Saturday, January 24, 2009

Black Children "Prisoners of their Parentage"?

Charles M Blow is the statistical graphics guru/ op ed columnist for the New York Times.

Today Blow has done a fascinating piece of work titled "No More Excuses?" in which he has assembled statistics about the plight of black children in response to Rep. James Clyburn's proclamation on Monday that "Every child has lost every excuse."

I titled this post Black Children "Prisoners of their Parentage"? because Blow wrote:
I’m a big proponent of personal responsibility, but children too often don’t have a choice. They are either prisoners of their parentage or privileged by it. Some of their excuses are hollow. But other excuses are legitimate, and they didn’t magically disappear when Obama put his left hand on the Lincoln Bible.

I can't get Blow's great graphic of the statistics to load in a size large enough to be read and he does not give comparable statistics for other races. So, I've put together some of the statistics Blow used and included the comparable white statistics:

Children in 2005 born to single mothers: black 70%, white 25%
Children in 2006 confirmed "maltreated": black 2%, white 1%

Family Income
Children in 2007 living in low income families: black 60%, white 26%
Children in 2007 living in poor families: black 34%, white 10%

Children in 2003 living in unsafe neighborhoods: black 31%, white 8%
Teen boys in 2005 reporting being raped: black 7%, white 3%
Teen girls in 2005 reporting being raped: black 12%, white 11%

Other Statistics Blow Used
(for which I don't have comparable white statistics)
black eight graders who watch four or more hours of television on an average weekday 57%
black women who agree that it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a "good hard spanking" 94%
black children who had used alcohol before age 13 31%

Blow concluded with this text:
So black people have to keep their feet on the ground even as their heads are in the clouds. If we want to give these children a fighting chance, we must change the worlds they inhabit. That change requires both better policies and better parenting — a change in our houses as well as the White House.

President Obama is a potent symbol, but he’s no panacea.


1AmericanPatriot said...

Hi Perpetua-
Thank you for your comments on my post on your other blog. And thanks for the direction to this blog. I'll be happy to share my thoughts on this article.

I think that anytime we single out a group for anything, we are missing the point. Especially the comment made by Malcolm Gladwell,

"I am explicitly turning my back on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. Well, actually, you can’t be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can’t be."

If that were in fact the case, why would anyone get out of bed in the morning? If our fate and accomplishments are already decided for us, what is the point of striving for anything? If President Obama had taken this advice, I highly doubt he would've been elected President of the United States. He too came from a single parent home. He too had no father figure in his life. He was not born into a very wealthy family. Yet somehow he managed to live out his dream. Is he just more talented than any other kid who has a bad start to their life? I doubt it.

I am bitterly opposed to anyone telling anyone they have no choice in life. If that were true, there would be no rags to riches stories of any kind in the world.

But does this mean that anyone who has a dream will achieve said dream? Nope. It simply means that we should never allow anyone to tell us no. Because the only no that actually means anything, is the no that comes from ourselves.

I grew up without a father. I grew up in a home that had little money. I was spanked as a child, but no I wasn't abused. In order for me to go to college, I had to pay for it myself. I worked two full time jobs and took a full course load while doing it. And of course had the opportunity to come out of college in enormous debt. But I did it. Had I listened to all the people who told me I couldn't do it, I would still be where I was.

If you take away someone's dreams, you take away their hope. And life without hope is not life. It's survival.

Perpetua said...

Hi 1AmericanPatriot,
Congratulations on completing college. I admire you for working to pay your way through. But college is so expensive, that even working two jobs as you did, you still had to take on debt. I am thinking it was a good investment.

Resident said...

Why do we have to chose between "Be whatever you want to be" and "no choice" in life.

It seems to me pretty obvious that both options are unrealistic.

No one can be whatever one wants to be - and dispelling that illusion is not a bad thing (even if it is part of the American Dream mythology).

But that doesn't mean that within certain limits one has many choices.

Perpetua said...

Hi Resident,

Correct. Neither of the binary choices, "completely in your control" and "completely out of your control", are true.

However, it is true that some people are born into situations with better life chances than others.

And I think what Blow is really trying to do here is give a wake up call to adult African-Americans that the choices they make will affect the life chances of their children.

