Louis C.K. has a sketch about the advantages of being white in America.
By JUSTIN DYER
Special to The Star
Im not saying that white people are better, the comedian says. Im saying being white is clearly better. Who could even argue? If I could re-up, I would do it every year.
Louis teases, but, like all good comedians, he teases on the truth. Yet we often dont talk about one of the principal advantages whites enjoy in 21st century America: A white child is far likelier than his black peers to grow up in a home with his biological father.
In his recent comments on the tragic Trayvon Martin case, President Barack Obama described some of the many challenges black Americans continue to face. Young black men in particular are disproportionately the victims and perpetrators of violence, disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, and disproportionately are looked at and are treated with suspicion by strangers.
One thing President Obama did not mention in his comments but has eloquently spoken about elsewhere: black children disproportionately grow up without a dad at home. This is both heart-wrenching and significant, and it is a fact often left out of our discussions of the enduring racial disparities in American life.
As the introduction to the presidents Fatherhood Pledge acknowledges, When Dads arent around, young people are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs, be involved in the criminal justice system and become young parents themselves. Father absence destroys social mobility and creates a self-perpetuating cycle.
Absentee fathers adversely affect the life prospects of children of every race. According to the most recent government census, 24 million American children (and two out of three children in low-income families) do not live with their biological fathers. Fatherlessness is an American problem, and it touches every community.
But for a host of complex reasons historical, political, and cultural only about 37 percent of black children live in a home with both a mom and dad present (compared with 75 percent of white children). Even fewer black children live in homes in which their biological parents are married to each other.
President Obama is right to insist that the poverty and dysfunction in some black communities can be traced to a very difficult history, a history that includes slavery and Jim Crow. Today, disparities in family structure reinforce and deepen the disparities in income, educational attainment and incarceration rates that are partly a legacy of that difficult history. Nearly every negative life outcome correlates with father absence, and the problem becomes worse every generation.
Of course, it is much easier to diagnose a problem than to solve it. I wont presume to know the practical answers to the myriad challenges black Americans face today. No doubt the answers are complicated.
But, in the spirit of Louis C.K.s bit about being white, I can speak to the advantages I had growing up in the suburbs of Kansas City. One of the biggest advantages was having a dad who was home every night.
This is an element of white privilege not emphasized enough. White kids have much better odds of growing up in a home with both a mom and a dad.
In lifes lottery, having a father at home is like winning the jackpot. Today, white children at a higher percentage are winning.
Justin Dyer is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri in Columbia. To reach him, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.