Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reality TV-Please let us get our house in order
By Rachel Miller-Bradshaw

Watching the new season of +VH1's +Love & Hip Hop  made me realize one of two things-that there is either a concerted effort to depict the Black Family as nothing more than baby mamas, rolling stones, and Mandingos or the psychosis of our community is so entrenched in our thinking about it’s structure that we relate to and frankly are more entertained by negative representations of the Black Family.  There is a movement to repair the matriarchal structure of the Black Family reverting it back to a two-parent household where both a mother and father live together functionally to raise productive and morally upstanding children.

Networks are driven by ratings-which in turn brings in the advertising dollars.   The business of television is understood, but ratings cannot be the sole determining factor when representing the African-American community-a community by the way, that has endured denigrating images through film and later television.  Some will argue that African Americans should stop supporting these shows if we are so disgusted by how families are represented.

Watching both Peter Gunz and Stevie J impregnate various women with no marital commitment perpetuates the “rolling stone” or “buck” image that has followed black males post-slavery.  Filming these men’s antics and promiscuity, probably amplified for the cameras, is successful at proving one thing; this is empirical evidence that a percentage of black males have inherited generational behaviours of mating with women, creating families, and then removing themselves from the unit afterwards. Another show airing on the same network “Black Ink” is filled with storylines of each of the tattoo artists having children with various women, child support issues, and volatile relationships with the mothers of their children.

Network executives can continue to do better by highlighting more shows like TI & Tiny: A Family Hustle that displays the lives of a hip hop Brady Bunch.  The show is positive displaying a couple’s love for each other while successfully raising children, some from previous relationships.
Couple Chrissy Lampkin and rapper Jim Jones, original cast members of Love & Hip Hop- dissipated from the entertainment brand and now present a better familial storyline including Ms. Lampkin taking on the mother role of Jones’s son who stays with them for the summer.

Based on interactions with fathers participating in my feature documentary ON MY OWN, and also during my frequent visits to fatherhood organizations I truly believe that Peter Gunz,  Stevie J, and the Black Ink cast represent a percentage, but not the majority of black fathers in our community.  They are not the norm.  Images are powerful, and reality TV executives should keep that in mind when looking for juicy television. When you see better, you do better.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Communal Attitudes are needed in the fight against single parenthood and dysfunctional families
By Rachel Miller-Bradshaw

Very few reputable newspapers, newsmagazines and TV programs present day use their platform to tell the stories of the underrepresented or invisible individuals living and coping everyday with their impoverish circumstances.  The New York Times series "Invisible Child-Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life" candidly and visually tells the story of a mature homeless young girl, living in a family of 10, who helps to care for her siblings while maintaining some sort of dignity living in a decrepit housing shelter in Brooklyn, New York.

Judging from the description aforementioned, one would immediately think that this young girl's circumstance derives from a single parenthood arrangement; however, this is not the case.  There is a father present-- though it is not the girl’s biological father, her stepfather legally married to her mother has been raising her from a very young age.
In this situation, Dasani’s parents have fallen victim to drugs, a negative influence that is all too often present and abused in poor communities.  Dasani’s mother once worked as a janitor and her stepfather was laid off from a shop where he was a barber.  Both are undergoing drug rehabilitation.

Many conservative idealists and organizations like the Heritage Foundation have diagnosed single parenthood as the sole reason many women and children suffer through poverty.  Their solution for this societal dilemma is simply for women to avoid out-of-wedlock births and opt for marriage.   Dasani’s story debunks this conservative ideology by just exposing the reality that lack of marital structures isn’t the only reason why women and children suffer socioeconomically.  Policies, racism, and the economy are also factors that play major roles as to why the Black Family in the United States and the American family structure as a whole, can be infiltrated. Marriage doesn’t always serve as an impenetrable buffer to life and society.

