Article Written by: Priscilla María, Mental Health Advocate and Writer
Successful rapper Wale recently opened up about the challenges he faces trying to parent his three-year-old daughter Zyla Moon. Specifically, Wale finds it difficult to express tenderness towards her and enlists the help of a professional to explore his inability to comfortably open up. In doing so, Wale recognized that his parenting style is a continuation of the parenting he received during his childhood. Admittedly, Wale is not an affectionate person and was not raised in a household where expressing love verbally was the norm.
Nigerian-American Wale believes that cultural norms explain some of his parents' behaviors. Nonetheless, Wale remains affected by such memories as his mother never sending him off to school, kissing him on the cheek, or kissing him goodnight. Instead, Wale recalls feeling “fear” and accepting necessities like food and shelter as substitutes for “I love you.”
Wale's vulnerability about his inability to parent affectionately is important because Black fatherhood is often tainted by toxic stereotypes. The trope of the absent Black father has been grossly popularized in the media and is backed by misleading statistics. For instance, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 71.5% of Black children were born to unwed women in 2013. In reality, almost 60% of Black fathers live with their children. In other words, Black fathers are not overwhelmingly absent from their kids' lives but are simply not married. Furthermore, CDC data supports that Black fathers are as likely, if not more likely, than fathers of other races to be involved in the daily lives of their children.
In addition to stereotypes, the sanctity of Black fatherhood is threatened by systemic forces that are greater than an individual household. For instance, Black men live with higher rates of certain mental health conditions and with less access to mental health treatment. In fact, the CDC reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death for Black adolescents and men between the ages 15 and 24. Additionally, suicide rates have doubled since 1980. Economically, Black Americans typically experience an unemployment rate that is double the rate experienced by whites. Apart from health and financial obstacles, Black boys and men are the constant targets of systemic racism. Specifically, they are killed by police at a rate of 96 out of 100,000 deaths. In comparison, white boys and men are killed by police at a rate of 39 per 100,000 deaths.
Looking at the totality of the circumstances, the weight of systemic racism and a flawed mental health system have been dumped on Black fatherhood. This weight is enough to interfere with the ability of Black fathers to prioritize self-care and to be emotionally present for their loved ones. It is not enough to point out the difficulties of being a Black father in America or to direct Black fathers to seek help. Instead, the Black community and non-black allies must collectively counter harmful stereotypes about Black fathers, speak out against the rampant anti-blackism we see, and check in with Black fathers. It doesn't cost us money to lend emotional support to Black fathers, it only requires our time, energy and love.