What Brands Can Do for Black Fathers to Demonstrate True Understanding

Through substantive actions and commitment to issues of equity and race

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Black fathers face a unique set of fears, challenges and concerns. Illustration: Amira Lin
Headshot of Yusuf Dahl

Much has been written about the shifting societal role of dads and the increase in father-led households. Some brands, in a nod to these changing demographics, have moved beyond portraying fathers as supportive characters and begun to speak directly to them.

Through ads acknowledging the challenges of connecting with our teenage girls and building meaningful relationships with our kids in a digital-first world, marketers have signaled they understand our struggles as fathers and are there to help. Unfortunately, few brands have segmented this market enough to authentically connect to the unique challenges faced by Black fathers in our society.

Every parent struggles with crazy schedules, work-life balance and creating meaningful time for their family. However, Black fathers face a unique set of fears, challenges and concerns navigating a world that often views them through a distorted lens of mistruths and stereotypes.

As a single Black father, I occupy a world where my presence is considered a minor miracle by many and must constantly navigate misconceptions regarding my masculinity, compassion and competence as a parent and professional.

As a single Black father, I occupy a world where my presence is considered a minor miracle by many and must constantly navigate misconceptions regarding my masculinity, compassion and competence as a parent and professional.

My role requires not only balancing work with family time but shielding my child from a world that requires us to positively declare Black lives matter, while imbuing in her the optimism and belief that she can make from life whatever she chooses.

Like every father, I must emotionally support my daughter as she transitions from childhood to adolescence, but I bear the additional burden of helping her reconcile the contradiction between her view of me as her protector and caregiver, and a broader worldview that considers me a menace and threat.

I face the normal middle class parental challenge of helping my daughter recognize her privilege, but must also help her process the cognitive dissonance of seeing a woman clutch her purse in fear when I enter an elevator or watching a woman cross the street as the sun goes down to avoid passing me.

I deliver the same lecture every dad does about the power and importance of education, while knowing that no matter the number of degrees I have or the prestige of the institution that bestows them, an angry white woman can make a threat of police violence against me because of the color of my skin.

Similar to every parent, I raise my child to respect the law and pray they never transgress it, yet I know from personal experience that any police encounter carries an additional risk of violence and intimation for them.

Translating these truths into a consumer persona is a challenge, but I want the brands that I interact with and trust to acknowledge them. Companies that share my values and work to provide consumer and non-consumer solutions to them will be the ones who engender my loyalty.

Redesigning stereotypical brand identities, releasing statements against racial discrimination and giving employees Juneteenth off in response to another senseless Black murder are simply not enough to demonstrate that you understand my concerns and aspirations for my family and community.

How to do it is hard. Even the best messages can get skewered when resentments and anger flair, but it can be done. Through substantive actions and sustained commitment to issues of equity and race, brands can authentically stand out and demonstrate that they truly understand the concerns of Black fathers around the world.


Yusuf Dahl is the director for innovation and entrepreneurship at Lafayette College.
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