By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
True story. I had not been in the otherwise all-white newsroom of the Gary Post-Tribune a month before I could overhear a crowd of reporters yacking it up as they often did after morning deadline.
The loudest voice was a popular reporter who primed his captive audience for what he promised was a rib-slapping funny joke. It went like this: “What is the epitome of confusion?” He paused and then answered, “Father’s Day in Gary.” The men bellowed.
After the small group dispersed with each returning to his cubicle, it seemed a good time for my first one-on-one chat with the distasteful comic. Without sharing verbatim the conversation, rest assured that I delineated my concerns and intolerance for similarly inappropriate racist humor.
My goal wasn’t to change the habits of these “good ole boys.” They just needed to know not to bring it around me – that it was not okay. Word got around the newsroom about the attitude of this audacious Black “rookie” reporter. Though perhaps occasionally shunned, I never heard another joke from over the remaining 10 years I was there.
Their immediate conclusion was that “the new guy” was too thin-skinned and had no sense of humor. On the contrary, few love a good laugh more. The problem was subject matter – and the knowledge that if you made them feel like it was alright, the situation would eventually escalate out of control.
It is always easier to eliminate the risk than monitor the propriety of a risqué joke.
Of course, perpetrators feign ignorance in the wake of obliterating sensibilities. Some subject matter is simply off limits. One is race. Even if they try to substitute a Latino, Polish or Asian “goat” for the punch line. The second “no fly” zone for jokes is what we call “the dozens” – disparaging remarks about mother or father.
My journalism colleague’s unacceptable quip violated both.
Even some African Americans at the time suggested that I lighten up. Somehow, the bitter and constant antagonism Black fathers faced in the U.S. pardoned their being the punch line of the joke. That went way beyond the pale. I knew that the more ridicule America forced Black men to endure, the harder for society to respect their manhood.
The emasculation of the Black American male started before the Mayflower, peaked during enslavement, viciously intensified during the Jim Crow era and remains pertinent as ever in the new millennium. Some scoff at the notion, quick to point out social and economic gains of African Americans in 2018. That “progress” is deceptive.
The esteem availed African American men diminishes every time there is another unarmed victim of a deadly police shooting When every Black child or woman is abused or disrespected by those sworn to serve and protect, Black men become more marginalized. African American fatherhood is down by law when public housing forbade the presence of a Black male in the household.
There is no mystery. The conspiracy to undermine the respectability of the African American father is strategic and broad. Drug abuse, alcoholism, targeted by police, reduced to a commodity in court, mental illness, unemployment, health needs, and lack of economic opportunities impair the efforts of millions of brothers from coast to coast.
Most Black men rise to the challenge of fatherhood in spite of obstacles.
“Black fatherhood” is a phrase almost always accompanied by the word “crisis” in U.S. society. But in reality, the data based upon years of research conclude that hands-on parenting is similar among dads of all races – scientific evidence dispelling the myth that Black fathers are happily disconnected and irresponsible.
The Pew Research Center, which has tracked this data for years, consistently finds no big differences between white and Black fathers. Gretchen Livingston, one of the senior researchers studying family life at Pew, was not at all surprised by the new CDC data. “Blacks look a lot like everyone else,” she pointed out.
Although Black fathers are more likely to live separately from their children — the statistic that’s usually trotted out to prove the parenting “crisis” — many of them remain just as involved in their kids’ lives. Pew estimates that 67 percent of Black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and just 32 percent of Hispanic dads.
There is compelling evidence that the number of Black dads living apart from their kids stems from structural systems of inequality and poverty, not the stereotype that African-American men somehow place less value on parenting.
Equal numbers of Black dads and white dads tend to agree that it is important to be a father who provides emotional support, discipline, and moral guidance. A stat you might not have expected: Black dads are more likely to think it is critical to provide for their children financially. In other words, brothers are working it out as fathers.
Happy Father’s Day!
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.