Endangered Family Reported by Farai Chideya, Michelle Ingrassia, Vern E. Smith and Pat Wingert. Written by Michelle Ingrassia

Endangered Family
Reported by Farai Chideya, Michelle Ingrassia, Vern E. Smith and Pat
Wingert.  Written by Michelle Ingrassia

For many African-Americans, marriage and childbearing do not go
together.  After decades of denial and blame, a new candor is emerging
as blacks struggle to save their families.

Late on a sultry summer morning, Dianne Caballero settles into her
porch in the New york suburb of Roosevelt, bemused by the scene playing
out across the street.  Behind electric clippers, a muscular black man
is trimming hedges with the intensity of a barber sculpting a fade;
nearby, his wife empties groceries from the car.  In most quarters,
they elicit barely a nod.  But in this largely black, working-class
community, the couple is one of the few intact families on the block.
All too common are the five young women who suddenly turn into view,
every one of them pushing a baby stroller, not one of them married.
Resigned, Caballero says with a sigh, "Where are the men?"

It's a lament she knows too well.  Like her mother before her and her
daughter after, Caballero, who is black, had a child out of wedlock at
16.  Twenty-three years later, even she is astounded at the gulf
between motherhood and marriage.  When her mother got pregnant in the
'50s, she says, she was considered unique.  When Caballero had a baby
in 1970, no one ostracized her, though it still wasn't something "nice"
girls did.  By the time her daughter had a baby seven years ago, it was
regarded as "normal."  Now, Caballero say regretfully, it's
commonplace.  "And there doesn't seem to be anything happening to
reverse it."

That prospects troubles black leaders and parents alike, those like
Caballero, who worries that her granddaughter is destined to be the
fourth generation in her family to raise a child without a man.  The
odds are perilously high:

    *  For blacks, the institution of marriage has been devastated in
       the last generation:  2 out of 3 first births to black women
       under 35 are now out of wedlock.  In 1960, the number was 2 out
       of 5.  And it's not likely to improve any time soon.  A black
       child born today has only a 1-in-5 chance of growing up with two
       parents until the age of 16, according to University of
       Wisconsin demographer Larry L. Bumpass.  The impact, of course,
       is not only on black families but on all of society.  Fatherless
       homes boost crime rates, lower educational attainment and add
       dramatically to the welfare rolls.

    *  Many black leaders rush to portray out-of-wedlock birth as
       solely a problem of an entrenched underclass.  It's not.  It
       cuts across economic lines.  Among the poor, a staggering 65
       percent of never-married black women have children, double the
       number for whites.  But even among the well-to-do, the
       differences are striking: 22 percent of never-married black
       women with incomes above $75,000 have children, almost 10 times
       as many as whites.

Nearly 30 years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant
secretary of labor, caused a firestorm by declaring that fatherless
homes were "the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro
Community."  At the same time, one quarter of black families were
headed by women.  Today the situation has only grown worse.  A majority
of black families with children -- 62 percent -- are now headed by one
parent.  The result is what Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew
Cherlin calls "an almost complete separation of marriage and
childbearing among African-Americans."

It was not always so.  Before 1950, black and white marriage patterns
looked remarkably similar.  And while black marriage rates have
precipitously dipped since then, the desire to marry remains potent: a
Newsweek poll of single African-American adults showed that 88 percent
said that they wanted to get married.  But the dream of marriage has
been hammered in the last 25 years.  The economic dislocations that
began in the '70s, when the nation shifted from an industrial to a
service base, were particularly devastating to black men, who had
migrated north in vast numbers to manufacturing jobs.  The civil-rights
movement may have ended legal segregation, but it hasn't erased
discrimination in the  work force and in everyday life.  "When men lose
their ability to earn bread, their sense of self declines dramatic-
ally.  They lose rapport wit their children," says University of
Oklahoma historian Robert Griswold, author of "Fatherhood in America."

