On Saturday 25th July, I went to a seminar designed for black people to talk about the problems we face today, and the solutions we can put into effect, to change the narrative. On this occasion, the topic was on absent fathers in the black community.
I found out about this event through my partner, Ackeem who happened to know one of the speakers organising the event. The seminar took place at the Chinese Community Centre in Hackney, East London. The venue was full of black fathers and mothers, children, family members and friends. It was so good to see so many black men with their sons and daughters. We are so used to seeing black women with the children but we don’t see enough of black fatherhood in our own community, let alone the TV. At this seminar, everyone came together to ask ourselves – why?
To begin with, a guest speaker from Canada gave a speech on why we need to understand how the black family unit is broken and needs healing. I remember a fact he shared with us which was shocking. He said that in America, there are 1 million black men in prison. These 1 million men could be fathers. That’s a possible 1 million children without their daddy.
After the speech, the seminar moved on to a workshop session. Everyone was placed at a table where we had intensive and enlightening discussions about the issue. Sean, who was the leader of the table me and Ackeem were seated at, began by saying,
“Raise your hand, if you did not grow up with your father”
Sean had already expressed that his father was absent and Ackeem didn’t grow up with his either so I knew his hand would be up, but I did not expect the response that was to follow. I, out of 8 people (myself included), was the only one with my hand down. I was shocked. I was already aware of the issue but to be sat on this table seeing 7 hands up really struck a chord.
Sean asked us – why? Why is it that all but one of you grew up without a father? And what is the absent father in the black community? Well, let’s begin with the ‘what’, because this needs to be understood before we grasp the ‘why’.
A sister pointed out, that the absent black father is a generational cycle. She is completely right. She, and two other sisters revealed that like themselves, their mothers also didn’t have their fathers around. That is when I really began to see the cyclical impact of the problem. If a daughter grows up without her father, how will she know what it means to be loved? Who is there to show her how a man is supposed to treat and respect a woman? Respect goes both ways, so how will she understand that yes, a man should respect a woman but a woman needs to give him something to respect. How will she see that being a ‘bad bitch’ is not the way to do this?
Children are always watching and copying their parents. People say boys need their dads and girls need their mums. In some aspects this is true but I think it works both ways. Boys need to learn how to respect a woman and learning this has to come from both parents. If a mother is not with the father of her child, how will she show her son that being a ‘bad boy’ and treating women as sexual objects is not the way forward? How will the son SEE this when his dad is not there to show him? I’m not saying that all black boys and girls growing up without fathers will become adults who end up on the wrong path. Ackeem didn’t have his dad around but he has become a conscious, knowledgeable, respectable and inspiring man. But, the sad reality is, that too many black boys go down the wrong path because their fathers were not there to guide them, as there is only so much a single mother can do.
We all agreed that the main reason why so many black children grow up with absent fathers is due to the economic castration of the black man. How? Because the white supremacist system seeks to weaken the black man, meaning that he will have the most difficulty compared to other races, to climb the economic ladder, and to secure his finances for himself and his family. The black man can even find it harder than the black woman to secure a good job.
Too many black people choose to reject their cultural heritage. Instead, some of us choose to assimilate to European lifestyles or ideals. Some choose not to seek their history. They’d rather watch TV than read a book. When you reject your culture and history you are rejecting the building blocks for the stability of your self-esteem and ultimately, your family. How can you teach your sons and daughters to be conscious men and women when you’ve chosen to forget your cultural customs and traditions, which carry so much wisdom – a wisdom which is meant to be passed on from generation to generation. This is the cycle that we should be initiating, not the cycle of the ‘dead-beat daddy’.
So what can we do to break the cycle?
Communication is key. Black men and black women, we need to talk to each other, listen to each other, understand each other and learn from each other – then the healing process can begin.
Education. We need to teach ourselves and each other what the system won’t, regarding our true histories, our spirituality and our own cultures – who we are as a people, where we come from and why we carry so much pain. The passing on of knowledge from generation to generation has to be revived. In Africa, old people are not kept in nursing homes like in Europe. They stay home and TEACH their grandkids the way of life. We need to spend more time with our elders and bathe in their wisdom.
Read books like one breathes air. Read to achieve. Learn your history. Share it. An absence of knowledge is a lack of living. Feed your mind and the rest will follow.
Practicing home/group economics is a must. Black women spend ridiculous amounts of money on weave, relaxers, perms and skin bleaching products. All for what? To try ‘something different’ or to emulate European beauty standards? Stop throwing your money to the Asian man who owns hair shops for BLACK PEOPLE. Black men and women, stop throwing your money away to the white man who wants you to buy that Gucci purse or wallet. Stop and think. Think about what we could achieve if we invested in ourselves.
My dad bought a large piece of land in Ghana, for what was the equivalent to around £1000, to build a shop in honour of his late mother, and to build a petrol station to aid a new road. I am also planning on buying some land to build a healthcare centre for the disabled and mentally ill. Buying land in Africa and building on it is so easy I’m amazed more of us aren’t doing it. This is the investment we should be participating in. Not only are you giving back to your people but you will be accepted by them. Whether you are black American or black British or whatever, you will be part of the community. This is a great way for black fathers to make productive money for themselves, their family and their people. Make some noise with coins and see what happens. Build and protect your own. Change your narrative.
Remember, there is always a father figure in the family. Uncles, brothers or granddads – they too can do the duty that can lead towards breaking the cycle and healing the black family unit.