Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The crisis of fatherlessness in Toronto's black community

Globe and Mail:

Who is doing the killing and who is being killed in the wave of reckless public violence that has struck Toronto? Black boys and young men with no fathers in their homes. Yet as politicians at all three levels and black community leaders scramble for answers to the anarchy, no one has dared talk about the crisis of fatherlessness in the black community.

The silence is inexcusable. Growing up without a father present is now the norm for many black children in Canada, particularly those of Jamaican ancestry. Nearly half of all black children under 14 in Canada have just one parent in the home, compared to slightly under one in five of Canadian children as a whole, census figures from 2001 show. Two in three Jamaican-Canadian children in Toronto are being raised by a single parent. The U.S. trend of "radical fatherlessness" -- in which the majority of children in an apartment building, on a street or in a neighbourhood lack fathers -- is hitting Toronto like a tsunami.

Other countries have begun to acknowledge that the widespread absence of fathers contributes to crushing rates of school failure, teen pregnancy and violence. In Britain, Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, who is black, last month criticized the "almost casual acceptance" that most black children grow up fatherless. In the United States, black artists, thinkers and politicians as disparate as actor Bill Cosby, novelist Charles Johnson, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Democratic Senator Barack Obama have urged black fathers to take responsibility for their children. They don't worry about giving offence, either.

"There are a lot of folks, a lot of brothers, walking around, and they look like men," Mr. Obama said in June, "and they're tall, and they've got whiskers -- they might even have sired a child. But it's not clear to me that they're full-grown men." Mr. Johnson, writing in The Wall Street Journal last month, said it "could not be more clear in 2005" that "without strong, self-sacrificing, frugal and industrious fathers as role models, our boys go astray, never learn how to be parents (or men), and perpetuate the dismal situation of single-parent homes run by tired and overworked black women. The black family as a survival unit fails, which leads to the ever-fragile community collapsing along with it."

Poor neighbourhoods in Toronto are crying out for involved fathers. The city's deputy police chief, Keith Forde, who is black, says that invariably when he speaks to predominantly black audiences, two or three mothers approach him to be a Big Brother to their sons. "Nothing hurts me more in all I do in policing than having to say no to these parents."

Girls' lives, too, are deeply harmed in fatherless communities. At least a decade ago, Mr. Forde heard from 13- and 14-year-old girls in Rexdale, a dangerous suburb of Toronto, that the boys were insisting: "If you want to be my girlfriend you have to get pregnant for me." Rexdale is where an 18-year-old man was shot and killed on the steps of a church during the funeral last week of his 17-year-old friend.

Some may argue that it takes a village to raise a child. But the truth is that the urban public-housing village is drenched in social toxins such as drugs, violence and poor role models. And in that toxic village, fatherless boys are left to themselves to determine what it means to be a man. Where do they look? To one another, and to those of influence in the public realm such as U.S. gangsta rapper Fifty Cent, himself a fatherless boy whose vision of masculinity glorifies lethal violence.

Funeral shooting becomes a study in fearful silence

No easy solutions

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