Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

African American Males and Fatherhood: Issues in Research and Practice

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

African American Males and Fatherhood: Issues in Research and Practice

Article excerpt

Research on African American males is relatively recent and scant, and focuses typically on discussions that both characterize and put these males "at risk," either as learners in school or as adolescent or absent fathers. While the actual discourses may vary slightly, discussions in the field range from controversial debates about single-gender schools and all-male educational academies (Garibaldi, 1988; Leake & Leake, 1992), to studies about the unavailability or inaccessibility of opportunity structures, irrespective of educational attainment (Anderson, 1990; Ferguson, 1992; Sum & Fogg, 1990). Studies focusing specifically on declining labor market opportunities point to the dire economic and social plights experienced by disproportionately high numbers of African American males and the difficulties they face in gaining access to higher education and well-paying employment. With increasing regularity, research and practice alike highlight the trauma these problems portend for the welfare of African American children and families. They also demonstrate the ways in which these obstacles embed themselves within the school and work lives of young African American men and fathers.

Many of the programs that attempt to support African American males do so outside of schools. The programs and the males in them have not been a major focus of research efforts, nor have they contributed much in terms of research data to policy discussions about the experiences and needs of African American males. Despite increasing public discussions about problems facing African American males, research on African American boys and men pales in comparison to negative public perception of them as perpetrators of crime and violence. Policy discussions, while they do not always identify African American males as a source of the problem, repeatedly suggest that African American males are inherently irresponsible, erratic in behavior, and unable to assume the responsibilities of employment or fatherhood. In addition, current welfare reform efforts and criminal justice measures have wide-ranging implications for these men relative to the economic support that they can provide to their families, their involvement in informal and often illegal economies to make such contributions, their high potential for incarceration, and the emotional impact of their absence on the lives of their children.

A small niche of effort, developed around and in support of practice, attempts to attend to these issues by assisting young fathers in handling the complexities of daily life and assuming responsibility for parenting and employment. As is true of any movement or effort, however, the missions and purposes of the groups and programs involved differ, sometimes vastly. For example, several such efforts often attribute young African American fathers' problems to the rapidity with which changes in family formation patterns have occurred, connecting this development to the erosion of family values. Many do not acknowledge family forms outside of marriage and center their efforts on preserving mainstream notions of "traditional family values." The emphasis in many programs is on increasing the number of intact nuclear families (father and mother married to each other with children living in the same household), and not necessarily on ameliorating the structures that reduce opportunities for individuals to create and preserve their own unique beliefs and values about familyhood. Issues of unemployment, poverty, and discrimination generally lie outside the boundaries of these efforts, as do arguments about the effects of parents' emotional absence on strained relationships or physical absence due to economic stress. A variety of other programs exist, many of which address issues of social welfare among low-income African American fathers and their families. Some of these programs promote co-parenting strategies between young fathers and mothers. Others attempt to assist only the men, viewing this approach as a first intervention strategy to working with entire families. …

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