Opinion | Aretha Franklin eulogy was true. Single-parent homes created chaos for blacks.

Bill Johnson is retired director of administration for the Wayne County Commission and a former columnist for The Detroit News.

The Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., pastor of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, Georgia, ignited a cauldron of controversy by suggesting black America is losing “its soul” at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. His description of single mothers and absent fathers as tantamount to “abortion after birth” was, in truth, on point.

However, like ex-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the Star-Spangled Banner to protest police brutality against black people, Williams picked the wrong venue to draw attention to a legitimate social issue.

What was supposed to be a celebration of the life of one of America’s greatest entertainers was turned into a disgusting circus for political and social grievances.

That said, the issue raised by the cleric is borne out by statistics showing that more than 70 percent of black babies are born to an unmarried mother, compared to half that number for white mothers.

In Detroit, the out-of-wedlock birth rate is even higher, at 81 percent in 2015, according to state statistics. Many will have multiple children with different partners and never marry.

As the reverend astutely noted, this is a demographic recipe for community chaos, and the primary contributor to the social breakdown that permeates too many “black” neighborhoods today.

Sixty years ago, the “married with children” model was pretty much the norm. Wedlock was the glue that held communities together. In fact, during the early ‘60s, the percentage of married black families exceeded that of white families. What seemed normal then, is an aberration today.

Black family structures started to unravel when government rules required the unemployed or underemployed husband be out of the house in order for the mother to receive welfare benefits for her children.

About the same time, large numbers of young, white women who subscribed to the “feminist movement” came to see men as expendable and unimportant when it came to having and rearing children. Black women recklessly followed that lead. Community institutions, the black church in particular, silently began to sanction a woman’s choice to bear children outside of marriage.

Even the casual observer of contemporary Detroit would be pressed to find much evidence that an “intact” black family ever existed.  But it would be black children from fractured families who would be cast into a social hell from this sweeping cultural change.

The greatest poverty, for example, is found in female-headed households. Social scientists refer to this category as the “feminization of poverty.” Here you find a poverty rate more than five times that of married-couples.

Children raised in these homes are also many times more likely to drop out of school, sell or abuse drugs, get in trouble with the law, end up in prison and/or become a homicide statistic.

Boys, handicapped from birth, typically inherit-by-default an unmet hunger for a father. Without role models and armed with flawed codes of manhood and fatherhood, they are notoriously prone to be aggressive and abusive to women. And like their missing fathers, these boys will assume an isolated relationship with the children they abandon to the mother’s care with no understanding of the consequences.

Lacking any sense of sexual responsibility or psychological preparation for parenthood, boys and girls from these unions unwittingly engage in a ritualistic cycle that sow the seeds of their destruction.

Williams’ passionate speech may not lead to the reinstatement of the out-of-wedlock stigma, or renewed acceptance of the marriage premium.

More likely, without “divine” or massive public intervention, the accelerating pace of this social dilemma will continue to move us to a point beyond redemption.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

Like what you’re reading in Bridge? Please consider a donation to support our work!

It takes time, money, and hard work to inform Michigan readers and leaders with substantive, in-depth, future-oriented news and analysis. If you value our journalism, please consider a one-time donation or a monthly contribution. It takes just a moment to donate here. Please join the thousands of Bridge readers who are helping grow and sustain our nonprofit, in-depth public service journalism in Michigan.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments

Le Roy G. Barnett
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 8:56am

This commentator says that "large numbers of young, white women who subscribed to the 'feminist movement' came to see men as expendable and unimportant when it came to having and rearing children." Spoken like a man who has absolutely no idea what the feminist movement means. This is the kind of misconception that infects the minds of many conservatives, and one can only hope that people who think like this will take the time to educate themselves about the true nature of the concept.

Dad
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 9:26am

There is zero evidence for your claim here, Mr. Johnson, that "large numbers of young, white women who subscribed to the “feminist movement” came to see men as expendable and unimportant when it came to having and rearing children. Black women recklessly followed that lead." You made that up based on faulty personal assumptions and biases. As a journalist, I expect higher standards from you.

Bones
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 10:14am

You spend an entire article lamenting Black single mothers, but don't once mention the last four decades of intense, deliberate criminalization of young Black men through the racist failure that is the War on Drugs. You can't have an honest discussion on this topic if you're willing to overlook the realities of the Prison State and it's disproportionate impact on Black communities

Carl
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 3:21pm

There can be more than one truth here. Your points have validity, as do his. But let's be honest, in most discussions yours is the primary and his position is negated when discussing reasons why the black family unit crumbled in America, when once it was strong. IMO, the welfare state is the primary reason the black family foundation crumbled as it rewarded destructive behavior and perpetuates itself through generations (and the same has happened to white families.)

sam melvin
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 12:33pm

raised by "SINGLE" Mothers..yes married But Single ........wife of Soldiers in the service son USA> no help once you/me left the "FORT" ask me ...

sam melvin
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 12:35pm

single mothers.....wife of soldiers are the most single mothers once they move to a civilian community! Uncle Sam denote help...or looks after children and mothers,

Detroiter of 5+...
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 2:01pm

C'mon Bridge! You must do better. I think with so many great (and deserving) critiques to the pastor's eulogy- it is sad to see this op-ed piece published. We need to stop being stuck in these decades-old rants on "the problem with the black community is....." This eulogy was disrespectful to Aretha Franklin, her family, and the black community. Stop using the national stage to demonize black men and not consider various black family structures. Some people are choosing to parent single handedly, some children have single and married gay parents, and some children have lost both parents. We have to stop acting like quantity overpowers quality of relationships, mentors, and resources in a child's life.

