‘Anti-racism’ and Black Family Structure

The racism of those who self-anoint as “anti-racist” has been much commented on.  It’s not simply their frank disdain for whites and any trait or behavior they identify as “white,” but also the fact that their “solution” to the problem of black-white disparities would make matters worse by depriving blacks of agency.  As far as I’ve been able to tell from countless readings, none of those disparities, according to “anti-racists,” results from black behavior and therefore no alteration of black behavior can have the least impact on those disparities.  So, for example, the idea that black incarceration rates might somehow be connected with black crime rates is blasphemy to “anti-racists.”

So it comes as no surprise that one of those behaviors that plays an enormous role in black-white disparities – nonmarital childbearing – is now being attacked as less important than originally thought.  Leading that attack is Christina Cross, a sociologist at Harvard.  (Here’s what I wrote about her work back in 2019.)  Now, to be fair to Cross, she’s not saying that family structure isn’t important to children’s well-being or their subsequent well-being as adults.  On the contrary, in her op-ed in the New York Times in December, 2019, she wrote,

I’m not suggesting that the two-parent family is bad for children of any race or ethnicity. Indeed, scholars have noted its wide array of benefits for children, parents and communities, especially those from middle-class backgrounds. 

What she is saying is that black kids’ educational outcomes are less associated with family structure than are white kids’.  My concern is that her work will be bootstrapped to promote the “anti-racist” narrative that family structure is of little or no importance and therefore can be safely ignored in attempting to address black-white disparities.  And if we can do that, then we can the more easily conclude that only white racism is to blame.  Such is the goal of the “anti-racists,” so why not recruit Cross’ work to that end?

Indeed, her use of extremely dodgy methodology suggests that may be her intention.  After all,

[W]hen I use a flexible measure of family structure that incorporates adults most responsible for raising black adolescents, I find that 25% were raised by a single parent and approximately 50% were raised by both biological parents.


Yes, to arrive at a cohort of just 25% of black kids being raised by a single parent, one does have to take a “flexible” approach.  As the Annie E. Casey Foundation, that’s tracked child well-being for decades, records, for the past ten years, the percentage of black kids in single-parent families ranged from 64% to 67%.  So how did Cross whittle that down to just 25%?  She simply defined certain adults who aren’t actually biological parents as, well, biological parents, thereby drastically (by 40 percentage points) and inaccurately reducing the percentage of kids who grow up with a single parent.  If the guy two houses down does most of the care for a child, then – presto! – he’s the kid’s biological parent, according to the Cross way of thinking.  


Kids tend to do worse when they’re raised, in whole or in part, by an adult who’s not their biological parent.  So, by including certain adults as biological parents who in fact aren’t, Cross was able to “demonstrate” that the presence of “biological parents” in a child’s life is a less important factor in his/her outcomes than previously thought.  It’s not a very subtle way of moving the goal posts.


So it’s worthwhile to note the work of far more scrupulous social scientists, Brad Wilcox and his colleagues, Wendy Wang and Ian Rowe at the Institute for Family Studies at the University of Virginia.  Using two massive federal databases of representative samples of children, they show what we’ve known for decades – that kids tend strongly to do better with two biological parents in the home than in any other arrangement.  Wilcox, et al focus on child poverty, college graduation and incarceration and find that, regardless of whether they’re white or black, male or female, kids tend to do better by broad margins if they’re brought up in intact families.  In every category studied, the effect of growing up with just a single parent or in a step-parent home is powerful and negative for blacks and whites, males and females.  That of course corresponds to decades of previous research.


Contrary to Cross, the impact of a single-parent upbringing appears in the Wilcox analysis to be essentially identical for black and white kids in the likelihood of poverty and incarceration.  Kids in single-parent homes are over three times as likely to live in poverty and over twice as likely to go to prison as are their peers in two-parent families.  You’d think the crowd that crows its support for blacks would take note, but so far they haven’t.


Now, as Wilcox points out, it’s true that the effect of single parenthood on white kids is stronger than on black kids when it comes to graduating from college.  Whites with just a single parent are 60% less likely to graduate from college and blacks are 40% less likely to do so.  That 20 percentage-point difference is worth noting, but doesn’t necessarily buttress Cross’ claims.  


A great number of explanations suggest themselves for the lesser impact on blacks in college graduation figures.  Things like differences in SAT and ACT scores, IQ scores and a culture of more TV and less study all contribute to lower achievement by black kids, so family structure may not have the same impact, specifically on education, that it has on white kids.  All those influences and more have been richly detailed by various black scholars like Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Glen Loury, Walter Williams and others.  And Charles Murray’s recent book Facing Reality adds to our understanding of black underachievement in education and involvement in crime.


If there is a movement afoot to undermine acknowledgement of the importance of family structure in black-white disparities, it’s a disturbing one.  Wilcox is right that reducing the rate of black non-marital childbearing won’t alone erase those disparities.  But no single thing would do more in that direction and without it, those disparities will unquestionably persist.  Nothing is more important for blacks than sharply reducing their rate of single-parent upbringing and increasing the role of fathers in children’s lives.  Nothing.  Plus, doing so is entirely within blacks’ capability.  They can do it by themselves without the “help” of whites that, in the past, has been so detrimental to them.


I suppose it’s that very fact – blacks’ fate being entirely in black hands – that so disturbs those who call themselves “anti-racists.”  After all, blacks successfully doing for blacks would, at a stroke, destroy the very foundation of their ideology of sea-to-shining-sea white racism and black victimization.  


And we can’t have that.  Can we?

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