Some whites overlooked jobs and discrimination as factors in the
breakdown of the black family.  Back in the '60s, at the peak of the
battle over civil rights, Moynihan infuriated blacks by describing a
pattern of "pathology."  Understandably, blacks were not willing to
tolerate a public discussion that implied they were different -- less
deserving than whites.  The debated quickly turned bitter and polarized
between black and white, liberal and conservative.  Emboldened by a
cultural sea change during the Reagan-Bush era, conservatives scolded,
"It's all your fault." Dismissively, this camp insisted that what
blacks need are mainstream American values -- read:  *white* values.
Go to school, get a job, get married, they exhorted, and the family
will be just fine.  Not so, liberals fired back.  As neoliberal
University of Chicago sociologist William Julius Wilson argued in _The
Declining Significance of Race," the breakdown of the African-American
family resulted from rising unemployment, not falling values.  Liberals
have regarded the conservative posture as "blaming the victim," a
phrase that, not coincidentally, white psychologist William Ryan coined
in a 1965 assessment of Moynihan's study.  To this camp, any family
structure is good, as long as it's nurturing.  "Marriage is important
in the black community, just not the most important thing," says Andrew
Billingsley, the University of Maryland sociologist who wrote the
pioneering "Black Families in White America."  "It's not an imperative
for black people who can afford it."

Who's right?  Both sides are too busy pointing fingers to find out.
"We're never going to get to where we need to be if we first have to
settle whose fault it is," says writer Nicholas Lemann, whose 1991
book, "The Promised Land," chronicles the great migration of blacks
from the rural South to the industrialized North.  But if there is any
optimism, it is that now, after more than two decades on the defensive
and with a Democratic president in the White House for the first time
in 12 years, the African-American community is beginning to talk a
little more openly about its problems.  "Because of all the debate
about morality, social programs, individual responsibility, it became
very difficult to have an honest discussion," says Angela Glover
Blackwell, who heads the Children's Defense Fund's Black Community
Crusade for Children.  "I'd like to think we've entered an era where
we're willing to accept that there is a dual responsibility" between
government and ordinary citizens.

Without question, government must do more to help.  But increasingly,
African-Americans are unwilling to wait for White America to step in.
"During integration," says Virginia Walden, who owns a day-care center
in Washington D.C., "we kept saying that the white people did us wrong,
and they owed us.  Well, white people did us wrong, but I tell my
children, 'Don't nobody owe you anything.  You've got to work for what
you get.'" In response, many African-American men and women have thrown
themselves into a range of grass-roots efforts from volunteer work in
their communities to adopting children -- stopgap efforts, perhaps, but
to many, also cathartic and energizing.  In many neighborhoods, the
black church has led the awakening.  Ministers began chastising
themselves for sidestepping some basic moral issues.  "We don't use
"family values" as an ax," says Wallace Smith, pastor of Shiloh Baptist
Church in Washington.  "But if someone is shacked up, we encourage them
to get married."  Smith is remarkably blunt about his own belief in the
importance of a stable marriage.  "Dan Quayle," he says, "was right."

At their kitchen tables and in their church basements every day, black
families talk to each other, as they always have, about their fears.
And part of what worries them is the growing tension between black men
and black women, who are quick to blame each other for the massive
retreat from marriage.  "Black men say black women are `Sapphires,'
trying to dominate," explains Harvard psychologist Alvin Poussaint,
referring to the wife of Kingfish in "Amos 'n' Andy," who epitomized
the bitchy, bossy black woman.  But Boston anchorwoman Liz Walker
believes that many black men mistake self-reliance for highhandedness.
"I don't think black women have thrown black men out," says Walker, who
sparked a controversy when she became pregnant out of wedlock six years
ago, long before TV's Murphy Brown knew what a home pregnancy test
was.  "I think black women have been abandoned."

