Don’t blame black women for poverty

By Tina M. Patterson

“I believe that African American women are the most powerful women in the world.”

LeBron James, in addition to being one of most recognizable athletes on the planet, is a role model of black excellence and noted humanitarian. He’s also the son of a single black mother, but that did not stop him from attaining greatness. On the contrary, he spoke these words while praising his mother, Gloria James, while receiving an award at Harlem’s Fashion Row. In the speech, he thanked her for being in the position to able to give back and showcase his belief in the power of African American women.

His message is a refreshing testimony to the power of single black motherhood, and comes on the heels of a still controversial eulogy of one of the world’s most powerful African American women, the late great Aretha Franklin, herself a single mother of four boys. Rev. Jasper Williams, with the world watching, espoused an ugly rhetoric that black women cannot raise black boys and that black homes were broken without the presence of fathers.

The eulogy, difficult and disturbing to watch, was deservingly condemned by the Franklin family. Yet, the issue of single motherhood is still viewed as a problem exclusive to the black community, particularly in the belief of single black mothers as the source of poverty and decay. Decade after decade, we are told that poor black homes are the fault of single black mothers. Notably, by the Moynihan report, conservative black scholars like Thomas Sowell, and the vile racial caricature of the “welfare queen” by former President Ronald Reagan.

While these portrayals and beliefs still exist, numerous studies have continually proven these views to be untrue. Most significantly, single white parents hold more wealth than black married couples. How can single black mothers be the source of poverty and disparity in the black community? How can marriage be deemed the economic saving grace of the black household when a single white parent holds more wealth than a black man and black woman as husband and wife combined?

Rather than single out black women as the source of poverty and lack of progress, studies repeatedly cite the same sources as the true impediment to progress: the legacy of slavery and discrimination that has prevented blacks from accumulating and maintaining wealth. This speaks to what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1967 that, “When white Americans tell the negro to lift himself by his own bootstraps, they don’t look over the legacy of slavery and segregation. Now I believe we ought to do all we can and seek to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps, but it’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

Black women have faced these same hurdles and personal responsibility lectures, and have more than made due, despite shouldering the blame for poverty in their communities. Even though continually chided for raising black children in single households, black mothers have raised phenomenal role models for black children, particularly black boys, to aspire to, such as the Rev Jesse Jackson L. Jackson, LeBron James, legendary actor Samuel L. Jackson, musician and human rights campaigner Stevie Wonder, and Jackie Robinson, the baseball icon who broke the major league color barrier in 1947.

Furthermore, black women hold tremendous power in three main groups of social significance: education, economics, and social activism.

First, black women are the most educated group in the United States, earning college degrees more than any other race and gender group, and data proves that education of mothers is attributable to the success of their children.

Second, and most impressively, black women entrepreneurs are soaring as noted in Forbes Magazine, which cited a study by the Federal Reserve indicating that black women are the only racial or ethnic group with more business ownership than their male peers.

Third, black women are a key social demographic when it comes to voting, especially for the democratic party, with over 90% voting to elect the first woman president in U.S. history. Black women are also founding organizers of modern social causes like Black Lives Matter and the Me Too movement and were instrumental forces of the historic civil rights movement.

These are irrefutable facts, not a cliché or so-called ugly truths about the black community. Instead of castigating single black mothers, we should not only be supporting their efforts, but following their lead. In the words of the Queen of Soul, “We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.” It’s well past time we apply this belief to single black mothers, the rocks of our community.

Tina Patterson is the president and director of research at The PuLSE Institute, an independent non-partisan anti-poverty think tank based in Detroit.

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