Op-ed submission by Project 21
Our nation’s capital exemplifies what America can become, but not in a good way.
Results from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey finds abysmally high percentages of single-parent households in underprivileged neighborhoods.
As the District of Columbia is a special federal enclave under congressional control, it presents a perfect opportunity for the newly-elected conservative majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to provide leadership.
According to the government data, 74 percent of households east of the Anacostia River — among the poorest in Washington — have only one parent. Only nine percent of those are headed by men. In similar neighborhoods in the rest of southeast and in northeast D.C., single-parent households are in the majority.
Some might read this, shrug their shoulders and skip to the next headline. Besides, it’s largely seen as a Hispanic and African-American problem. But these children, in danger of repeating the cycle of illegitimacy, affect everyone’s quality of life.
Out-of-wedlock childbirths in the black community may approach 72 percent, but it’s not just a black problem. According to a 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control, the birth rate for unwed mothers rose 80 percent overall since 1980. The rate among white unwed mothers rose 14 percent between 2002 and 2006, while only nine percent among blacks. Hispanics topped the charts at 106 unwed births per 1,000 unwed women in 2006. Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution notes the traditional family values commonly attributed to Hispanics deteriorate among American-born generations.
Is America headed to a place where the two-parent family is an abnormality? Will the “family” itself become a relic like westerns and black-and-white television?
There’s already a dubious definition of what it means to be a mother, father, grandmother or grandfather that considers many as only “caretakers” and “guardians”. A mother, however, is not just a noun. Fatherhood has carried with it reverence and esteem. But fatherhood is now fading into oblivion along with the household role of the male.
Frighteningly, and with frivolous abandon, the term “baby daddy” and “baby momma” are no longer a childish vernacular reserved for the likes of “Saturday Night Live.” They are becoming a colloquial description of a child’s inception and ancestry.
Single-parent households can also cause gender and role confusion. Already, distinguishing the differences and uniqueness of being a man and being a woman is fading. Diluted gender qualities have manifested into an apathetic culture concerning the need for family.
When men feel less need to be a patriarch and women are more ambivalent about marriage and commitment, children grow up with a corrupted identity of themselves.
Worse than growing up in poverty, hard times or struggle is to awaken to an unknown self in which one is uncertain of his or her responsibilities and removed from the notion of family. Many children born into single-parent communities are already at this point.
The new chairman of the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia inherits enormous crisis and potential. The profound power Congress wields over D.C. affairs provides an opportunity to address the disintegrating American family through the introduction of programs that promote active roles for fathers and assistance programs that nurture togetherness rather than reward dissolution and disparity.
Let D.C. transform from the epitome of the problem to the example of how to fix the American family.
To take a line from the political left, children are a choice. They are not a requirement of a relationship. The choice to have a child carries important implications not just for the child but for the parents and society at-large.
Each time a child is born, it is an opportunity to shape morality, values and tell a story about who we love and who we are. In giving life, we are extending ourselves into future existence and leaving behind an example of the meaning and the beauty of life.
Building a family is a gift from two people towards life and humanity. In deciding that only half or less of that equation is needed to shape one, we are unequivocally phasing out the true meaning of love and life, man and woman.
Lisa Fritsch is a member of the national advisory council for the Project 21 black leadership network and a writer and radio talk show host in Austin, Texas.