Burn this Bitch Down!

Perhaps Louis Head's exclamation "Burn This Bitch Down!" is a rallying cry to destroy policies that prevent families to configure in a manner that best suits their needs. Mass incarceration, high rates of unemployment, and common notions that Black fatherhood is contingent upon a father's financial contribution to a child's upbringing have all aided in constructing various formations of the Black family and different modes of parenting. However, scholars and politicians have deemed pathological any familial formation outside of the nuclear family structure, with the father as the primary breadwinner who resides in the family home. Moynihan's flawed thesis of patriarchy as the cure for perceived Black familial instability most recently gained traction in the 2016 election coverage for President of the United States. The rhetoric of the Republican Party cast Black communities as inner city hells, full of female-headed homes leading to irresponsibility, criminality, and a drain on the country's resources.

Likewise, in the 2016 presidential race, the Democratic Party chose the narrative of Black female victimhood and heroism, as best evidenced by the Mothers of Movement. During the Democratic National Convention, the mothers of Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Dontre Hamilton, and Oscar Grant, all children killed by the extra judicial or state violence, took the stage as an example of endurance and survival. Missing were the fathers of these deceased children, thereby reinforcing stereotypes of their absence and dereliction.

Since emancipation, negative perceptions of Black families in general, and Black fathers, in particular, have been imprinted in the minds of jurists, legislators, and politicians with no critique of patriarchy and its uses to lay waste to Black family life. The plantation system is a model of Western patriarchy, where the benevolent White father raped Black women who were his property or bred them with the Black male enslaved to increase his labor force; there were no laws requiring him to legitimate his children. This same father figure split families apart on the auction block and contributed to Black family formations that are now denigrated. Patriarchy, thus construed, has given Black fathers limited power to legitimate their children and Black mothers the authority to speak on their children's behalf in a political sphere. Simultaneously, it has silenced fathers who have no legal or societal claim on their children by virtue of not being part of a nuclear family structure. Until the falsehood of patriarchy as a savior for Black families and communities burns and we grapple with the role of white supremacy in creating instability in Black communities, we will continue to deny Black fathers the right to participate in their children's lives and to protect them from a system of white supremacy that would render Black fatherhood unnecessary and obsolete.

These were the words uttered by Mike Brown's step-father, Louis Head, when he learned of the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown.


Professor of Law, Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law.