One of the most persistent statistical bludgeons of people who want to blame black people for any injustice or inequity they encounter is this: According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 in nearly 72 percent of births to non-Hispanic black women, the mothers were unmarried.
It has always seemed to me that embedded in the “If only black men would marry the women they have babies with” rhetoric was a more insidious suggestion: that there is something fundamental and intrinsic about black men that is flawed, that black fathers are pathologically prone to desertion of their offspring and therefore largely responsible for black community “dysfunction.”
There is an astounding amount of mythology loaded into this stereotype, one that echoes a history of efforts to rob black masculinity of honor and fidelity.
“So then,” you may ask, “how is it that 72 percent of black children are born to single mothers? How can both be true?”
First, there is a growing number of people who live together but don’t marry. Those mothers are still single, even though the child’s father may be in the home. And, as The Washington Post reported last year: “The share of unmarried couples who opted to have ‘shotgun cohabitations’ – moving in together after a pregnancy – surpassed ‘shotgun marriages’ for the first time during the last decade, according to a forthcoming paper from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Furthermore, a 2013 CDC report found that black and Hispanic women are far more likely to experience a pregnancy during the first year of cohabitation than white and Asian women.
Second, some of these men have children by more than one woman, but they can live in only one home at a time. This phenomenon means that a father can live with some but not all of his children. Levs calls these men “serial impregnators,” but I think something more than promiscuity and irresponsibility are at play here.
Mass incarceration has disproportionately ensnared young black men,
sucking hundreds of thousands of marriage-age men out of the community.
There is no doubt that the 72 percent statistic is real and may even be worrisome, but it represents more than choice. It exists in a social context, one at odds with the corrosive mythology about black fathers.
The New York Times