More commonly, though, black women feel the fallout of the economic and
psychological battering the African-American male has taken in the last
generation.  Of course black women want love and commitment.  But not
with a man whose chief qualification for marriage is that he's, well, a
man.  The remarkable success of Terry McMillan's 1991 novel, "Waiting
to Exhale," underscores that passion.  The book's main characters are
four strong-minded black women who can't seem to find men who measure

------------------------------------------------------------------------
              Steep Rise in Out-of-Wedlock Births

Since the sexual revolution, the rate has shot up for both races.  But
the numbers are much higher for black women than white women.

Percentage of women age 15 to 34 who have their first child before
first marriage:
                              Black           White

      1960-64                  42%              9%
      1965-69                  45%             10%
      1970-74                  55%             13%
      1975-79                  63%             15%
      1980-84                  68%             16%
      1985-89                  70%             22%
------------------------------------------------------------------------

up.  They clearly struck a nerve.  "When Terry McMillan wrote that
book, the reason it was so popular was because it was us," says Walker,
42.  Giddy one night from too much birthday champagne and pepperoni
pizza, McMillan's quartet -- Robin, Gloria, Bernadine and Savannah --
get to the essential question:  what's happened to all the men, they
ask.  Where are they hiding?

They're ugly.  
Stupid.  
In prison.  
Unemployed.  
Crackheads.  
Short.
Liars.  
Unreliable.  
Irresponsible.  
Too possessive...  
Childish.  
Too goddamn old and set in their ways.

The litany drives the women to tears.  But does marriage really
matter?  Or is a family headed by a single mother just as good as the
nuclear unit?  The evidence comes down solidly on the side of
marriage.  By every measure -- economic, social, educational -- the
statistics conclude that two parents living together are better than
one.  Children of single mothers are significantly more likely to live
in poverty than children living with both parents.  In 1990, Census
figures show, 65 percent of children of black single mothers were poor,
compared with only 18 percent of children of black married couples.
Educationally, children in one-parent homes are at greater risk across
the board -- for learning problems, for being left back, for dropping
out.  Psychiatrist James P. Comer, who teaches at Yale University's
Child Study Center, says that the exploding population of African-
American children from single-parent homes represents "the education
crisis that is going to kill us.  The crisis that we're concerned about
-- that American kids don't achieve as well as European kids and some
Asian kids -- won't kill us because [the American students are] scoring
high enough to compete.  The one that will kill us is the large number
of bright kids who fall out of the mainstream because their families
are not functioning."

Statistics tell only part of the story.  Equally important are the
intangibles of belonging to an intact family.  "Growing up in a married
family is where you learn the value of the commitments you make to each
other, rather than seeing broken promises," says Roderick Harrison,
chief of the Census Bureau's race division.  "It deals with the very
question of what kind of personal commitments people can take
seriously."

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Newsweek Poll - What Black Adults Think

How important are the following reasons young, unmarried black people
today are having children?

                                      (Percent saying very important)

They don't understand sex or birth control            53%

They won't use birth control or have abortions 
for personal or religious reasons                     48%

They want something all their own                     38%

They want to prove they are adults                    37%

They are following the examples of older
people they know                                      35%
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Boys in particular need male role models.  Without a father, who will
help them define what it means to be a man?  Fathers do things for
their children that mothers often don't.  Though there are exceptions,
fathers typically encourage independence and a sense of adventure,
while mothers are more nurturing and protective.  It is men who teach
boys who to be fathers.  "A woman can only nourish the black male child
to a certain point," says Bob Crowder, an Atlanta lawyer and father of
four, who helped organize an informal support group for African-
American fathers.  "And then it takes a man to raise a boy into a man.
I mean a real man." Mother often win the job by default, and struggle
to meet the challenge.  But sometimes, even a well-intentioned single
mother can be smothering, especially if her son is the only man in her
life.  Down the road a few years, she hears erstwhile daughters-in-law
lament how she "ruined" him for revery other woman.  Like the street-
smart New Yorker she is, Bisi Ruckett, who is Dianne Caballero's
daughter, says flat out that she can't "rule" her boyfriend.  And just
as quickly, she concedes she can't compete with his mom.  "If he tells
her he needs a zillion dollars, she'll get it," says Ruckett, 23.

