Rod Liddle was branded a ‘national disgrace’ when he wrote about how black boys are paying the price for growing up in households without their dads. But he’s right. The disproportionate number of black boys held in youth offending centres, which I visited during my time as a member of the youth justice board, shocked me. Many of those I encountered had been involved in knife crime. So what was going wrong? I did what many sociologists have failed to do: I asked them. These boys knew I wouldn’t stand for any spin about racism or the closure of the local youth club. Without such excuses, nearly all pointed to the absence of their fathers as a key problem in their lives. It was straightforward: for these boys, the restraints were off and they were simply left to fend for themselves.
Another interesting factor was the lack of responsibility these boys had for their crimes. All of them maintained that they were innocent. This ‘not me guv’ attitude even came from those who were caught red handed with a knife. There is evidence to show that black boys are more likely to plead not guilty to crimes than their white counterparts. Inevitably, this leads to longer sentences when they are found guilty. So what was the reason for this state of denial among these young men? It was often to do with respect: I felt justified killing my brother, the argument went, because he disrespected me. Sadly, this counted as a plausible excuse for many of those raised in a moral vacuum without a dad on hand to stop them from straying. Many of these boys reminded me of Hamlet: their absent fathers haunted their lives. They looked instead to their peers. All too often, this is where things started to go badly wrong.
This problem of absent dads isn’t going away: in Britain, the black ethnic group has the