On “The Function of ‘the Black Father’”

“If black children were raised in an environment that focused not on bemoaning their lack of fathers but on filling their lives with the nurturing love we all need to thrive, what difference would an absent father make?”


This question sets up a false binary: either we bemoan the loss of a Black Father or we focus on filling the lives of Black children with all they need to thrive. Is a Father’s love necessary to thrive? What role, if any, does the Father have to play in the fulfillment of a deeper nurturance? Do we bemoan the Father’s absence only through a longing for a Patriarchal center, or might the Father serve a difference function? Does a Father’s love make a difference? I want to suggest that it may make a difference. One that, from the beginning, should not be tossed aside as having “benefits” or “deficits” but rather, which certainly constitutes something of a qualitative difference in the experience of one’s Self/World/Relation. What I want to also question and ponder is the question of the Black Father. What is “The Function of a Black Father”?

“If they woke up in homes where electricity, running water and food were never scarce, went to schools with teachers and counselors who provided everything they needed to learn, then went home to caretakers of any gender who weren’t too exhausted to sit and talk and do homework with them, and no one ever said their lives were incomplete because they didn’t have a father, would they hold on to the pain of lack well into adulthood?”


The quickness with which we often say, “Yes” or “No” to this is something I’d like to ponder. Yes and No follow lines of political axiomatics that float conservative to a Yes and progressive to a No. This entire debate circles through the Moynihan Report as a seminal text that utilized the pathologization of Black womanhood as a tool of disavowal in labeling the so-called “Matriarch” as the real problem of communion. Anti-Black feminist responses to the Moynihan Report can – in a crude kind of way – be thought as somewhat synonymous with the archetyping of the “Black Matriarch” as a problem. Therefore, I would consider all those texts of Black masculinity studies which might confirm the Moynihan Report on the basis of a misogynoir that holds Black women culpable for the destruction of their “communities,” accounts of disavowal. This is quite simply because any such account places the onus of metaphysical violence, or “violence without end” onto those feminine body-beings for whom the violence is of an accursed share. Nevertheless, this does not necessarily end our question nor does the revolutionary fantasy of a future world of shared plenty. For even in this future world of blessed sharing, my question remains, is there a function for the Black Father? What exactly do you do, Sir? What is a Black Father for? What is a Black Father? That is what this note ponders.

The destruction, found in the Moynihan report, the observatory eye of the white gaze which circles around and through Black bodies begins its interpolative violence in the assumption of “community” and “problem.” The report should have begun with: “Is there a such thing as a Black community?” What is community? For following the discovery of this you’d have to asked, what is family? And will I find “family” in this “community”? What am I looking for here? Moynihan’s report assumes community and family and furthermore, assumes that familial communities must possess Fathers in order to function. Therefore, the function of the Father, according to Moynihan, is to solve the problem of community that by virtue of the nuclear familial norm in America will swell to pathology if the Father is not there to serve his function. These problems ostensibly are linked to the Mother and the Thug. In this Western womb theory, the Mother gives birth to The Thug (who despite his own veracious attempts to distance himself from the “Bitch” in him is consistently “touched by the Mother” at every instance) because of the absence of the Father’s rule. The Black Leftist response is characteristic of the insistently reactionary insights of the Left. Moynihan’s conservative report sets the goalpost for an assumption that the Father is absolutely central. Moynihan conflates, distorts, disavowals, mislabels and misleads and we follow these tricks and say their opposite. It is better for us to get into the thick of things. To brush into and inside of the wickets and weeds of any thought that might come to have influence. This is because influence is insight. Insight into the maze of the World.

Couldn’t we just deny the imperative of the rule of the Father, while still suggesting a function? The Black Leftist say instead the absent Father is a myth of structural poverty and that the existence of alternative family units will suffice in the making of wholeness. The solution to the Black community and family therefore cannot be found in a Father but in resources and experiments in kinship. It should be noted that there have been many beautiful experiments in these familial structures especially within Black queer communities. The existence of Blackness at the fringes always hints to the possibilities of alternative ways of living in the World. Nevertheless, does a queerer, Blacker, more abundant World full of resources dissolve the “function of the Black Father”? Is there any such thing?

My hypothesis, currently, is that this absence makes it presence known with or without a World of difference and abundance. Yet, I have nothing but the bitter reality of this current World formation to bring about such an assertion. Furthermore, these discussions about a more abundant and liberated future still must deal with the real of a now to which this absent function of the Black Father can be linked not to the Mother (oh never that!) but instead to a prelogical violence, a genocidal accumulation and destruction, that functions hieroglyphically on the flesh in accordance to an anti-Black bio-essentialist logic. This is to say, the function of the Black Father, can scarcely by known. For the conservative gesture exist to imbibe a religiosity based in Patriarchy around the ‘Father’ figure and the experimental gesture rooted in histories of alternative kinship provide community and “family” but does it destroy the question of “the Father?” Does it quiet the psychosocial longing for the mysterious function of a figure we know nothing of? We can understand that ‘the absent Black Father’ is both imaginary in what its potential holds, symbolic in its anti-Black and bio-essentialist logics, and real in that it begins at the  reproduction of obscene violence which tears kin apart into unspeakable grammars. This inability to speak to, of and about the Black Father, the way in which one only broaches the topic through a passion of experience and World formation, makes every sense of thinking this absence a kind of confession. “What does a Black Father mean?” always hides a secret (to you).

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