Without a father for a role model, many boys learn about relationships
from their peers on the street.  In the inner city in particular, that
often means gangs; and the message they're selling is that women are
whores and handmaidens, not equals.  Having a father does not, of
course, guarantee that the lessons a young male learns will be
wholesome.  But research shows that, with no father, no minister, no
boss to help define responsibility, there's nothing to prevent a boy
from treating relationships perversely.  University of Pennsylvania
professor Elijah Anderson, who authored a 1990 study on street life,
says that, among the poor, boys view courting as a "game" in which the
object is to perfect a rap that seduces girls.  The goal:  to add up
one's sexual conquests, since that's the measure of "respect."

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Newsweek Poll - What Black Adults Think

Which can do the most to improve the situation for black families
today?

Black families themselves                     41%

Churches                                      25%

Community organizations                               14%

Government                                    14%
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Often, for a girl, Anderson says, life revolves around the "dream," a
variation on the TV soaps in which a man will whisk her away to a life
of middle-class bliss -- even though everywhere she looks there are
only single mothers abandoned by their boyfriends.  Not surprisingly,
the two sexes often collide.  The girl dreams because she must.  "It
has to do with one's conception of oneself: `I will prevail,'" Anderson
says.  But th boy tramples that dream because he must -- his game is
central to his vision of respect.  "One of the reasons why, when a
woman agrees to have a baby, these men think it's such a victory is
that you have to get her to go against all the stuff that says he won't
stick around."

For teenage mothers not mature enough to cope, single parenthood is not
the route to the dream, but entrapment.  They have too many frustr-
ations:  the job, the lack of a job, the absence of a man, the feeling
of being dependent on others for help, the urge to go out and dance
instead of pacing with a crying child.  Taken ti its extreme, says
Poussaint, the results can be abuse or neglect.  "They'll see a child
as a piece of property or compete with the child -- calling them dumb
or stupid, damaging their growth and education to maintain superior-
ity," he says.  The middle class is not exempt from such pain.  Even
with all the cushions money could buy -- doctors and backup doctors,
nannies and backup nannies --- Liz Walker says that trying to raise her
son, Nicholas, alone was draining.  "Certainly, the best situation is
to have as many people in charge of the family as possible," says
Walker, who is now married to Harry Graham, a 41-year-old corporate-tax
lawyer; together, they're raising her son and his two children from a
previous marriage.  "I can see that now," she adds.  "Physically, you
*need* it."

More and more, black men aren't there to build marriages or to stick
around through the hard years of parenting.  The question we're too
afraid to confront is why.  The biggest culprit is an economy that has
locked them out of the mainstream through a pattern of bias and a
history of glass ceilings.  "The economic state of the African-American
community is worse in 1993 than it was in 1963," says NAACP head
Benjamin Chavis Jr.  He could be speaking, just as easily, about the
black family, since the two fell in tandem.

A man can't commit to a family without economic security, but for many
African-American men, there is none.  The seeds of modern economic
instability date back to the 1940s, when the first of 6 1/2 million
blacks began migrating form the rural South to the urban North as farm
mechanization replaced the need for their backs and hands.  At first,
black men built a solid economic niche by getting factory jobs.  But
just as the great migration ended in the '70s, the once limitless
industrial base began to cave in.  And as steel mills and factories
swept offshore, the "last hired, first fired" seniority rules dis-
proportionately pushed black men out.  During that time, says
Billingsley, unemployment for blacks became twice as high as it was for
whites, " and it has rarely dropped below that [ratio] since."
Unarguably, economic restructuring hit whites as well as blacks, but
the new service sector favored those with education -- and there were
many more educated white men than blacks in the '70s as vast numbers of
baby boomers streamed out of the nation's colleges looking for jobs.

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Not Just an Underclass Problem

In every economic group, black women are two to seven times more likely
to have a child before marriage than white women.

