CA. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass Writes on about Her Father

Los Angeles,CA–In my March post Anti-Father Bias at the Los Angeles Times I wrote:

The Los Angeles Times article “Next speaker enjoys broad support” (3/2/08) details the rise of Karen Bass (pictured with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), the incoming leader of the California assembly and the first African American woman to be elected to lead a legislative house in the U.S. The piece was a nice example of the subtle and not-so-subtle societal bias against fathers and fatherhood. The article begins:
“Anyone who knew Wilhelmina Bass might understand why her daughter Karen Bass, the Los Angeles Democrat elected Thursday as the next leader of the California Assembly, has devoted her Capitol career to making the state a better parent to its 80,000 foster children. “A former beauty salon owner who raised Karen and three boys in a well-appointed house in the Venice-Fairfax area, Wilhelmina Bass was a kind, poised, contemplative mother, and ‘the notion that people would come into this world and not have loving parents has always caused Karen pain,’ said Sylvia Castillo, Bass’ district director and a friend for three decades.” We all know the script: heroic, overwhelmed black mother raises her kids herself, and now one of them has done mama proud by making good in the world.  Yet, believe it or not, Bass actually had a father, too. It is only much further down in the story, after we are already assuming that Bass was raised by a single mom, that we are told, “She credits her father, DeWitt, a mail carrier, for making her a ‘news junkie’ — Bass said she used to wake at 4:30 a.m. to listen to the radio with him before he began his route.” In fact, in the autobiographical information that Bass herself provided the Democratic Party, she wrote, “Karen has dedicated her life to improving our neighborhoods. Her father, DeWitt Bass–a letter carrier for 40 years–and mother, Wilhelmina, raised Karen and her three brothers in the Venice/Fairfax neighborhood.” In other words, Bass saw herself as being raised by both parents, and it even seems like she was at least a bit of a daddy’s girl.  Why did the Los Angeles Times choose to place far more importance on her mother than on her father?

I tied the Los Angeles Times‘ diminishment of the role of Bass’ father to the media’s “paternal abandonment script”–the standard assumption that if a father doesn’t remain in his children’s lives after a divorce or separation, it’s because he “abandoned the family” and/or chose to remove himself from his children’s lives. This script is pushed heavily by both the left and the right, including: feminists; influential fatherhood expert David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values; presidential candidate Barack Obama; former Vice-President Dan Quayle (and his famous 1992 Murphy Brown speech decrying fatherlessness); and countless others. I was publicly criticized for this post, but according to Bass herself, I had it right. Recently Bass posted the following on my blog in response:

Glenn you wrote this several months ago after I was elected to be the 67th Speaker of the Assembly. I just read it for the first time today. It was very interesting to me because I felt the same way when I read the article—it was a very nice piece but leaving out the role my father played in my life could not accurately represent my life. You were right—I have always been proud that I had a wonderful father who was absolutely the reason I got involved in politics in the first place. As an African-American it was also very important to accurately portray my family—-a stable working class family with two loving parents. Thank you, Karen Bass

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