Time to Get Rid of the Stale Narrative About Black Dads

June 29th 2017

Doyin Richards

Last weekend I took my two young kids to a water park in Los Angeles to enjoy some good ol' fashioned fun in the sun. While waiting in line to get in, two white men ahead of us in line started talking about a black man named LaVar Ball.

If you like sports or live near me, you probably know Mr. Ball, who is commonly described as an obnoxious stage dad to three sons—who happen to be very good basketball players. 

At first the men evaluated the talents of LaVar's oldest son, Lonzo, who was just drafted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Things became interesting when the men aired their assumptions about the Balls' family life.

Man #1: "I just wish LaVar would keep his mouth shut. He's the worst kind of father and I feel bad for Lonzo."

Man #2: "Hey, at least the kid has a dad unlike the majority of them."

Man #1: "Yeah...but it seems like the only time these guys want to be involved in their kids' lives is when they can make a buck off of them."

My head was about to explode. The majority of black kids don't have fathers? The only time black men want to be involved in their kids' lives is when we can profit from them? What year are we in again? Since I was alone with two kids under the age of seven, I wasn't about to set these knuckleheads straight in an amusement park line. Instead, I shook my head and realized we have a lot more work to do when it comes to dispelling falsehoods about black dads. 

I can confidently say that I have more experience with dealing with these false perceptions than most due to the reactions from of a photo of me and my two daughters that went mega-viral a few years ago. Believe me, people had a lot to say about it. 

Viral photo of Doyin and his two daughters

There's no need to revisit all of the nasty comments I received, but one in particular reminded me of the conversation at the amusement park:

"I bet he's using his kids in an attempt to become rich and famous." 

People had the same impression of me that they have of LaVar Ball now—just another black guy trying to exploit his kids for financial gain. How could a heartwarming photo of a dad and his kids be viewed as the precursor to a nefarious plot to cash checks? How can such incorrect assumptions persist and spread without the underlying racist stereotypes that black dads are all selfish and lazy? 

Facts and my reality don't support these racist notions.

I love everything that comes with being a dad and I know many other black men who feel the same way: my dad, my two brothers, and countless other friends and colleagues are among them.

Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up the significance and involvement of black dads. A recent study revealed that 70 percent of black dads are likely to engage in common child-rearing activities such as diaper changing, bathing, or potty training on a daily basis. Every day, the majority of black dads are contributing to their kid's quality of life. That percentage is higher than other dads—60 percent of white dads and 45 percent of Hispanic dads help with these tasks every day. This stuff matters not just because early parental bonding with babies is exceptionally valuable in a child's development, but because it's not seen or respected enough when black men are leading the way.

So, while there is strong evidence that black dads are investing in their kids futures more than any other, their efforts are commonly disrespected. Don't be fooled by the fake news out there, because quite frankly, the narrative of black men not stepping up as dads is as played out as "the Dab." 

In LaVar Ball's case, he's achieved a parent's dream—his kid is in the NBA. It's undoubtedly taken decades of support and training to reach this milestone. This should be a moment of pride and celebration for the family. But like mine, they're subjected to the negative, racist assumptions of others in the public sphere.

People love to hate this guy, and if you think the criticism he receives isn't due in part to the color of his skin, then you clearly aren't paying attention. But at the end of the day, I'm most concerned about the opinions of his family. The signs point to the fact that his own kids love him to death based on what he does for them when the cameras aren't on, so who are any of us to judge how he raises his sons? Would I do many of the things he does? Probably not. But I wouldn't do many of the things you do as a parent, either. As long as the wellbeing of the children aren't being compromised in any way, I'm fine with it.

I'm sure a few of you are thinking, "Ugh! Why does race have to be brought into everything?" It's annoying, right? Imagine how annoying it is when you don't have the luxury to ignore racial issues or pretend they don't exist. Many well-meaning parents want to raise their kids to be colorblind, but all that does is make it harder to identify inequality when it happens. The fact is that we're all different and we should embrace those differences. The vast majority of parents want the best for our children — and as a black man, it would be nice if I (and others like me) received the benefit of the doubt when it comes to that. 

Final memo to the dudes at the water park: little did you know that directly behind you in line was a black man whose only motivation was to have a good time with his kids. If you looked around, you'd probably see many other black dads doing the exact same thing. That shouldn't be viewed as surprising or newsworthy — it should just be normal.