On Black Fathers, the African American Image and MyBrownBaby Etiquette

It’s been a minute since I’ve had to explain the mission of MyBrownBaby. When I started this blog back in 2008, it seemed like I was doing it every other week, particularly when white moms would stomp onto the site questioning why I was always writing about race. I thought it awfully bold of them to use the comments section on MY site to tell me what they thought of my mothering in general, and the way black moms examine motherhood in particular. In every instance, I made the point that MyBrownBaby was created to give voice to mothers of color who, for so long, have been left out of the national conversation on parenting and motherhood called upon only when that conversation focuses on pathology. Crime. Drop-out rates. Poverty. Fatherlessness the list goes on.

Fast forward to last Friday. It seems that my post, A Special MyBrownBaby Love Letter To Black Fathers Getting It Right, made quite a few black moms feel some kinda way. Readers took to the comment section to go off on my suggestion that on Father’s Day one day out of the year we shut down the accusations on what some black dads aren’t doing and focus on honoring and celebrating good black dads who are raising, supporting and loving their children. Most offensive was the suggestion that because I grew up with a dedicated black father in my home and am married to an African American man who is an incredible father to our children, I neither can identify with fatherlessness nor have the right to add my voice to the discussion.

Seeing as the (e)boxing match in the comment section makes it very hard to understand where I’m coming from on the issue, let me make my position crystal. Contrary to popular belief:

  1. I am a fan of President Obama. Stan hard for him, actually on both his politics and his persona. There is nothing more beautiful than the example he sets not only as the leader of the free world, but as a black man in a committed relationship with Michelle Obama, a beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful African American woman, working with her to raise two incredible little girls. It’s an image that, until the Obamas came onto the scene, we simply had not seen since, like, The Cosby Show. I can’t be mad at him for that.
  2. I was not and am not mad at President Obama for leading a healthy discussion on the need for more black fathers to step up to the plate and take care of their kids. He’s spot on and I agree with him 1,000 percent support every initiative he’s created to get to the heart of the matter, to help change the awesome absentee father tsunami that’s overrun our community. What I did not like in his speech in 2008 and still do not like today is that he used a day meant to honor dads to, in my humble opinion, bash the deadbeats. I’m not going to rehash the politics of it all the speech was given three years ago, for goodness sake. But if you want some context on why the more politically astute among us should have raised our eyebrows over the speech, check out this Michael Eric Dyson essay on TIME.com.
  3. Though I am did not and do not suffer directly from the effects of fatherlessness, I am affected by it personally and professionally. None of us lives in a bubble. When the ex’s and fathers of my friends leave their children to fend for themselves, it hurts me to the core. When my daughters’ friends cling to my husband because they can’t depend on their own fathers for emotional support and physical father/child connections, it affects me deeply. When politicians use my tax money to make the case for dismantling and unraveling the fragile support system for African American single moms and their children, it affects ALL OF US. So yeah, I have something to say about it.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m going to remind faithful MyBrownBaby readers the same way I did the white moms back in the day. I created this blog not to rehash pathology, not to wallow in stereotype, not to pile onto the same storyline mainstream media consistently advances anytime black folk are the subject, but to show the beauty of us, in all of our manifestations and advance the conversation beyond fingerpointing, blame and a focus on the ugly. We are not a monolith, sisters. I am you. You are me. But we have a myriad of experiences experiences that deserve dissection and discussion. And, in some cases, highlighting. Because dammit, no one else is doing it.

In the case of my celebration of black dads, as a journalist and author, I’ve always focused on trying to get to the truth particularly African American truth. And the truth is that not all black fathers abandon their children. My personal truth is that I’m surrounded by strong, supportive, positive black men black fathers. I have been my entire life. My husband has spent his entire career writing about them, friending them and commiserating with them, too. So when I see the wave of negativity constantly flowing at black dads, it’s my job to fight against it. No matter how unpopular that sentiment may be in some quarters of our community, this is still an African American truth: There ARE many strong, committed black fathers in our midst. And it is a danger to all of us, especially our children, to not acknowledge and applaud them and celebrate them every moment we can. Because that is not the predominance of reaction that they get from the rest of the world. Out of anyone, black women should appreciate an effort to give people credit when they’re doing the right thing certainly something that we complain about 24/7. The lack of credit. I’m returning the favor. Maybe even making a few brothers feel good in the process. It’s not complicated. It’s my site—my life.

