The Absent Black Father: Race, The Welfare-Child Support System, and the Cyclical Nature of Fatherlessness


The perception of Black fathers is that they are largely absent from their children’s lives, and that such absence—and the ensuing experience of growing up fatherless—is a direct cause of social issues in Black communities. Through media representations and policymaking, the absent Black father narrative has taken shape over the past fifty years, giving rise to the belief that fatherlessness is a distinctly Black issue. To safeguard against misplaced assumptions, this Comment proposes a new, cyclical model by which to view fatherlessness. Rather than a linear process that ascribes the blame for Black plight to Black fathers, this Comment posits that socially constructed notions of race and stringent welfare-child support laws perpetuate the absent Black father stereotype. This cycle begins with a Black father being absent from the home; he then has child support enforced against him, irrespective of his ability to pay; consequently, the child takes on the identity of being fatherless and the father who cannot pay child support is rendered deadbeat. This produces real social consequences, which feed back into the social perception of Black fatherlessness. Through this lens, this Comment assesses incentives in state child support enforcement and questions whether states are actually motivated to push Black fathers out of their homes. Ultimately, this Comment concludes that understanding fatherlessness as both socially and legally constructed can help eliminate the trope of the absent Black father.

About the Author

UCLA School of Law, J.D., 2020.