Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Not having mandatory 50/50 custody is the same as "the legacy of slavery"? Spare me.

Going around the Internet today is a self-pitying little column designed to capitalize on (exploit) Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the benefit of the fathers rights movement.

In florid prose, Don Mathis dares to compare the plight of fathers in modern family court to "the legacy of slavery." In case we miss the intended horror, a gratuitous quote from a Holocaust survivor is also thrown in, just so we thoroughly get how awful daddies have it in modern America. And why is the plight of daddies so horrible? Because they don't get always get mandatory joint custody! And because some judges still try to take into account the best interests of the child, not just the demands of egotists. Oh, the horror.

So are we really to believe that child protective services and divorce courts that give fathers visitation (but not always 50/50 custody on demand) are the just the same as slave drivers and slave owners? Slavery, an institution that for hundreds of year removed millions of Africans from their homeland, forced repatriation of entire families and ethnic groups, separated countless families from their children, murdered, tortured? Spare me.

This is really, really offensive. I'm a dedicated mothers advocate, but you won't hear me saying the plight of mothers today is just the same as what mothers experienced under slavery or under the Holocaust. Because it's not. That's trivializing some of the worst moments in human history for a cheap political point. But then these guys have compared themselves to the victims of narcotraffickers at Men's News Daily, so no hyperbole is beyond them.

Obviously, this is not the first time Fathers Rights people have tried to coopt genuine progressive movements (abolitionism, anti-fascism) to prove their point.

But let's address the real history of abolitionism. Take one of my heroes, Frederick Douglass. What did he say about separation of parents and children? Read this excerpt from his 1849 Autobiography:

"My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant—before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age, Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary--a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us. Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master's farms, near Lee’s Mill. I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew anything about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger."

At the age of six, Douglass was once again forcibly separated from the grandmother who had been raising him, and relocated to another plantation, where he and the other slave children were forced to eat out of a common trough. After a series of other moves and dislocations, Douglass was finally sent at age 16 to a “slave-breaker” who viciously beat him on a daily basis, which was perfectly legal and socially acceptable by the traditional standards of the time.

And all of this by the order of his slave owner/father, AARON ANTHONY.

Because during the times of slavery, only fathers had rights over children.

Unless they were black fathers, then the property rights of the white slave owner took precedence. The great white fathers in power made a special racist exception for black fathers, see.

Sometime after Douglass finally managed to escape into freedom in 1838, he met the William Lloyd Garrison, who encouraged him to become an anti-slavery orator. Throughout his life, Douglass adamantly supported the rights of all people, especially the poor and down-trodden, whether African American, Native American, or immigrant.

Douglass was also fully committed to the nascent women’s rights movement and participated in the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, which is generally credited as the first women’s rights movement convention in the United States. In addition, Douglas was a signatory of its Declaration of Sentiments.

Significantly, among the Sentiments included in that document was the following: “He [Man] has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce, in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given; as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of the women--the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.”

So I would suggest that the fathers rights movement try to do some real research before they start the cheesy histrionics. In reality, the fathers rights movement has NEVER been allied with any genuine rights movement, whether it's abolitionism, civil rights, the labor movement, the women's movement, or anything else.

The real allies of fathers rights, both historically and today? Other supremacist movements, like the white supremacist movement (many fathers rights leaders have been and are currently involved in both, a dirty little secret that doesn't get much press play).

And that is the historic truth.