Written by Serie McDougal III
In Ebonics, the word son can have multiple meanings. It can refer to a friend, someone who a speaker does not know, and it can be used to talk down to someone or refer to dominating someone. However, the word can also be used as a verb to refer to the act of teaching another person. Put simply, the meaning of the word son in Ebonics can change radically depending on the context in which it is used. A recent article written by Jay-Paul Hinds (2018) asserts that sonship is a lifelong experience that can help men to overcome feelings of inadequacy that come from troubled relationships with their fathers. Hinds’ (2018) primary argument is that sonship should not be viewed negatively for men, and that they should be allowed to search for male figures and assume the role of son even in adulthood. For Hinds, the desire to be another man’s sons should be cultivated responsibly so that it is not associated with shame. Hines (2018) uses the examples of Martin Luther King Sr. and Martin Luther King, Jr. as examples of men who experienced strained relationships with their fathers and stood to benefit from being able to assume sonship as adults. A challenge in Hinds’ (2018) work is that he seems to imply that seeking a father figure outside of one’s biological father requires there to be some problems in the father-son relationship.
Looking at pre-colonial African family systems demonstrates that father was a designation that as not limited to biological fathers. In fact, manhood rites were guided by elders who boys were expected to treat as authority figures and look to for guidance. As men they were expected to look to these men for wisdom as elders. The need for what Hines (2018) refers to as sonship was anticipated by African cultures. However, these communities of lifelong fathers are necessary today because biological fathers may experience parental alcohol/drug abuse, teen pregnancy, parental incarceration, homelessness, domestic violence, physical illness, emotional instability, neglect/abandonment, poverty, and parental death (Smith, 2010). However, communities of fathers are not only necessary because of parental inadequacy but because they surround children with men who may serve as models and resources that no single father could provide alone. Hines (2018) argues for removing shame from the act of seeking sonship. A different conversation should involve removing suspicion from Black men who assume fatherly roles to young males who are not their biological sons.
Hinds, J. (2018). The Son’s Fault: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Search for and Recovery of Sonship. Journal Of Religion & Health, 57(2), 451-469.
Smith, A. (2010a). Standing in the “GAP”: The kinship care role of the invisible Black
grandfather. In R.L. Coles & C. Green (Eds.), The Myth of the Missing Black Father.
New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 170-191.