So Michele Bachmann has signed a pledge to support families that’s got some very creepy stuff in it. In particular, there’s this:

“Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”

Others have noted just how brain-curdlingly offensive this is, and I agree 100% with what they’ve written. But I want to pause for a second and look at the numbers behind the claim.

The pledge cites an invalid source — the 1880 census doesn’t have great data on slave family structures, it turns out — but the standard estimate for the number of slave families broken up by the sale of children away from one or both parents is about one in three. With life expectancy so much lower in the 19th century than it is today, I’d guess that about half of all slave families in the antebellum US were ones in which children were living with both of their parents.

And yes, the percentage of two-parent households in the black community today is a little lower than that.

But again, let’s pause for a second. Contrary to stereotypes, most African American fathers who don’t live with their kids are involved with them on a regular basis. Almost half see their kids or speak to them by phone at least once a week, and fully two-thirds spend face-to-face time with them at least once a month. (This percentage, by the way, is significantly higher than the analogous stat for white fathers who don’t live with their kids: 67% vs 59%.)

So when you compare slave families to black families today and wring your hands about the decline in the two-parent household, you’re not just ignoring the fact that slave children lived in “households” where their white master, not their own parents, had final authority over them. You’re not just ignoring the fact that many of them saw their parents savagely beaten and their mothers repeatedly raped. You’re not just ignoring the fact that their parents were in many cases prohibited by law from reading them a bedtime story. You’re not just ignoring all that.

You’re also saying that a family destroyed by the sale of its children is functionally identical to one in which the kids sleep at their mom’s most nights but have a bedroom in their father’s place, cereal in his cupboard, and drawings taped to his walls.

You’re saying, not to put too fine a point on it, that my ex-wife and I, by amicably separating and choosing to raise our children together while living apart, behaved comparably to the slaveowner who tore a toddler screaming from her mother’s arms and sold her away forever, permanently severing the bond between parent and child.

That’s what you’re saying. And it’s an repulsive insult to every parent in America.

Update: Santorum signed the pledge too. And Pawlenty is apparently considering it.