My favorite Instagram post by Kobe Bryant does not include Gianna, his 13-year-old daughter who died along with him in that tragic helicopter crash. It is a 2018 video of his 1-year-old daughter, Bianka, sitting in his lap and mimicking him trumpeting like an elephant.
We know that social media posts are designed to project a particular image that doesn’t necessarily reflect reality, but this one seemed natural. Bryant simply was boasting about how smart his baby girl is — something doting parents do all the time.
“She understands a bunch of words already, the challenge now is getting her to speak in complete full crystal clear sentences at 1, she already has plenty of words in her vocab,” he wrote.
In that regard, Bryant was being a typical proud dad. As an African American man, however, he sent a subliminal message, intentional or not, that black men are no different from other doting dads. It was a reflection of black family life not often seen, unless you happened to be one of Bryant’s 19 million followers.
Some of us didn’t know much about Bryant prior to his death, except that he was not a perfect man. We were aware of the sexual assault charges that were later dropped. He publicly acknowledged his mistakes, apologized to the woman who accused him and went about trying to repair the damage to his family.
We have learned a lot about his family life this week. A welcome revelation has been his commitment to his four children, especially his relationship with his second-eldest daughter who loved basketball as much as he and was on track to carry out his athletic legacy.
This doesn’t fit the narrative America has painted of black men. They’re supposed to be absent and uninvolved, cranking out children whom they have no intention of taking care of either financially or emotionally.
It is a stereotype that has burdened the African American family since slavery. But it is not based on fact. The truth is that there are many, many Kobe Bryants out there, though they don’t have his financial means. There’s a movement afoot on social media that proves it.
Fathers from around the world, many of them African American, are posting pictures on social media showing their adoration for their daughters, using the hashtag #girldad.
The movement was neither started by African American men nor for African American men, in particular, but their posts seen alongside men of all races shows that black men love their children, too.
Since ESPN anchor Elle Duncan inspired the hashtag with her moving on-air tribute to Bryant, black men from all walks of life have been posting pictures of themselves interacting with their daughters. It dispels the myth that black men are the familial deadbeats they are often portrayed as being.
While nearly half of black fathers live apart from at least one of their minor children, it does not tell the entire story. A Pew Research study found that 67% of these fathers see their children at least once a month, compared with 59% of white fathers and 32% of Hispanic fathers who live outside the home. More than half of black fathers who do not live with their children talk to their kids several times a week or more. That’s a higher percentage than white or Latino fathers who live elsewhere.
African American fathers who live with their children are much more involved in their day-to-day lives than other ethnic groups as well.
A 2013 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 78t% of black men fed or ate meals with their children every day and 35% read to them daily — higher rates than other racial groups. The survey found that 82% of black fathers played with their young children every day — the same as white fathers.
Bryant’s life as an adoring father was genuine and worthy of the tributes he has received. But if we really want to honor him in a substantive way, let’s acknowledge that black men are no different from any other men when it comes to loving their children.
Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.