Percent of never-married women ages 15 to 44 who have children:

                                      Black           White

      Under $10,000                    66%             32%
      $10,000-$20,000                  50%             19%
      $25,000-$30,000                  32%              8%
      $30,000-$35,000                  34%              7%
      $50,000-$75,000                  11%              3%
      Over 75,000                      22%              3%
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ironically, just as the job market collapsed for black men, it opened
for black women, who went to college while black men went to war.
Armed with the college degrees that black males didn't have and pushed
by the burgeoning women's movement, growing numbers of black women
found spots in corporate America.  As with white women in the '80s,
that bought them greater independence.  But the jobs of black women
came at the expense of black men.  Throughout the workplace, says
Yale's Comer, "there was a tradeoff.  The one black woman was a
two-fer:  you got a black and a woman."  Since then, the gap between
white women's income and black women's has disappeared -- black women's
salaries are the same as whites'.

But the chasm between black and white men has barely moved.  In 1969,
black men earned 61 cents for every dollar white men earned;  by 1989,
the number had increased to 69 cents.  And that's for black men who
were working; more and more, they found themselves without jobs.
During the same time, the number of black men with less than a high
school education who found jobs dropped from two thirds to barely
half.  And it's likely to worsen:  in the last 25 years, the proportion
of black men in college has steadily eroded.  "America has less use for
black men than it did during slavery," says Eugene Rivers, who helps
run computer-training programs as pastor of Boston's Azusa Christian
Community.

Though he is scarcely 11, Lugman Kolade dreams of becoming an
electrical engineer.  But he already wears the grievous pain of a man
who feels left out.  Lugman is a small, studious, Roman Catholic
schooler form Washington, D.C., who won the archdiocese science fair
with a homemade electric meter.  Unlike most boys in the Male Youth
Project he attended at Shiloh Baptist Church, his parents are married.
His mother works for the Department of Public Works; describing what
his father does doesn't come easy.  "My father used to be a [construct-
ion] engineer.  He left his job because they weren't treating him
right; they would give white men better jobs who did less work.  Now he
drives an ice-cream truck."

Black men were hurt, too, by the illegal economy.  As the legitimate
marketplace cast them aside, the drug trade took off, enlisting anyone
lured by the promise of fast money.  Ironically, says Comer. "you had
to make a supreme and extra effort to get into the legal system and no
effort to get into the illegal system."  For many on the fringes, there
was no contest.  "It overwhelmed the constructive forces in the black
mainstream," he says.  Disproportionately, too, black men are in prison
or dead.  While African_Americans represent only 12 percent of the
population, they composed 44 percent of the inmates in the state
prisons and local jails in 1991; and, in 1990, homicide was the leading
cause of death for young black men.

The economy explains only one part of what happened.  The sexual
revolution in the '70s was the second great shift that changed the
black family.  Although the social tide that erased taboos against
unwed motherhood affected all women, whites and blacks took different
paths.  White women delayed both marriage and childbearing, confident
that, down the road, there would be a pool of marriageable men.  Not so
for black women, who delayed marriage but not children because they
were less certain there would be men for them.  In what they called a
"striking shift<" Census officials reported earlier this year that less
than 75 percent of black women are likely to ever marry, compared with
90 percent for whites.

========================================================================
|| More  dramatic  is  the  childbearing picture.   Between  1960 and ||
|| 1989,  the proportion  of young  white women  giving birth  out of ||
|| wedlock rose  from  9 to 22 percent,  markedly faster than  it did ||
|| for blacks.   The slower  rate  of increase  for blacks  was small ||
|| comfort.  Their rate -- 42 percent --  was already so high by 1960 ||
|| that if  it had kept  pace with  the  white  rate,  it  would have ||
|| topped  100 percent  by now.   As  things stand,  it's 70 percent. ||
========================================================================

