An Historic Wrong Still Needs Righting

by W.F. Price on June 7, 2012

Slavery and the attendant racial problems in the US have left a permanent scar on our nation, causing our worst war to date, suffering and oppression on an enormous scale, and a lasting animosity that always simmers beneath the surface of American society. Much has been done to redress wrongs, but one of the most fundamental crimes of slavery is still practiced, only by another name.

Those who have read Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn closely cannot miss that one of the most important themes of the book is fatherhood. Poor young Huck was stuck with Pap Finn, a wretched father who beat and used his son cruelly, drinking himself into oblivion whenever he could get his hands on his corn whiskey. When Huck ran off after a particularly bad drinking bout on Pap’s part, he found Jim, who, having recently taken flight himself, helped him get by in the woods and make his way downriver.

As it turned out, Huck fled from a bad father, while Jim went on the run to be a father. Jim was to be sold away from his family, and rather than accept this with resignation, Jim became a runaway slave, which could lead to terrible punishment.

The relationship between Huck and Pap Finn is often explained as an allegory of the relationship between Britain and her colonies. Twain liked to use such methods in his writing, but was usually more explicit about it, so there was likely more to it than that. Although much of Twain’s political views and personality shine through in the odd adventures and colorful characters who animate the book, it is above all a story of a fatherless son and a childless father.

Huck Finn has come under some criticism for the portrayal of Jim as a superstitious, unsophisticated caricature of a southern slave. But for all the supposed patronizing racism of the prose and dialog, Jim comes off as a fundamentally decent, caring man and, most importantly, a loving, dedicated father. He cares for Huck as though he were his own son, protects him from distress, and helps feed him. His greatest regret is berating his daughter for not listening, and then realizing to his horror that she’d gone deaf. And this decent father is to be removed from his children at the whim of his “superiors.” This is the most powerful condemnation of slavery in the book. It is a rebuke to all those who would defend the institution of slavery, and it is delivered through the example of fatherhood.

Sadly, when it comes to the black family, things don’t look all that different today. Black men are still removed from their children on a whim. Social welfare workers sever black men from their families as a routine matter. They inject feminist theory into the black community like so much poison, and advocate the use of police to separate men from their children. If we were to go by the dismal statistics, we’d have to assume there aren’t more than three black men in ten qualified to be in their children’s lives.

The very deep reach of government workers and agencies into the black family creates another kind of servitude. Black mothers who go on the dole are owned by the government (if not in word, in fact), which then asserts its claim over their children’s father and drives a financial wedge between parents, all too often separating father from children. Women’s advocates in black communities are mainly white, and a disproportionate number of them are of the lesbian feminist persuasion, prone to seeing men as expendable at best, but more often as a menace to be dealt with by the law, and sometimes as sexual competition. They also hold significant power over their female charges, and can exert pressure for sexual favors, a problem that has been alleged at women’s shelters, but surely exists elsewhere as well. The relationship between government agent and public charge is loaded with the potential for exploitation, and just as pederasts were attracted to the priesthood, a certain kind of female who fancies young single mothers is attracted to social work.

Over the last 50 years, we have steadily re-created the conditions of slavery in the black family, and hardly a protest is raised outside of the black community. First, social welfare programs that rewarded women for kicking husbands out of the home began the trend. Then, when the fatherless children caused a crime wave, incarceration at extremely high rates further exacerbated it. Finally came welfare reform that not only incentivized father removal, but also put fathers on the hook for the welfare that came on the condition that they were kicked out their child’s life. The pressure black fathers have been put under by policy is so severe, and so obviously designed to remove men from their families, that when one hears a politician bemoaning absent fathers in the black community one is tempted to tar and feather the bastard.

You’d think this state of affairs would be a national source of shame, but somehow people have accepted it as normal. So much so that a myth has developed around Africa being a traditionally matriarchal continent, where fathers never mattered much anyway. This is pure garbage. Traditional African families are not, and never have been, matriarchal. As a rule, West African families are patrilineal, virilocal, and patriarchal.

Of course, when you enslave men, suddenly their authority in the family means very little. Whether they are owned by the private sector, as in the old South, or the public sector, as in our big cities today, matters little. The effect is to strip them of any influence over their families and hand it to public schools, social welfare agencies and the police. Meanwhile, this is all justified by appeals to “elevate” blacks from their deplorable condition — just like in good old slavery. However, if you want to believe that, you also have to believe that slave masters and social workers know what’s better for children than their own fathers, and care just as much. Frankly, I just don’t buy it, but, as mentioned before, only some three out of ten black kids grow up with dad — if that.

What this means is that there’s either something very wrong with our policy, or something very wrong with black men. Given that blacks survived on their own for millennia before coming into contact with other civilizations, it’s got to be the former.

If Mark Twain were alive today, he’d look at the situation and shake his head as it became clear that black men have it no better than Jim did where family is concerned. For all the supposed progress we’ve made, some things just remain the same.

As a white man, I chafe at the notion of white guilt, but there are some things my government does that make me sick. Systematically removing children from their fathers – an injustice that falls disproportionately on black men – is one of them. We all pay the price for it in higher incarceration rates, police costs and social welfare. The costs are enormous. But, most importantly, like slavery it is an intolerable moral wrong for which there can be no justification other than purely callous self-interest on the part of those who profit from the status quo.

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