especially its young, are developed, shaped and continuously influenced by the organization and exercise of power and authority inside and outside the family unit. Consequently, the family as a power system markedly influences its members’, particularly its youngs’ attitudes toward and relationships to power and authority both within and without the family (p. 57).
Hence, the Arab slave trade, Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Middle Passage, chattel slavery, colonialism, imperialism, medical apartheid and Jim Crow shattered the fundamental economic, political and cultural power base and unit of Africa and Black America, which consist of Black parents and their children. Disastrously, with the advent of the New Jim Crow, this structural and systematic impairment of the Black family is currently being played out in family and criminal courts throughout the United States.
Case in point: the New York City Family Court Annual Report (2011) states the following:
National statistics clearly indicate a preponderance of minority children in the child welfare system at every stage in the process, as measured against the numbers of Caucasian children. Children of minority race and ethnicity are more likely to be the subject of initial child abuse and neglect reports. After investigations are conducted on these reports, minority children are more likely to be found to have been the subject of abuse or neglect. Minority children also enter foster care and stay in foster care for longer time periods than Caucasian children. Statistics for New York City from 2009 are staggering. Caucasian children represent 26.9 percent of the overall child population but only 7.1 percent of the children subject to child abuse reports, 5.9 percent of children in indicated reports, 3.7 percent of children entering foster care, and 4.1 percent of children residing in foster care. Black children represent 28.3 percent of the overall child population but constitute 52.6 percent of children entering care and 56.2 percent of children residing in foster care. Disproportionate representation can also be seen for Hispanic children and children of other minority races and ethnicities (p.6).
Moreover, in PowerNomics: The National Plan to Empower Black America, Dr. Claud Anderson (2001) states the following:
The nation’s political and judicial systems are racial monopolies that form the superstructure of society. Those monopolies make nearly political and legal issue about race a forgone conclusion. Politics and the court system tend to be more anti-Black than the larger society. Legal justice has come to mean ensuring that Blacks do not break the law while forcing them to cheerfully submit to Whites breaking the law. Though their population monopolies ensure that Whites will always dominate and rule, racism within the political and legal systems guarantee Blacks will rarely win (p. 22).
Thus, for Sophia Kerby (2012) of the Center for American Progress, “1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.” Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2012) indicates that “one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.” For Kerby (2012) and many others, it is not by chance that “African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.” Accordingly, the Sentencing Project (2009) determines that “African American juvenile youth are about 16 percent of the youth population, 37 percent of their cases are moved to criminal court and 58 percent of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.” As a matter of fact, Kerby (2012) further indicates that “Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement” as “African Americans make up two-fifths and Hispanics one-fifth of confined youth today.” Moreover, Kerby (2012) surmises that “harsh school punishments, from suspensions to arrests, have led to high numbers of youth of color coming into contact with the juvenile-justice system and at an earlier age.” Brother Malcolm X’s youth is a classic example of this type of excessive abuse and injustice as exhibited by a family and criminal court system that ultimately shattered the fabric of his life, the Little family.
Therefore, before Black boys can become productive men, loving husbands and caring fathers who could protect and provide for their families and communities, they are faced with what Dr. Leonard Jeffries of the World African Diaspora Union (WADU) coined as an arrested development where a flagitious system hinders the development of Black children along with their relationship with their fathers, families and communities. Accordingly, Professor James Small of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) would often profess that during our Maafa (African Holocaust), Europeans along with the Arabs kidnapped and enslaved the Africans, mostly our youth – thus, depleting the continent of Africa of its most valuable and precious resource: our children, which ultimately set the course in making us an endangered species. Unfortunately, in 2014, as we approach Father’s Day on June 15, many of our children will not be with their fathers as a result of a pernicious system that continues to dehumanize us by violating the sovereign right of Black fathers to fully engage with their children, families and communities.
In Father Presence, Family Structure, and Feelings of Closeness to the Father among Adult African American Children, Patricia A. Thomas, Edythe M. Krampe and Rae R. Newton (2007) pinpoint that “39 percent of African-American children did not live with their biological father and 28 percent of African-American children did not live with any father representative, compared to 15 percent of white children who was without a father representative.” As such, a repugnant and discriminatory family court system along with its insidious court-appointed child psychologists and attorneys has yet to be exposed and investigated for its role in perpetuating this pernicious reality that destroys not only Black men, but also Black children, families and communities.
Black children throughout the United States should have their equal right exercised not violated where they can engage in a positive enduring relationship with both parents, especially their fathers. That is why it is imperative to nudge, lobby or compel the various branches of the United States government to investigate and prosecute those key officials in family and criminal court who abuse us and obstruct justice. Therefore, the government of the United States must create and establish federal mandates that will secure the inherent right of Black boys to develop properly as Black men along with protecting the inalienable right of Black fathers to be full-time fathers, not “every other weekend” fathers.
In colonial America, prior to the 17th century, the law indicated that the status of the child follows that of the father and the father had the absolute control and custody of his child or children. By the 17th century, white males with property changed that law because by rape, they were impregnating Black female captives, and now by law, these children were no longer the beneficiaries of their father’s status and inheritance. Thus, the status of the child or children was that of his or her mother who had sole parental responsibility. According to Mary Ann Mason (1994) in From Father’s Property to Children’s Rights: A History of Child Custody, “within the hierarchy of the household the adult roles relevant to child custody, in descending order, included: father, master, putative father, guardian, stepfather, married mother, mistress, widow, stepmother, unwed mother, and slave mother.” The so called “slave” father was purposely not part of that full custody arrangement, and this pernicious practice of not acknowledging Black men as fathers is embedded in today’s society as our roles and responsibilities as custodians of our children are heavily restricted by an illiberal and iniquitous family court system. Our roles and responsibilities as the cerberi of our children, families and communities are also further compounded by our unprecedented rate of incarceration, unemployment, illiteracy, substance abuse, mortality, mental illness and other health-related issues along with being victims of violent crimes.
Professor Patrick Delices is a Pan-African scholar who taught the History of Haiti, Caribbean Politics, African-American Politics, and African-Caribbean International Relations at Hunter College and served as a research fellow at Columbia University for the late, Pulitzer Prize historian Manning Marable. Professor Delices can be reached at [email protected]