The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A Republican’s comments on Black Lives Matter get pushback for calling to mind stereotypes

Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) criticized Black Lives Matter on March 11 for its rejection of the “old-fashioned” family structure. (House Television via AP)

Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) criticized the components of the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan Wednesday, saying that expanding the earned income tax credit for single people would penalize those who choose to marry.

While arguing that the earned income tax credit for single Americans penalized marriage, the lawmaker also criticized the Black Lives Matter movement for its liberal politics regarding family structure.

“I bring it up because I know the strength that Black Lives Matter had in this last election,” he said about the movement that helped defeat former president Donald Trump. “I know it’s a group that doesn’t like the old-fashioned family — [I am] disturbed that we have another program here in which we’re increasing the marriage penalty.”

Grothman frequently made headlines while in the Wisconsin Senate for supporting bills that penalized residents who become parents before getting married because of his belief that starting families without marriage is harmful to children, a frequent talking point of social conservatives based on recent nonpartisan data from places like the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Grothman’s communications director told The Post on Thursday that the lawmaker’s comments were a response to a statement previously featured, but since removed, on the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation website:

“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.”

But some Black Americans had already interpreted Grothman’s comments as racist and playing into an idea that is prevalent among some conservatives: that because Black Americans have lower marriage rates and higher divorce rates than White Americans, they don’t value family.

Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) was one of them, and took to the floor not long after Grothman to push back on his assessment of Black anti-racism activists.

“How dare you, how dare you say that Black Lives Matter, [that] Black people do not understand old-fashioned families despite some of the issues, some of the things that you have put forward that I’ve heard out of your mouth in the Oversight Committee, in your own district,” she said.

“We have been able to keep our families alive for over 400 years, and the assault on our families to not have Black lives or not even have Black families,” added Plaskett, who recently served as a House impeachment manager. “How dare you say that we are not interested in families in the Black community. That is outrageous. That should be stricken down.”

Many religious conservatives such as Grothman have attacked the Black Lives Matter movement for its support for LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage and supporting gay Americans seeking to adopt — issues that many on the right oppose. Some White evangelicals — one of the GOP’s most faithful demographic groups — have claimed that their support for traditional family values is the reason they have been reluctant to support the movement’s work to end police violence against Black people.

Grothman’s aide said Plaskett misinterpreted the lawmaker’s statement and wrongly accused him of believing that there was no support for “strong families” among any Black Lives Matter supporters and/or Black people. The aide said Grothman sought to make distinctions between the Black Lives Matter organization and the Black Lives Matter movement — something that has been a topic of contention from time to time in the past.

But perhaps due to a lack of nuance, Grothman’s statement ultimately was interpreted as reinforcing ideas that have been used to shame Black families, shape policies and promote narratives for decades since at least the 1965 release of “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an aide to then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.

And even had Grothman been more nuanced, Plaskett’s argument is that drawing conclusions about Black Americans’ valuing of family based on data points without context is harmful, irresponsible and discriminatory. And it also isn’t completely true.

One of the most frequent myths about the Black family is rooted in the absentee father. The Post previously reported a 2017 study from the CDC National Center for Health Statistics that showed that the majority of Black fathers actually live with their children. The same study showed that Black fathers are more likely to be hands-on than White and Latino fathers when it comes to bathing, dressing, feeding and playing with their children on a daily basis.

How people define family varies greatly. And just because Black Americans have higher divorce rates and lower marriage rates than White Americans does not mean that those individuals — or organizations they support — don’t necessarily value “old-fashioned families.” Researchers argue that multiple factors contribute to divorce, out-of-wedlock births and the decision not to marry for members of all ethnic groups — including finances. And one of the Democrats’ talking points for the stimulus bill is that it will help at least temporarily lift millions of families — especially Black families, which have a lower net worth than White families — out of poverty with its expanded child tax credit.

If Grothman is deeply concerned about some Black civil rights group’s support for rethinking what family and community look like, making statements that can be easily misinterpreted and pushing back on bills that aim to improve the quality of life of millions of Black families is an interesting way to do that.