The new wave of national Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests triggered by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other select black Americans has drawn greater attention to the Black Lives Matter Foundation, the activist organization behind this movement. Upon learning more about the BLM organization, many people discovered that one of their declarations concerns the nuclear family.

Is it true that the BLM organization wants to abolish the nuclear family? 

Selectively true. True only in context. Partly make believe.

It’s an exaggeration to say that the BLM organization wants to abolish, dismantle, or end the nuclear family, but they do aim to move society (and likely public policy) away from a full embrace of the nuclear family as the preferred familial structure in black society.

Here is what they actually said on their website (which, notably, has since been removed and the page no longer exists):

We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

As I noted, this language has since been scrubbed and the entire about us page removed. 

Critics often quote the phrase “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure…” (I have.)

We note though, that BLM says that they are disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family as a “requirement.” However, there is no requirement that children be raised in a two-parent household or that there is no role for relatives in helping rear kids. Families come in many different shapes and sizes. A child may be raised by two divorced. She may be raised by a grandparent or an aunt. Extended family members play supportive and sometimes primary roles in the lives of children at different points.

BLM seems to suggest that a nuclear family does not depend on other family members. They do. In the pre-pandemic era, grandparents and older relatives would provide caregiving support to little ones for many families. Often though that depends on proximity to relatives, not some social norm rejecting extended family. This is nothing new.

Some academics suggest that “disrupting” refers to changing public policies that give preferential treatment to two-parent households or to extend those benefits to single-parent households.

What is troubling is BLM’s desire to shift away from the nuclear family structure. For most children that is not the norm nor should it be the ideal.

According to the Census Bureau, about 70 percent of children in the U.S. lived within a two-parent household in 2019, although this was down from 88 percent in 1960. About 23 percent lived with their mothers only, and the remainder either with their father only or someone other than a parent. 

Among black households, 43 percent of children lived in two-parent households, while over half (57 percent) lived with just one parent – mostly their mothers. However, this was a significant decline since 1970 when 64 percent of black children lived with both parents.

The bigger question is whether a two-parent household delivers better outcomes for children. A large body of research indicates that children in single-parent households are more likely to live in poverty and experience behavioral, educational, emotional, and employment problems.

Increasingly, single mothers are adapting to the challenges of lower incomes and poverty by living with their own parents and relatives and that may not be entirely captured by poverty rates. However, those situations may be more fluid and temporary which may not provide the long-term stability that children need to thrive.

Two involved parents contribute greatly to the success of their kids. That is not to say that a child raised by only her father or mother will not succeed. So many do, but the odds are not in their favor.

It’s not accurate to say that BLM wants to abolish the nuclear family, but they do seem to want the black community to stop embracing the nuclear family as the ideal structure, regardless of the outcomes for children.