Saturday, July 12, 2008

When Talking Down Is Stepping Up...

July 12, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist of The NY Times

The Rev. Jesse Jackson wants to do what to Barack Obama? Ouch!

And why? Because he thinks Mr. Obama’s speeches on fatherhood have been too hard on black men and not hard enough on The Man? I’m sorry, Mr. Jackson, but that’s just ... what’s another word for crazy?

It must be hard to have worked so long to change the rules only to have this young guy swoop in and change the game, but come on. Let’s not be crass. It’ll be O.K. You’re still somebody.

Now allow me to set aside the personal issues for a moment and refocus on the issue at the crux of Mr. Obama’s speeches (lest it be lost in the hullabaloo): more black men need to be present in the lives of their children. On that, there can be no argument.

According to the United States Census Bureau, black children are the only group more likely to live with a single mother than in a two-parent household. (That’s in part because black men are the least likely to be married and most likely to be divorced or separated.) And, according to a 2002 report by Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group, in 1997 single black mothers were the least likely to receive full child support payments (and most likely to receive none) and only about half of black children had any contact with their absent fathers in 1996.

If Mr. Obama’s message of stepping up is “talking down,” then so be it.

Being more engaged with our children is, for the most part, the result of a choice, a simple one: when thinking about how to spend our time and money, we must think first about our children. That’s it.

Are there social ills, racial injustices and economic hardships in the black community? Of course there are. Are there biased judges, outmoded laws and difficult exes? Yes, some. Do these issues excuse child support not paid, time not spent, hugs not given, foreheads not kissed, “attaboys” and “big girls” not spoken? Absolutely not.

Not only do we need to do it for our children, we need to do it for ourselves: being better fathers makes us better men. A rich relationship with our children gives us purpose and perspective, teaches us that manhood is as much about tenderness as toughness, and provides an oasis of the deepest, best love in a hostile world.

I applaud Mr. Obama for his stance on this issue. There are no excuses. As for Mr. Jackson, there are no words.

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