Is this the only truth in our community? Absolutely not. And to suggest that I neither understand nor care about the challenges we face as a collective is not only ridiculous, it’s insulting. But on this, I’ve staked my entire career and certainly this website: We have the right to define ourselves. The duty to, really. Because the moment we let others—and especially ourselves—drown out the myriad of stories in our community and embrace just one storyline, then we contribute to the stereotyping of our ENTIRE community. And I refuse to participate in that. The internet is littered with sites, some of them run by black folk, that seem to wallow in the negative imaging of black folk suck it up with a straw, spit it out and invite all of us to swim in it with them. That’s not my game.

Instead, here on MyBrownBaby, my site, I choose to focus on THE GOOD in us. THE BEAUTY of us. THE GOD in us.

And for this, I will not apologize.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

30 Comments

  1. Please continue to champion/do what you want. Legions of us identify with your “lane” and rely on your voice to tell our stories.

  2. From a white Mom raising two of the most beautiful, vibrant black girls. I applaud and support you. I took my girls to the Juneteenth celebration this past weekend. I want to show them all the positive on both sides. I think we can all get along if we focus on the good in all men.

  3. Well said. Keep doing what you do. Be not distracted.

  4. Bravo Denene! I agree with you 100%. If we don’t show the positives in our community then who will? I could write a novel on this subject, but I won’t. Just say, all of my friends had their father in the home. Both of my grandfathers were in the home and took care of their families. Was everyone perfect? No, but they were committed. Keep sharing the positive side of our culture. You have my support!

  5. Barbara Soloski Albin

    As I have said before Denene your site crosses over all colors. Many families have similar problems and do not need to worry about a ‘word’. I read your stories for the content and it does help me to understand what many families have gone through and are still going through. Your site is just perfect the way it is, and still relevant to all of us.

  6. Once again, Denene–thank you!
    For being a voice for us.
    For standing in YOUR truth.
    For reminding the world about the relevance and value of ALL voices.
    For not hoarding your success, but instead using it to pull others over the fence.

    However…(yes, however),
    I totally don’t get why you needed to explain MBB (yet again!) to someone who is clearly stuck in their own little bubble. MBB isn’t even about color; it’s about VOICE, it’s about ACCESS, and it’s about COMMUNITY. Folks should stop trying to throw shit over our fence, and just keep it moving. If you don’t like it here, then that’s okay. Simply close the browser, folks. #NotRocketScience

    My favorite quote from this post:
    “I am you. You are me. But we have a myriad of experiences—experiences that deserve dissection and discussion. And, in some cases, highlighting. Because dammit, no one else is doing it.” #DamnStraight

  7. As your husband, I am so thoroughly proud of what you do on a daily basis on MBB. And I am so appreciative of the many efforts you make to throw a little love and shine in my direction. That somebody could have a problem with that, with somebody acknowledging me and others brothers like me, because there is still pain in our community is not only crazy, it’s insulting as hell to me and every other brother out there who is doing what he’s supposed to be doing. As if our efforts aren’t legitimate because some of us may be f’d up. As if to be a black man and father means to be a pathological loser. Ralph Ellison left us a while back, but I guess I’m still supposed to be content to be The Invisible Man.

  8. Well said, Denene. I am and continue to be so incredibly proud of you for being our collective voices- good, bad the ugly and beautiful. Thank you and keep doing what you do so well!

  9. Great post Denene! This is such a great point to make…there are many, many truths. I’m glad you’re standing by yours and showcasing something positive. I’m coming through your words and the words of some other positive voices and it’s inspiring. Keep building up the positive, because you’re helping the rest of us to acknowledge it more often too…and that’s so deeply needed.

  10. Thank you for not allowing one storyline to define an entire group of people. To portray all black fathers as deadbeat dads would be as irresponsible and erroneous as to portray all white dads as Ward Cleaver.
    Keep up the great work!

  11. Well Denene,
    Here is the irony in all, some of the beating down and the harshest stereotyping of Black men are so fully dished out by our own people that White people have no need to say anything except well look at what their own people are saying. The one thing I have noticed about the Black experience in America as it relates to the other races is that our dirty laundry is put out there every time someone decides to put a microphone in our face. The race be damned, I am looking good right now.

    I know fatherless children isn’t just a Black issue, but we sure come off as the celebrity spokespeople. Why should we on the results? We know fathers leave there families, what do we do about it? Why do they feel comfortable doing this? Do we culturally make this acceptable? Or maybe it is akin to what one woman told me when we were talking about infidelity, “That’s what men do, they cheat”. THEY CHEAT. I felt disgusted and so should anyone else that has the ability to comprehend the long reaching effects of a comment like that.

