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.
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.