By Bea Hinton
To this day, I don’t know what my father looks like. In 24 years I have had no contact with my biological father; it is more likely that someone reading this post has more information on him than I do. Despite my complete disconnect from “that” side of my family, I’ve always known I was half white. And for as long as I’ve been aware of my mixed ethnic heritage, I’ve identified as a black girl, unequivocally. How could I possibly pledge allegiance to a culture I didn’t know? To people I’d never talked to or even seen?
Over 24 million children in the U.S. live without their biological fathers. These children are, on average, two to three times more likely to experience education, behavioral, health, and emotional problems; use drugs; be poor; engage in criminal activity; or be victims of child abuse than their peers residing with two (married) parents.
Fifty percent of these fatherless children have never even been in their father’s home.
With nearly two in three black children growing up without their biological fathers and the exaggerated association between black males and criminality, black men have become the ultimate symbol of personal failure—their abandoned children, the ultimate statistics. The issue of black fatherhood has become paramount to the larger conversation on parenting and socio-economic outcomes for children. If you’re not talking about black men, you’re not talking about absentee fathers.
Even President Obama has opined on this national conversation, creating the Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative and making responsible fatherhood one of the key priorities of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. While his speeches on fatherhood have been widely criticized in liberal circles for their conservative and retrograde content, the president’s rhetoric remains quite indicative of public opinion on the state of [black] fatherhood.
Perhaps more than his words though, President Obama’s presence in and of itself remains a significant contribution to and reminder of the topic of black fathers. During public appearances he often invokes his childhood to relay a story of challenge and triumph, one characterized by single motherhood and extended familial support: another black boy without a black father.
But what if President Obama’s father were white? How many of those upwards of 50 percent of black children that reside in single parent households have white fathers? And, more important, what happens to black children whose white fathers abandon them?
The impact of my father’s absence on my development and outlook strays from the quintessential list of “daddy issues” that often come to mind when we hear a woman grew up without her dad; I don’t care for older men and I wasn’t a teen mother or stripper. Instead, my issues have been inextricably linked to racial politics and personal identity. At an early age I unconsciously internalized the “white savior” complex, often daydreaming about how life would be with not just any dad, but a white dad. How great my life would be if I were brought up with my white family! I’d live like all the happy white children on television! I fantasized about the day my father would come and save me from my atypical existence. It never happened.