1AmericanPatriot said...

Hi Resident-
Are you serious with, "No one can be whatever one wants to be - and dispelling that illusion is not a bad thing (even if it is part of the American Dream mythology)."?

What about every single professional athlete out there? What about every musical artist? What about every person who wanted to run their own business and are? What about every kid who wanted to grow up and be a fireman and is? What about every kid who wanted to be a Teacher and is? We could fill this in with thousands of examples of how you are very incorrect in your thinking that no one can ever be what they want to be.

But simply WANTING to be whatever is not going to get it. Of course there has to be some plan. And obviously there has to be a lot of work put in. Also there has to be the willing to fail. Because failing at something, then taking those lessons from failure is essential in success.

Resident said...


exactly my point. Within certain limits we do have choices and should not wallow in excuses.


sure I am serious.

With the emphasis being on "whatever" - some people can achieve achieve certain things and other can achieve other things. No one can simply achieve everything.

"you are very incorrect in your thinking that no one can ever be what they want to be."

I would if I had said this but I haven't. But I said that not everybody can be whatever they want.

I would love to be able to play an instrument and I tried but I simply can't do it. My two hands will not work in coordination.

And (to allude to a certain film), I am a man and will not ever be able to be a mother, even if I wanted.

As for professional athletes, I try to ignore them as best as I can.

1AmericanPatriot said...

Hi Perpetua-
Of course some people are born with more advantages than others. But that shouldn't be used as an excuse as to why someone can't pursue their dreams. We could take this line of thinking and apply it to the blacks in this country who lived during the 1950s. By doing so, I guess we would write an article to tell them they should simply give up on life because they were born with less rights than other Americans. Had we done that, and of course had they adhered to this advice, do you think any of them would've tried to get their Civil Rights? After all, why would they. You're born into what you can be. Nothing more. Nothing less.

This line of thinking is seriously flawed on so many levels.

Perpetua said...

This conversation has inspired me to change the title of the post to put quotation marks around "prisoners of their parentage" and to include a question mark at the end.

1AmericanPatriot said...

My apologies. I obviously misunderstood the parameters of this conversation. I was under the assumption we were discussing the thought of the writer of the article. That being, with me paraphrasing, can black children growing up in environments that are tough, make it in society. I wasn't aware we had shifted to, can anyone do ANYTHING they think about.

I certainly do understand your inability to play a musical instrument. But in the confines of this article, I would venture to state that your inability is not due to whether or not you lived in a single parent home as a child, nor if your family had a lot of money as a child, nor grew up in a safe neighborhood. That's what I was referring too.

Sorry for the confusion on my part.

Rolin said...

Hi Perpetua, thanks for this entry.

I am currently caring for a black kid (I'm a single "Mr. Mom" at age 65!) who came up out of a former slave family. His mother is attempting some financial recovery as an over-the-road trucker, living full time on the interstate.

When the boy first came to me at age 8, one of his ambitions in life was to grow up to be a pimp. Granted, he had little idea of what a pimp actually did for a living, but this goal had been impressed on him not by his family, but by his friends and neighborhood.

The example of his closest family members will help pull him through. His mother would not allow the trap of single parenthood and a drug-addicted father to hold her back, and became the first member of her entire extended family to attend college. Her daughter is graduating from college this year with a degree in biology, again a first in the family.

Let me be clear about this "family:" they are the descendants from the Turner slave plantation which gave us both media mogul Ted Turner and the troubled music maker Ike Turner. The bulk of this extended family is still caught in the trap of single parent-hood, drug addiction, and dependence on welfare, with little to no ambition to be anything else.

All this is to say that role models and goals to live up to are crucial, and coupled with tenacious persistance these can overcome great odds. The boy in my care has two pictures on his wall: one of him with his mother's arm wrapped around him, and another of Barack Obama and his family on stage at the celebration of his election victory.

When Barack, at age 10, was asked by his teacher (in an Indonesian school) what he wanted to be when he grew up, he stood up and stated that he wanted to become President of the United States. When my young charge turns 10 this February, I wonder what he will say when his teacher asks him this same question?

Br_er Rabbit

Perpetua said...

Hi Br_er Rabbit,
What a wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. And congratulations on the wonderful work you are doing.