Blacks Struggle With 72 Percent Unwed Mothers Rate

Jesse Washington, WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), November 7, 2010

One recent day at Dr. Natalie Carroll’s OB-GYN practice, located inside a low-income apartment complex tucked between a gas station and a freeway, 12 pregnant black women come for consultations. Some bring their children or their mothers. Only one brings a husband.

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Seventy-two percent of black babies are born to unmarried mothers today, according to government statistics. This number is inseparable from the work of Carroll, an obstetrician who has dedicated her 40-year career to helping black women.

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As the issue of black unwed parenthood inches into public discourse, Carroll is among the few speaking boldly about it. And as a black woman who has brought thousands of babies into the world, who has sacrificed income to serve Houston’s poor, Carroll is among the few whom black women will actually listen to.

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{snip} Children of unmarried mothers of any race are more likely to perform poorly in school, go to prison, use drugs, be poor as adults, and have their own children out of wedlock.

The black community’s 72 percent rate eclipses that of most other groups: 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of Native Americans were born to unwed mothers in 2008, the most recent year for which government figures are available. The rate for the overall U.S. population was 41 percent.

This issue entered the public consciousness in 1965, when a now famous government report by future senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan described a “tangle of pathology” among blacks that fed a 24 percent black “illegitimacy” rate. The white rate then was 4 percent.

Many accused Moynihan, who was white, of “blaming the victim:” of saying that black behavior, not racism, was the main cause of black problems. That dynamic persists. Most talk about the 72 percent has come from conservative circles; when influential blacks like Bill Cosby have spoken out about it, they have been all but shouted down by liberals saying that a lack of equal education and opportunity are the true root of the problem.

Even in black churches, “nobody talks about it,” Carroll says. {snip}

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There are simple arguments for why so many black women have children without marriage.

The legacy of segregation, the logic goes, means blacks are more likely to attend inferior schools. This creates a high proportion of blacks unprepared to compete for jobs in today’s economy, where middle-class industrial work for unskilled laborers has largely disappeared.

The drug epidemic sent disproportionate numbers of black men to prison, and crushed the job opportunities for those who served their time. Women don’t want to marry men who can’t provide for their families, and welfare laws created a financial incentive for poor mothers to stay single.

If you remove these inequalities, some say, the 72 percent will decrease.

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In September, Karazin [Christelyn Karazin], who is black, marshaled 100 other writers and activists for the online movement No Wedding No Womb, which she calls “a very simplified reduction of a very complicated issue.”

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The reaction was swift and ferocious. She had many supporters, but hundreds of others attacked NWNW online as shallow, anti-feminist, lacking solutions, or a conservative tool. Something else about Karazin touched a nerve: She’s married to a white man and has a book about mixed-race relationships coming out.

Blogger Tracy Clayton, who posted a vicious parody of NWNW’s theme song, said the movement focuses on the symptom instead of the cause.

“It’s trying to kill a tree by pulling leaves off the limbs. And it carries a message of shame,” said Clayton, a black woman born to a single mother. “I came out fine. My brother is married with children. (NWNW) makes it seem like there’s something immoral about you, like you’re contributing to the ultimate downfall of the black race. My mom worked hard to raise me, so I do take it personally.”

Demetria Lucas, relationships editor at Essence, the magazine for black women, declined an invitation for her award-winning personal blog to endorse NWNW. Lucas, author of the forthcoming book “A Belle in Brooklyn: Advice for Living Your Single Life & Enjoying Mr. Right Now,” says plenty of black women want to be married but have a hard time finding suitable black husbands.

Lucas says 42 percent of all black women and 70 percent of professional black women are unmarried. “If you can’t get a husband, who am I to tell you no, you can’t be a mom?” she asks. “A lot of women resent the idea that you’re telling me my chances of being married are like 1 in 2, it’s a crapshoot right now, but whether I can have a family of my own is based on whether a guy asks me to marry him or not.”

Much has been made of the lack of marriageable black men, Lucas says, which has created the message that “there’s no real chance of me being married, but because some black men can’t get their stuff together I got to let my whole world fall apart. That’s what the logic is for some women.”

That logic rings false to Amy Wax, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, whose book “Race, Wrongs and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century” argues that even though discrimination caused blacks’ present problems, only black action can cure them.

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“Blacks as a group will never be equal while they have this situation going on, where the vast majority of children do not have fathers in the home married to their mother, involved in their lives, investing in them, investing in the next generation.”

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