What species can survive and function when a substantial segment of its young male population is harnessed by the burdens of substance abuse, unemployment, and incarceration? Empirical data suggests that these maladies have infected African-American males at a rate alarmingly disproportionate to that of other races. This trend, if it continues, suggests that America is creating a dysfunctional class. In this Article the term "dysfunctional" refers to a predicament wherein African-American males engage in violent activities.' Their conduct may be attributable to their inability to contribute to the family or smaller groups which form the foundation of the social order of society. In light of the increasing numbers of African-American males populating correctional facilities, becoming enslaved to drugs, and becoming unemployed, unskilled, and only minimally educated, drastic measures need to be taken to prevent them from becoming dysfunctional members of society. The problem is real. Recognizing this burden, several theories of remedy have been suggested. Some propose single-sex, single-race schools,9 while others advocate rearing African-American children in non-African-American families.' ° None of the suggested remedial measures will be effective if we do not seriously consider the real problems that confront the African American male child. The consequences of racism play a substantial role in the demise of these youth, and the placement of the delinquent child is vital in correcting the situation. I suggest that a potential solution is placing African-American male children with their fathers. In proposing this remedy, I am not advocating separating them from their mothers. My focus is on children in the juvenile justice system who are thus wards of the state. I consider this remedy as pro-survival for African-American males. I am in no way implying that African-American women have failed in raising our male children, but I am suggesting that perhaps the burden is too heavy for us to bear, alone, today. I advocate state interference in a family unit only when there are signs of profound distress and disturbance, as indicated by a child's entrance into the juvenile justice system. Once the child becomes a part of the "system," the state has an interest in the child sufficient to merit intervention and the state should act, as when non-delinquent conduct is involved, in the best interests of the child. The "best interests of the child" test for deciding custodial placement is the most recent standard delineated by the courts. At early common law, a father had the paramount right to custody of his children. Courts later considered the age and gender of the child as a deciding factor, and placed children of a tender and early age with their mothers. A more recent rule, the "primary caretaker" rule, allowed the child to be placed with the parent who was primarily responsible for the child's care. This rule allowed for a gender neutral determination. Today, however, placement decisions are determined by applying the "best interests" test. Courts focus on the child's needs and determine placement accordingly. Placement questions, for the most part, arise during custodial disputes, neglect, and child abandonment cases. The juvenile justice system needs to be transformed so that this test is similarly applied to a child's placement at the dispositional stage. Part I of this Article discusses issues plaguing African-American males. Part II addresses the best interests of the child test as it arises in the dispositional stage for juvenile delinquents. Part III discusses the AfricanAmerican father as nurturer, and considers the implications of forcing him to parent even though he is absent from the home. Part IV notes that the state has forced parents to "parent" in other areas, thus the notion of forced parentage can be implemented for delinquents. Part V concludes that the remedial measure of forced parentage may be necessary as a pro-survival measure, outweighing any anti-mother, anti-womanist, or anti-feminist notions. Understanding the role racism plays in our society, I conclude that forced parentage is necessary for the survival and prosperity of the African-American community, and that it would be in the best interests of both delinquent African-American male youth and society as a whole.
Lundy Langston, Force African-American Fathers to Parent Their Delinquent Sons - A Factor to Be Considered At the Dispositional Stage, 4 COLUM. J. GENDER & L. 173 (1994).