.otown
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 2:27pm

"About the same time, large numbers of young, white women who subscribed to the “feminist movement” came to see men as expendable and unimportant when it came to having and rearing children. Black women recklessly followed that lead." -- Bill Johnson

Tell that to Harriet Tubman and Madame CJ Walker. Black women didn't follow anyone's lead. Black women LED, period. Read a few history books, Bill. Even the women's movement you deride as a 1 trick pony and worthless acknowledges the role black women played in providing example, forging and creating the women's movement in general.
*(by the way I'm done with the Bridge for printing this reactionary predictable rightwing nonsense designed to demonize blacks via courier Johnson) Bill Johnson doesn't even have a basic or rudimentary knowledge of American history and the black feminist role model- black women were working out of the home before white women, were single parents out of necessity (via brutality of slavery, exploitation, war) before white women, and were organizing to work and travel freely before the current day 20th/21st century women's movement began.
Don't get it twisted. Give the GOP their check back Bill. Nothing will stop black folk and sane Americans of all hues in voting to nullify the racist incendiary madman in the WH's - your overt voter suppression tactics won't work.

Todd
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 2:54pm

Spot on but they'll always just blame others. That's what they do.

Bones
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 6:11pm

So predictable, yet so racist and ignorant

Alan
Tue, 09/11/2018 - 7:50pm

Many years of well-intentioned programs and initiatives have done little to break the cycle of crime and poverty in our inner city neighborhoods. Maybe it is time to consider other viewpoints like those of Mr. Johnson. Fathers (or father figures) are vitally important to the character development of young men, most of whom are looking for male role models. I have seen many young men, both black and white, look to the street for their role models because there were no solid men in their lives. Social programs and social justice initiatives must build upon a firm foundation in our homes and communities to be successful.

Pete
Mon, 09/17/2018 - 6:38am

Well said Allen. Thank you for supporting the true nature of the article here. Churches need to lead the way in the communities to speak up and promote father/mother family structure. Let's get national politics out of the way and promote harmony in families. Let's make community leaders accountable to support family structure as well.

duane
Wed, 09/12/2018 - 11:55am

When the focus is one the wording and even preceptions of a writer and the problem he is trying to give a different perspective is ignore we see more about the politics and see less about hope.
The decimation of the family by the legislation that brought us the 'War on Poverty' [politics] was predicted by US Senator Patrick Moynihan from NY, a well respected 'liberal'. His concerns were ignore in favor of the politics, much as we are see in here by commenters.
The politics of partisanship, not party by political posturing, is condemning another generation of youth in poverty to the struggles of their parent.
I really don,t care about why the author thinks this the problem was created, I want to hear his ideas of how to learn what he sees as the barriers to prevent the continuation of the problem, what are the barriers to solving or mitigating the problem. I want a conversation started to work at preventing another generation not taking advantage of a system that allows to take control of their future.
I believe it is within the hands of the individual, I want to hear other ideas, I want to hear why my perspective is wrong [don't blame it on my being 'elite' as I have already heard here on Bridge or I will have draw out my 'Little Rascals' picture of my youth] or how it can be don't better.

Robyn Tonkin
Sun, 09/16/2018 - 2:12pm

People who denigrate Mr. Johnson for his views as expressed in his opinion piece do this gentleman a distinct disservice. Mr. Johnson and I are both retired, so we come of a cohort of Americans who remember intact families as the norm, and we know, by inference and statistic, that family and child outcomes were better back then. I bet we also both remember neighborhoods where all the adults took it upon themselves to keep an eye on all the children...
I was a feminist who marched in candlelight vigils commemorating women who had been killed by what were termed "back alley abortionists." My feminism was class based. I was passionately in support of childcare, funded by tax revenues, that would be available to all dual income families. I was most concerned about raising the wages and employment standards for vulnerable women in what were quaintly called "the pink collar industies"-- beauty salons, restaurant work and commercial establishment cleaning and maintenance, and non union sweatshops. I above all supported abortion on demand, and I still do. Also, I passionately believed the words to a stanza of "Bread and Roses":

" As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men, for they are women's children and we mother them again".

After all, when my German great grandmother left virtual slavery in Pomerania on a leaky sailing ship to join her brother's family in America, she brought not only her parents and her children, but came to a new land hand in hand with her husband.

But I got busy--with marriage, with child rearing and sometime employment outside the home to supplement the family income. I put feminism on the back burner, as did many women. The women who remained as activists in the feminist movement seemed obsessed with sexual mores, and gender politics. As the 1980's became the 1990's, I no longer recognized the current generation of feminists as people I had anything in common with. Many of them seemed interested only in raising the "glass ceiling" for already privileged women, and in heaping invective on men. Gone was any interest in the plight of ordinary people.

I would never make any judgement on the marital mores of black people. I am not black and would never pretend to know anything about the struggles black Americans face. But I do know that broken homes among white people, which usually leads to male children being deprived of a father in the home, often leads to diminished lifetime success for those children. Sadly, those who say there are no data to back this up are mistaken. No dad doesn't help the girls in the family either. It is deleterious to behave as those one half of a parental unit is unimportant to the point being disposable. Hold that view, and you get the interpersonal problems we have now in this society, no matter what racial demography you are examining.