The murder of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, who was brutally beaten by police officers in Memphis during a traffic stop, has devastated many people across the country. In the midst of our collective grief, sports journalist Jason Whitlock–a Black man known for his controversial opinions–thought it was a good time to shift the focus from the officers who beat Nichols to death and the system that made it possible, to the Black women he presumed raised the men responsible for the crime.
While discussing the tragedy on Fox News Live, the on-air analyst said, “Everybody involved in this on the street level was either 24 to 32 years old. Everybody. It was a group of young Black men, five on one. Looked like gang violence to me,” he began. “It looked like what young Black men do when they’re supervised by a single Black woman.” He has continued to peddle such criticisms through other platforms.
As you can imagine, this comment didn’t go down well, especially with Black women. Singer Ciara responded to it, rightfully disappointed in the harmful rhetoric Whitlock perpetuated about Black women.
“As a black man to get on national tv and say something like this is irresponsible,” she wrote in a tweet. “A lot of amazing kids have come from single mothers. For you to also undermine single black women in the midst of this tragedy is so sad. This woman just lost her son! Do better!”
Actress Holly Robinson Peete also added her thoughts on Whitlock’s comments via the Twitter thread. “What a self loathing, cold, reckless, stereotypical, insensitive clout chasing untruth to spew in front of millions.” She would go on to call Whitlock a “pathetic troll.”
What Whitlock said is also harmful for two reasons—it shames Black women while not holding the men who abandon their children accountable, and it assumes that all Black single mothers are raising kids without fathers. I’ll add a third reason since we’re already here. His comments shift the conversation away from systemic racism, which is at the center of police brutality and so-called “baby mama culture.”
The Shaming of Black Single Moms
We know what the data says. We know that children who grow up in single parent homes are more likely to engage in riskier behaviors, have a higher chance of incarceration, and don’t perform as well educationally as kids from two-parent homes. However, these children were made from two children, so why are the fathers never publicly humiliated and held accountable?
Whitlock’s comments alleviate men of responsibility when it comes to children they co-create. It unfairly casts judgment on Black mothers who do their best to raise these kids with the limited resources they have. It also overlooks the fact that single motherhood doesn’t just happen to “women who choose terrible baby daddies.” It also happens to Black women who end up divorced or widowed. Either way, Black single moms shouldn’t be blamed when five adult men make bad choices.
As Bishop Talbert Swan rightfully said, when white boys are carrying out mass shootings and killing innocent people, the disrespect isn’t as loud. Many times, we don’t even know whether they come from single parent households, and if they are, that is never weaponized.
The Deadbeat Black Dad Myth
When Whitlock implies that these police officers are raised by single Black moms, it can also perpetuate the myth that Black fathers are mostly absent and deadbeat. For those who don’t know, this is a myth.
While Black women may not get married at the rate that white women do, Black fathers have been just as active as white fathers according to a Pew Research study. As a matter of fact, Black fathers were more likely than white and hispanic fathers to see their children when they lived in separate households. They were also more likely to talk to their children several times a week about their day than hispanic (22%) and white fathers (30%). Being an unmarried parent and a single parent are two entirely different things and the two shouldn’t be confused. You can be a Black unmarried mother, co-parent, and raise balanced children.
Systemic Racism and the Black Family
We cannot and must not ignore the systemic racism that exacerbates “baby mama culture,” as Whitlock calls it. Black male incarceration, and in the case of Nichols, premature death, means many mothers, like the mother of his child, are left raising kids alone.
Nichols died at the hands of five young Black men and they should all be held accountable. However, Black men committing the act doesn’t take away from the fact that this could happen because systemic racism and violence are still so deeply embedded in the American police system. Not only does this system allow lynchings to continue happening in 2023, but it also continues to tear our Black families apart.
Do we need a reminder about the Black imprisonment rate? At the end of 2018, Black men were imprisoned at twice the rate of Hispanics and five times the rate of white men. Even if these men who are fathers wanted to be active parents, the system makes it difficult for them to be.
Instead of talking about how racism contributes to the creation of Black single moms, Whitlock chose to shame these women instead.
One more thing, Black single moms may also have a better chance at thriving if poverty, which disproportionately affects Black women, as well as pay disparities, weren’t persistent issues. Maybe more single Black moms could then afford to raise their children in areas that aren’t plagued by “gang violence.” By the way, these underserved communities that tend to be hubs for gangs are another byproduct of the racism Whitlock should have been talking about. I must add the clause that I’m not saying all of the issues in the Black community should be blamed on racism. I’m just saying, if you’re going to address a problem, address the root cause too.
It’s sad that in 2023, we still have people who think this way—Black men especially. As a Black single mother, those comments are offensive and hurtful. And it’s not because I think I am less effective as a single parent to a young boy or that I’m incapable of raising an exemplary Black man. It’s because a Black man who comes from a Black woman used Black people’s grief to publicly shame and humiliate Black women. As Ciara said, do better.