Past generations often talk about the days when they could knock on their neighbor’s door and borrow milk or eggs.  Not to mention, when someone’s child was out in public misbehaving any adult witnessing the bad behavior could discipline the child and then escort the child to his or her parents for further disciplining.   American society has lost its communal mindset, straying from the proverbs "it takes a village to raise a child", and "you are your brother’s keeper".  This new individualistic approach has hurt the people most in need of attention, upliftment, guidance and love, which are people that have lost their way or were disadvantaged and disenfranchised from the start.  With the continued budget cuts to social programs it is necessary that we become more intermutal for survival purposes.

Governmental dependence will not solve the familial breakdown continually damaging the structure.  Churches, more non-profits, politicians, community activists, and all Americans have to be more concerned about their fellow neighbor’s well being.  That way once another family is secure and escapes poverty their stability is invested back into community making it stronger.  Imagine going back to a time when we all knew our neighbors on a first name basis.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Movement to Repair the Black Family is on Hope Road
By Rachel Miller-Bradshaw

The statistics are bewildering: Seven out of ten Black children are born out of wedlock and live in single-parent homes; and the marriage rate for birthing African-American women is at an all time low. Complicating the matter, 70 percent of black women in the United States between the ages of 25 and 29 have never been married, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2009.

Many people look at these numbers and presume that the Black Family is in such hopeless disarray that it can never be fixed, but it’s heartening to note that there is a surging movement to rectify this problem by targeting a figure absent in 90 percent of Black households, the father.

The notion that family structure for Blacks in America can ever be as stable as it is for the majority white population is justifiably debatable, in large measure because it got off to an unhealthy start.  During the slave era, a husband was easily separated from his wife and children on his owner’s whim, if he was sold, for example.  A male slave needed his owner’s permission to marry, and if his love interest was from a different plantation, her owner had to consent to the marriage, as well.  Many marriages were arranged, and not based on love or even attraction between the man and the woman.  Then there was the “bucking” process, where male slaves were used to breed with various female slaves to increase the plantation’s slave population, and the owner’s wealth in the process.

In the aftermath of emancipation, President Abraham Lincoln’s Freedom’s Bureau was quickly defunded; this eventuality, coupled with pressures from a still racially oppressive South, compelled many black men to leave their families and migrate north in hopes of finding a better life, after which they would send for their wives and children.  But what they too often found were a lack of jobs and restricted living conditions in ghettos in northern cities, which undermined their dreams of reuniting with their families.

By the 1920s, the percentage of single parent homes in Black communities had soared to about 20%, but that statistic would be dramatically eclipsed as the twentieth century wore on.  In 1965, sociologist and then Assistant U.S. Labor Secretary (and later New York Senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his landmark report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.”  Moynihan concluded that erosion of the nuclear family among African Americans had resulted from continued racial oppression in the aftermath of slavery and Jim Crow, and warned of devastating social consequences if the federal government did not intervene.

In his 1939 book The Negro Family in the United States, sociologist Edward Franklin Frazier presaged Moynihan’s conclusions by positing essentially the same causes of absentee fathers in Black families, and suggesting that a high percentage of unemployment and high incarceration rates among Black men were additional contributing factors.  In the 1970s, the welfare system threw up yet another barrier between African American couples by discontinuing benefits to mothers if it was proven that they associated with the fathers of their children (or any other interested male suitors).  However, the roots of this devastating behavioral pattern remain traceable to plantation life and the bucking system of the slavery era (the 1970’s Temptations hit "Papa was a Rolling Stone" addressed this phenomenon).

However there is cause for optimism, and to believe that Black men will eventually reincorporate into the family structure, if for no other reasons than they are desperately needed, the Black community is struggling horribly without them, and – oh yes, it’s just the right thing to do, and they know it.  For my documentary ON MY OWN, I interviewed numerous black mothers, who spoke with angst and frustration about the difficulties of raising children without their fathers present.  The film explores the problem, its genesis, and its debilitating consequences in a quest for solutions, and I believe that some noteworthy progress is being made. 

Fatherhood organizations like the Father Knows Best program founded by legendary New York Knick basketball star Allan Houston, and the Forestdale Fatherhood Initiative, formerly headed by former pro-football player Scott Leach, are aggressively taking to the streets to teach fathers the importance of being active in the lives of their children.

