Tim Wise: The “Black Out-Of-Wedlock Birth” Canard is Racist

Tim Wise is my favorite white anti-racist. I’m sure there are many white people like him who fight the good fight when it comes to fighting racism. But in recent years, there has been none more vocal than Tim Wise. Plainly speaking, when it comes to speaking directly to white folks about racism and the many ways in which they benefit from it within the framework of white supremacy, Tim Wise is like Dr. Doolittle. Yes, he has an uncanny ability to speak to the animals who otherwise pay very little mind to anything anyone black has to say on the subject. To that point, as a white man, Tim Wise is the perfect ally in that he serves as the consummate “Cracker Whisperer”. He has probably done more for the cause in recent years as an author, public speaker, and educator than anyone his hue. To that point, Tim Wise is “So necessary,” as Jay-Z would say.

Case in point, checkout the following excerpt from his latest piece titled What’s the Matter With White People? A Modest Call for Personal Responsibility. In it, he takes on the tired arguments levied by conservatives retread in the wake of the “Not Guilty” verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial for killing Trayvon Martin. As I pointed out recently, the usual suspects at FOX News are attempting to derail a much-needed conversation on race. By bringing up issues like black-on-black crime, out-of-wedlock births, and every “black pathology” known to white man, conservatives are pulling from the white supremacist playbook to diminish all discussions of inequality in the criminal justice system. Naturally, given the racial demographic of the average viewer of FOX News and their propensity for ignorance, much of what is said is being digested hook, line, and sinker. But just like I did recently as it relates to black-on-black crime, Tim Wise breaks it down on out-of-wedlock births with a twist.

In fact, Tim Wise does a better job:

Despite the alarm bells rung regularly by hysterics on the right, there is evidence that progress is being made in the black community on the very issues about which conservatives love to bray. For instance,teen pregnancy rates have been falling considerably for African American youth, contrary to popular perception. From 1991 to 2010, the rate of births to black teens, 15-19, fell by more than half, with a full 9 percent drop just between 2009 and 2010 alone. Likewise, from 1980 to 2008, the birthrate for all black women under 18 fell by more than half. Indeed, the birth rate for African American teenagers is now at an all-time low.

In fact, since the early 1990s, the rate of out-of-wedlock child birth for all women — not just teenagers — has fallen for blacks, while actually climbing for whites. From 1990 to 2010 the white out-of-wedlock birth rate grew by one-third while the rate for black women fell by more than 28 percent. Since 1970, the rate of out-of-wedlock births has more than tripled for white women, while falling among black women by nearly a third.

tim_wise_white_anti_racistBut how can that be? Over 72 percent of black babies born today are born out-of-wedlock, as opposed to 66.5 percent of all black babies in 1990, and only 37.5 percent of black babies born in 1970! Doesn’t this prove that single black women are becoming less responsible in their childbearing patterns? Doesn’t it prove a cultural tendency in the black community to bring children into the world, despite the lack of a father in the home? Well no, and anyone who knew how to interpret basic statistical concepts would know why. The fact that right-wing blowhards like Bill O’Reilly and pretty much everyone on FOX makes this same point, incessantly, only indicates their statistical illiteracy. A brief examination should explain.

As you can see, in the second section of the table linked above, labeled “percent of live births to unmarried mothers,” it is undeniably true that as a share of all births to black women, those that are out-of-wedlock have indeed grown dramatically over the past four decades. And yet, as the first part of the table indicates (and as I noted above), the actual unmarried birth rate for black women has been declining steadily. So, how can these two facts both be true? How can the actual rate of unmarried births to black women be falling and yet, at the same time, the percentage of births to black women that are births out-of-wedlock be climbing? Easy. These facts represent two different social realities, only one of which indicates anything about the behavior of unmarried black folks. And the one that mattersisn’t the one white conservatives like to talk about.

If unmarried black women are having fewer babies than ever — and that’s what the table demonstrates — then this means unmarried black women are increasingly doing exactly what conservative moral scolds would have them do: namely, be more “responsible” about their sexual activity, and not bring babies into the world that they are presumed less likely to be able to support because of the absence of a father. But if, despite this trend towards “responsible” behavior, the share of black births that are out-of-wedlock continues to rise, what can explain such a seemingly contradictory phenomenon? There is really only one possible answer, and it has nothing to do with cultural pathology or bad behavior. Simply put, it must be that black married couples are having far fewer children than in the past. Indeed, the rates of birth for married black couples must be falling faster than the rates for unmarried black women, such that out-of-wedlock births as a share of all black births will continue to climb, even as unmarried black women cut back on childbearing. That is, in fact, exactly the culprit here. Black married couples are having far fewer children than ever before, and far fewer than white married couples, by the way, unlike in the past when their families tended to be larger. (Read More)

Check out Tim Wise in a recent lecture at the University of San Francisco this year: