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Make 2022 your best year yet and let this Moon Reading decode your destiny with precise wisdom you can’t find anywhere else!

How LeBron James is smashing stereotypes around Black fatherhood — Andscape

Get This Before It Disappears!


Get This Before It Disappears!

Make 2022 your best year yet and let this Moon Reading decode your destiny with precise wisdom you can’t find anywhere else!

LeBron’s Power Plays is an occasional series examining LeBron James’ two decades in the NBA and how he has influenced both professional sports and the larger culture.

Huey Tinsley was born shortly before 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 30, 2022. When my son and I locked eyes for the first time, the world changed in me and around me. It changed how I view the air in my lungs and the ground I stand on. Creating space for Huey to find his place became my life’s most important and demanding purpose.

Fatherhood, and more specifically, Black fatherhood, has been an ever-present thought in my head from the moment I remember having thoughts. Few stereotypes in American history have been more destructive than that of the absent Black father. Yet, for me, it was reality. My parents divorced when I was 2, leading my mother and I to move from North Carolina to Virginia to live with my grandma. I’ve only met my biological father once — when I was 27. And aside from a letter I wrote him several years ago after learning he was ill, we haven’t been in touch since. (My Uncle John, the man I loved the most in my life and whom I consider my father figure, died from colon cancer in 1999.)

I mention this piece of personal history because it impacts how I see LeBron James, who also grew up as the son of a single mother and had no relationship with his biological father. James and I are a year apart in age (he shares a birthday with Huey!) and he just finished his 20th season in the NBA. It’s been an amazing and influential run. A significant part of that influence is due to how James created – with his wife, Savannah – a life as an involved Black father regardless of the celebrity microscope that parses every moment of his existence.

Despite being one of the most famous people in the world, he does one of the most important things a father can do: simply be present, motivating his son Bryce after a hard-fought game, baking with his daughter Zhuri, or becoming a courtside meme with Savannah at their son Bronny’s high school games. 

In American pop culture, the most recognizable Black families are the Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z), Michelle and Barack Obama, Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, and the Jameses. Though he’s understandably kept the inner workings of his family out of the public eye, James’ entire experience in fatherhood, like these other parents, has been about trying to make the right decisions with the world watching.

I’m only six months into the journey, but I learned on Day 1 that fatherhood is a game of trial and error. It comes with planning for expenses like daycare, managing the expectations of family members, and, of course, the unpredictable blowout diaper. Adding the pressure of being one of the world’s most famous athletes seems unfathomable.

“If it wasn’t authentic, I assume it would feel heavy, but it seems so natural to him. LeBron gets in more trouble when he quotes the wrong lyric on social media,” said Joshua DuBois, the CEO of Values Partnerships, a social impact consultancy and a White House aide in the Obama administration. “When he’s just being himself and being a dad, he almost seems to have an ‘I don’t care what the world thinks’ attitude. Whether it’s supporting my son playing basketball, supporting my other son and his endeavors, or showing up for my daughter.” 

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois detailed the concept of “double consciousness.” He explained how Black people have to constantly weigh who they believe they actually are, and how white society attempts to dictate who they should be in their spaces. Every Black person deals with this in some regard, including James. 

“We have to celebrate LeBron James in his Black fatherhood because we’re having to constantly combat the narratives that are readily present and in front of our faces,” said Christina L. Myers, a professor at Michigan State University who examines the depictions of the Black experience in media.  

“We need the landscapes because we’re consciously and one narrative at a time confronting and dismantling these racist perceptions of who we are as a people. So the more we share our stories, the more we see LeBron James in his essence as a father and husband, the more we’re slowly pulling down whatever those deeply rooted ideas and perspectives of who we are as a people.”

Any conversation about Black fatherhood must encompass how the Black family has been viciously targeted by economic systems and legislative actions that have actively worked to dismantle it.

LeBron James (left) watches the inauguration of Barack Obama with his children, Bryce and Bronny James, on Jan. 20, 2009 in Beverly HIlls.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

In his 2022 book, Black in White Space: The Enduring Impact of Color in Everyday Life, Elijah Anderson explored the concept of the “iconic ghetto.” Here, the ghetto is no longer a physical space defined by societal malnourishment. It’s become an image that has worked to place the onus of stereotypes squarely on Black people.

“This is the burden of the Black person in a ‘white space,’ and white space is everywhere,” said Anderson, a professor of sociology and African American studies at Yale University. “And in order for you to get decent treatment, you’ve got to work against that stereotype. That doesn’t mean you can’t deal with it, but it just means you have an extra burden of having to disprove these negative presumptions that people are ready to make about you because they assume you come from the ghetto.”

The domestic slave trade separated nearly half of all enslaved people from their spouses, parents, and families. The impact on Black families of slavery and those separations was compounded by a white power structure that worked tirelessly to reinforce negative images of the Black community. Popular films like D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation spread ideas of Black folks as angry, ignorant and lazy. These demeaning connotations exacerbated how the larger society perceives Black people. 

“The myth that’s out there is that Black fathers are like ghosts who suddenly disappear from their kids’ lives and maybe reappear in a couple moments, but they’re not a tangible physical presence,” said DuBois. “A related stereotype is that even when Black fathers are present, their presence is angry, tense, or angst-ridden — or anything but loving and affirming of their kids…. For the most part, those stereotypes are just absolutely false.”

“A lot of research suggests that when the mother and father are not together, Black fathers are more present than their white peers. But there’s no stereotype attached to the absence of white fathers the same way,” said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American studies at Duke University. “Part of it is because America doesn’t understand how Black fathers show up. Just because they’re not in the house doesn’t mean that they don’t show up.”

Left to right: LeBron James, Bryce James, Savannah James, Zhuri James, Gloria Marie James and Bronny James attend a Feb. 9 ceremony honoring James becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

There are many reasons why the absent Black father has been such a pervasive stereotype. In every state except Hawaii, for instance, the proportion of Black folks in the general population is dwarfed by the Black incarceration rate. In Maryland, for instance, the state population is 31% Black, compared to 52 percent of the jail population and nearly 70 percent of the prison population. 

Data from the Census Bureau also shows that most white and Hispanic children live in two-parent homes (75.6% and 67.5%, respectively) compared to 43% of Black children. 

These numbers didn’t come about by accident. “You’d have to look at what I believe is the targeted impact of social policies post-civil rights that made it economically advantageous for Black men to not be in the home,” said Dr. Karen McRae, president and CEO of the National Organization of Concerned Black Men, the first woman to serve in those roles in its 48-year history.

“If you look at it, the Black family has been under attack since 1619. Splinter, sell, separate, or divide — there goes community,” she said. “This may be one of the most valuable things Mr. James demonstrates with his family and how he beams at his wife. Not only is it possible, but it exists and is more normal than many would have us believe.”

A 2013 study from the National Center for Health Statistics found that Black fathers were often more active in their kids’ lives than white fathers when it came to taking them to and from daily activities or getting them dressed or diapered. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 60 percent of Black fathers live with at least one of their children, and almost three-quarters of Black fathers are actively involved in their kids’ lives regardless of whether they live with them. This adds context to a conversation that, historically, has been manipulated to weaponize the idea of the “absent Black father.” 

“You’ll see Black fathers who aren’t with their partners or mothers of their children doing school pick-up, helping with homework, and trying to be present in the way they can,” Neal said. “That’s because I think almost every Black father in America — even if they aren’t a good Black father — has grown up with the myth that they’re not going to be present. They can be bad partners. They can be bad husbands. They can be bad boyfriends. They could be bad at everything else, but they cannot be bad fathers because that’s the shame attached to Black men.”

How the Black family, especially the Black father, is seen in the wider culture is shaped, of course, by the popular media. Once that was newspapers and magazines. Then it was TV and movies. And now, increasingly it’s social media. James, who through his SpringHill Company, is an evolving media mogul in his own right, is well aware of this phenomenon and how he can change it.

“Told him three years ago, the summer of 2019 [that] I’d let you get one. Damn, time flies!” James said on Instagram, announcing his eldest son LeBron “Bronny” James Jr. had joined the platform. “Anyways, let’s get it, Bronny! P.S. Keep y’all hating asses off his comments, or we pulling up!!!”

Bronny, 18, is now an incoming freshman at USC. His brother, Bryce, 16, will begin his junior year at Campbell Hall, a private Episcopal school in Los Angeles, after transferring from Sierra Canyon, where he played beside his brother. Zhuri, her mother admits, is the loudest basketball fan in the house.

More than a decade ago, Samsung featured James in a commercial for its Galaxy Note II. The first images shown were James pouring cereal and engaging with his sons and soon-to-be wife, Savannah. (Their daughter Zhuri, 8, was born in 2014.) It showed that the family was his first priority.

And its part of a larger message: Black families in America have had to draw on extended relationships for economic and social survival — such as when James’ mother, Gloria, sent him to live with his high school basketball coach Dru Joyce for a time. He knows that the need for fathers extends far beyond his household and has incorporated it into his philanthropy, especially in Akron, Ohio, where he grew up. 

“The power and function of mass media through these representations of Black people, Black families, and Black fathers speak to what society expects those realities to be,” said Myers, the Michigan State professor. “This speaks to the very conscious disregard for the authentic Black experience because it’s been very comfortable in society to hold Black men in a certain box. That’s where individuals like LeBron James, whether consciously or not, are starting to chip at those ideas of who Black men are as it relates to fatherhood.”

“When we talk about the expectations of fathers, they’re expected to be economic or instrumental providers. To be protectors and nurturers. LeBron is doing all of that in a very extended way,” said Waldo E. Johnson Jr., a professor at the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice at the University of Chicago. “It may not be possible, and wouldn’t be possible, for him to do that in a one-on-one situation, but he is providing the kind of resources, his time, and investments in ways that his personal life meshes with his professional life. It’s fair to say that in many ways, as a professional athlete — it’s unparalleled.”

One day last month, Huey and I were pursuing one of our favorite activities: going down YouTube rabbit holes. That particular day, I showed Huey a Nipsey Hussle interview to introduce him to an artist who made a profound impact on his father’s life. 

“I learned when I was younger, you can’t put your expectations of me on me,” Nipsey said in one of the last interviews of his life. “I’m me.”

A few days later, I came across this quote from Savannah James speaking about her children in an interview with The Cut: 

“Listen, I want nothing for them except for their happiness. That’s it. In whatever it is that they decide to do, I’m here supporting and rooting for them,” she said. “I’m their biggest fan always. If they decide to go the NBA route or a different route, whatever that is, I’m here.”  

With each passing day, I learn more and more that parenthood is about guiding your children into the person they want to become — not what we want them to be. Just because you gave them life doesn’t mean you have complete control over it. They must grow to become the quality, honorable, and dynamic adults you raised them to be. 

Earlier this year, James credited his firstborn with helping him overcome his fear of being a father. Fame and money aside, LeBron and Savannah are like my wife and I – Black parents to Black children, living in a country feverishly attempting to erase their history. It’s a reality James once called “scary.”

“It’s really powerful to see him think about what it means to parent Black children in this country,” said Brittnay Proctor-Habil, a research fellow in race and media at The New School. “And what he can do to ensure that his children and maybe even Black children, in general, have opportunities and resources that he didn’t necessarily have as a young person.”

Of course, one can’t speak about LeBron’s impact as a father without recognizing the role played by Savannah.

“That shows a man’s understanding, particularly given his career and where it’s taken him, that not only is it important to be present, but also to be present to take direction from his partner,” said Neal. “I don’t think we give LeBron enough credit because we don’t know how to allow Black men to grow up in public.”

“With LeBron, Savannah, and their family, they’re going to help shift, at least for some of us, the idea of what the norm can look like for the Black family unit and what partnership can look like,” said cultural critic Naima Cochrane. “It’s not just about the husband… we’re also seeing partners and examples where the husband always acknowledged the wife’s presence. Even when Savannah wasn’t really talking, she was never invisible … That’s a new image of Black fatherhood that I don’t think a lot of us saw.”

It’s not that I never wanted kids. I enjoyed the freedom that came without kids and I wasn’t confident I’d get to a point where I’d be comfortable caring for a life I helped create. Part of that logic, I learned through therapy, was due to the relationship, or lack thereof, with my biological father, which was characterized by anger, abandonment, anger again, and the “I-don’t-give-a-f—about-him” stage. I was angry at how he treated my mother and embarrassed her publicly and privately. I was mad at God for taking my Uncle John and that I had to teach myself how to be a man — a process that came with far more hardships than most Black men will ever honestly explain.

Growing up without a father, for me at least, is an exercise in removing self-hatred from the body. I still struggle with it to this day. I don’t give myself grace to make mistakes and the downward spiral that results serves no one well. Not myself and certainly not my wife. 

A kid changes everything, though. 

There are many things I want Huey to take from me. My ability to walk in any room and not feel intimidated. How I treat people with the respect I would hope is returned. But one thing I pray he doesn’t get is the effects of what growing up without a father did to me. 

And that’s where James’ example comes into play for me as a Black father and a chronicler of Black life. Yes, James is arguably the greatest basketball player ever. He is a successful businessman, a generous philanthropist and a dedicated social activist. Yet, it’s his example as a father and husband that I can relate to best.  

“LeBron is gonna be defined as someone who showed up in the right way in the spaces where he was supposed to show up,” said DuBois. “Whether it’s at home with his kids and wife, the public sphere, political arena, speaking truth to power, showing up for his community … he did it the right way.”

Justin Tinsley is a senior culture writer for Andscape. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single most impactful statement of his generation.


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