Traditionally, the extended family has served as a safety net.  But the
terrible irony of history is that it has also hurt the black family.
While intended as a cushion, the network, in effect, enabled more
single women to have children.  And that helps explain why not only
poor black women, but middle- and upper-class blacks as well, have had
children out of wedlock at higher rates than white women.  Historic-
ally, white women have had only themselves to rely on for child
rearing, and so marriage became more of an imperative.  For blacks, the
network of extended kin is a tradition rooted in African customs that
emphasize community over marriage.  Although historians say that most
black children grew up in two-parent households during slavery, as well
as in the 19th century and early 20th centuries, high rates of poverty,
widowhood and urban migration reinforced the need for interdependence
that continues today.  The oft-repeated African proverb "It takes a
whole village to raise a child" echoes back to that.

Now the extended family is breaking down.  Yet the black family's
expectations for it haven't diminished.  Both sides feel the strains.
With the soaring number of teenage mothers, grandparents today are
getting younger and more likely to be working themselves.  A 32-
year-old grandmother isn't necessarily eager, or able, to raise a
grandchild, especially when that child becomes a teenager and the
problems multiply.  And, after generations of no fathers, there are no
grandfathers, either.  What's more, the tradition of a real neighbor-
hood is disappearing.  "It used to be that everyone looked out for
everyone else," said community activist Claudette Burroughs-White of
Greensboro, N.C.  "Now I think people are kind of estranged.  They
don't get involved.  It's safer not to."  Many families left in the
inner city -- the ones most in need of support -- are increasingly
isolated from relatives able to flee to the suburbs.  "Not every poor
black mother is in a strong kinship network," says Cherlin.  "Many are
living alone, hiding behind double-locked doors in housing projects."

What's the solution?  Nearly 30 years after Lyndon Johnson launched the
War on Poverty, experts on the black family return again and again to
the same ideas -- better education, more jobs, discouraging teen
pregnancy, more mentoring programs.  But now the question is, who
should deliver -- government or blacks themselves?  Ever since the
government started abandoning social programs in the '70s and early
'80s, black families have been left on their own to find a way out.
Those who would argue against funneling in more government dollars say
we tried that, but "nothing works."  Lemann, who believe3s that most of
the positive social changes in Black America were sparked by government
intervention, dismisses the conceit that spending on social welfare
failed.  The War on Poverty, he says, "threw out some untested ideas,
some of which worked" -- like Head Start, the Jobs Corps and Foster
Grandparents -- "and some of which didn't."  Beyond the all-or-nothing
extremes, there is room for solutions.  Moynihan believes the nation
has been in a collective "denial phase" about the black family for the
last 25 years.  But he says, he's encouraged.  "We're beginning to get
a useful debate in this."

Will self-help do it?  Though few African-American leaders expect what
they call "White America" to come to the rescue, they're equally
skeptical that the thousands of programs filling church rec rooms and
town-hall meeting rooms can, on their own, turn things around.  "People
who are trying to salvage a lot of the children are burnt out, they
think it's like spitting into the ocean," says Poussaint, who doesn't
dispute the pessimism.  "The problems are overwhelming.  It's like
treating lung cancer and knowing that people are still smoking."

There aren't many places left to look for answers.  When black leaders
speak with one voice, it is about the deep crisis of faith and purpose
that came with integration:  the very promise that African-Americans
would be brought into the American mainstream has left many by the
wayside.  What's the penalty for doing nothing?  "We could revert to a
caste society," says Moynihan.  Others are just as bleak.  There are
sparks of hope, says Comer, but he warns:  "It's getting late, very
late."  The problems of the black family have been apparent for
decades.  And so has our collective understanding that we must take
them on.  What we need to find now is a voice to start the dialogue.

Source: _Newsweek_ magazine, August 30, 1993 (posted without permission)

--
Aaron L. Hoffmeyer
[email protected] 

Why can't we stay together?  Give me the reasons - Give me the
reasons.

I don't want to stay.  I don't want to find another way to make it
through the day without you.

I can't resist trying to find exactly what I missed.  It's just another
day without you.