On the legislative front, President Obama’s “Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood” funding initiative, as well as Mayor Bloomberg’s “Young Men’s Initiative” help shine a national spotlight on the tireless work fatherhood organizations are doing.  Other politicians are following suit.  For example, on March 29th of this year, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz held a “Bronx Fathers Taking Action” forum to talk about fathers and their position in the family, excerpts from which appear in the film. 

Teenage women are contributing significantly to the decline in black single motherhood.  According to the non-profit, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy black teen pregnancy has declined by 52% among 15 to 17 year-olds and 36% among 18 to 19-year olds, a historic low, that displays great promise for the Black Family in The United States.

And for their part, men – who have often been criticized as emotionally vacant – are starting to open up about their feelings and motivations.  At the Bronx fathers’ forum, it seemed that some men sincerely wanted to be active, responsible fathers, but that their good intentions are being thwarted by social forces such as unemployment, imprisonment, disproportionately high early death rates among African American males, and psychological damage resulting from social and political disenfranchisement.  One single father said he attended the forum to get insight from other fathers and the panelists to “better parent his two sons.”

Researching and producing this film afforded me a level of confidence that this long despairing condition can be reversed, and that absent Black fathers can and will find their way back home.  For that to happen, dialogue on the subject must be continued, outreach must be expanded, and one by one, men must be welcomed back into their families to love and nurture their spouses and children.  In the opinion of this Gen-Xer, the negative stereotype of the absent Black father needs to be retired, and a positive glow of acceptance must replace it.  The future of the Black family in America depends on it, and the rest of American society will benefit from it.  It’s often said that no man is an island; no group is an island either, and African American males must be encouraged to reinsert themselves into their families’ lives.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Decline in teenage pregnancy could lower single parenthood in the black community
By Rachel Miller-Bradshaw

A Black baby. Glamy. Fotolia.com

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy just released data announcing teenage pregnancy among non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks has declined by 52 percent among 15 to 17 year-olds and 36 percent among 18 to 19-year-olds making this a historic low.
In the African-American community, teenage mothers are a major factor contributing to the staggering percentage of single mothers.

In producing the film On My Own, I’ve discovered that mothers who start bearing children in their teenage years suffer greatly due to lack of education and other resources. Two out of three of the mothers in the documentary birthed their first child in their teenage years. These mothers faced struggles including: evictions, difficulty pursuing or completing their educations, maintaining a career, and living a cultured life all because of the high demands of motherhood, a role that is increasingly difficult when ill-prepared.

Not to mention, many are forced to depend on government assistance for substantial periods of times. The likelihood of the father, who is probably a teenager himself, accepting his responsibility is significantly lower than men more advanced in age. Adult men are most likely more accomplished and able to support themselves.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy attributed the teenage pregnancy decrease to increased and improved contraceptive use, fewer partners and other factors. However, circumstances such as a poor economy with social programs constantly on the chopping block, welfare reform, the uphill rise of the Black career woman, and a shift in anti-marriage ideology (women wanting their boyfriends to put a ring on it first) must also be taken into consideration.

Since the black family in the United States has been matriarchal in structure for significant time periods post-slavery, black women have observed their mothers struggle and now realize their desire to reverse the pattern.

During the interviewing process the single mothers talked about looking for love from a male figure to remove the abandonment void from growing up without fathers.  They also mentioned their desire to become mothers believing the child will provide unconditional love lacking in their life.  The pregnancy decline could also show that this fairytale mindset is decreasing among teenage black females.
This is definitely good news for the African-American community.

Let’s keep talking to our daughters and sons, about being sexually responsible, practicing abstinence, and the importance of marriage. Relationships and families should be formed when women and men are mature enough to wisely pick a mate. Besides, how many people stay with their teenage love?

This positive data could play a significant role in decreasing single motherhood in the Black community in the United States. If there was any doubt that the Black Family could be fixed this national data proves that is an attainable goal.