  12. Amen! Keep preaching. I actually do not see this website as a “black” website. I think people may get caught up in the “My Brown Baby” name. Keep doing what you do…keeping it real.

  13. So true. If we don’t define ourselves, then who will? Every human being seeks their personal identity. A definition of their core, so to speak. A community in which to embrace and be proud of. Becoming a parent is just one identity, and should be examined at every front.

    My Husband and I are people of color and refuse to let our daughter be defined by influences “that seem to wallow in the negative imaging of black folk”. I won’t allow mainstream media, etc to define my family. And although accused of being combative, this is what a Momma defining her own family looks like. We don’t serve up that negative trash in our household. So happy to know that MBB doesn’t either.

    Beautiful Post. Hope you don’t mind me linking it on my blog.

  14. Me likey! As one of those black dads who was featured in the article and felt myself getting hot reading the same old comments from the same old folks who insist on saying the same thing again and again because sadly, they haven’t found a way to find peace, forgive the deadbeat that did them wrong, forgive themselves for an incident that was out of their control, so that they can move on to find real love for their sakes and the sakes of their children well…you can’t even really be mad at them. You just have to pray that maybe one day they will find peace and realize high fiving each other on Father’s Day or throwing acid on men who are doing what they are supposed to be doing by shouting out men who could care less about them or anything they have to say and definitely don’t sit on blogs reading their comments is just silly…it doesn’t advance anyone’s cause, especially their own. But since the one that wronged them is out of reach it is just human nature to retaliate against an innocent party. This doesn’t make it right, but it explains why they do what they do.

    As far as President Obama goes, as a former Chicagoan born and raised there, I know that that speech, when it was given and the particular megachurch (half of my family attends there) where it was delivered had more to do with his campaign than stemming the issue of fatherless-ness. I liked the speech but I didn’t agree with the forum or the day it was given on. And considering who he was addressing and all the community work and advocacy they do, he was literally preaching to the choir. But the media was there too watching this black man running for President calling his own (a congregation of thousands) to the carpet for their shortcomings. That’s all I have to say on that.

    As always Denene – an “8 foot tall post.”

  15. Roses daughter

    Well said!

  16. Sandersgirl1970

    Keep on keeping on!!

    On this same subject, have you heard about the new film FROM FATHERLESS TO FATHERHOOD? It’s is a film that explores the causes, effects and possible solutions to turning the corner on father absence. This is accomplished through interviews and the narratives of those whose fathers – whether absent or present – have impacted them in a major way. We also recognize men who, raised without fathers, are present in their childrens lives; thus, breaking the cycle of pain that these men once felt.

    http://www.fromfatherlesstofatherhood.com/

  17. It’s a shame you had to say it, but I’m glad you did.

  18. **STANDING OVATION** Thank YOU :-)

  19. You shouldn’t have to explain yourself when all you’re doing is right.

  20. Anna Chorlton Connelly

    I understand the pain and anger of those who’ve had their father leave their family, and can understand that reaction. I feel it. That was my experience too. And I’m white. And so’s my dad. It’s deep and it hurts and it’s definitely not limited by color. But, as you so beautifully point out, that isn’t everyone’s experience and it need not keep repeating. Talking about what is going wrong is only a very small part of the path out of the mess. It is time to move on. To look to the positive examples of fatherhood in all our communities, especially black fathers, and recognize what they’re doing right. Hold them up in the light and bring our attention to them, so we can all see what TO DO, instead of what not to do.

    Thank you for highlighting the positive experiences. What we focus on as individuals and as a society is what we will nurture and will grow and take wing. As long as the center of our attention remains on the sad story of the deadbeat dad, the story will have little hope of changing.

  21. Denene,

    I have just a simple “thank you” for continuing with your focus because that is just the clarity some of us need.

  22. Fatherlessness isn’t just a black problem, though the black community is the one getting the heat for it. I myself have dealt with fatherlessness and so too do many of my friends and classmates. But I have seen just as many good fathers, of every colour and background. My neice is one of the luckiest girls in the world and has an amazing (black) father. I do believe that good parents should get their due respect and that the bad ones should get their due criticism and bad karma. I also think that if we start treating loving two-parent homes as default and as less of a novelty, maybe in addition to fewer deadbeats, we’ll cut down on the jerks who think just being around earns them brownie points or the title of good father. The deadbeat who’s still around is just as big a problem as the one who ruins people’s lives from a distance.

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