Written by Penelope Farthing
And here I am again, with part two of this post. You can read part one here.
To recap, Kayla Nicole, an 18-year-old internet personality, has caught much heat after making a “shocking” declaration that African Americans should make marriage a traditional belief again, rather than our current setup of birthing kids out of wedlock. Yesterday’s post was more of a deconstruction of the responses I’ve seen, and today’s post will tackle the behavioral component in this conversation.
People were up in arms about marriage, and that it isn’t needed to create healthy households. People who believe this are not wrong, as many unmarried people cultivate healthy, happy, productive children. However, as it has been shown, marriage before children is not really the done thing in the black community. We glorify being a baby-mama and simultaneously embrace dysfunction and eschew people telling us what might be a better solution. But I pose this question to those of you who think marriage is not a requirement.
Surely after years of birthing recklessly to one or more unwed partners, someone might say “actually hold up, I don’t think this is working” and try something else. We complain about the ills of everything else, and the impact everyone else has on our community, and then fail to take some accountability for our own actions too. Yes, we can say “black men aren’t marrying us!” all we want, and while that is a huge part of it, black women have our role as well. Imagine if vows and commitment were made before giving the gift of immortality to a man. This blog originated No Wedding No Womb and was mocked for it at the time. And here we are, a decade later with a similar sentiment being expressed by a platform larger than ours, and nothing has changed.
I have already discussed why marriage is not just a piece of paper. Common sense dictates that no, marriage doesn’t guarantee anything, but it certainly guarantees a lot more than the alternative. So now let’s lend an ear to the baby-parent folks. Because I have some questions to ask.
Let’s talk about the little-discussed benefits of being born to unwed parents. What are they? If you know them, let me know in the comments below. I don’t know any. Probably because there aren’t any, but hey, I’m no sociologist, either. Studies only seem to focus on the benefits of marriage to the children that result, and little of the joys of single parenthood. You know why? Because there ARE NONE. If a child is made with two people, it goes to reason that two people will be needed to continue the actual difficult part, cultivating and raising said child. Single mothers were being commended for their hard work and grit in Nicole’s comments. But they failed to realize this so-called strength was born out of necessity! It is HARD WORK raising a child with 10 people, much less just one. This glorification of struggle, particularly with black women, has ripples throughout the community.
Are people not seeing how this all plays out in the big picture? Most black children are born out of wedlock to unmarried parents, or even parents who are no longer together. Can you not see how the stress of bringing a new life into the world without support leads to the heightened maternal mortality rate we face? Not to mention, black women have the highest rate of being murdered, and we also have a high rate of being killed while pregnant. Is it a reach if these two phenomena are related?
Why is family planning so frowned upon in our community? My white friends take birth control like it’s literal candy, with phone alarms set daily for reminders. Many of my white friends have IUDs, and a handful have implants. Why is it when black women speak about birth control, to prevent these out of wedlock births from happening, it’s either crickets, genocide, or saying that it’s poison? Or we will take the example of one black woman who had a horrific reaction to an IUD, and convince ourselves that her fate will be all black women’s, if we decide to put a bit of copper wire in our collective uteri?
We are not having children in ideal circumstances. Please take your feelings out of this. It is not anti-black to admit that the current state of black parenting is nowhere near what could be our best. Imagine if single parenthood wasn’t the norm and single mothers were replaced with a married two parent household. If our current way of doing things was so good, it would stand to reason that our neighborhoods would be less riddled with crime, our schools would be better, and our children would be better equipped to face the world. But they are, they aren’t and they kids are most certainly not alright. So what is the harm in trying something else that has worked in other ecosystems?
People took issue with Nicole being the messenger. So then if we took out the reference to “bastard”, and let someone like say, Michelle Obama expressed the sentiment, how would that go down? Would it be received as well-intentioned advice, or would she be lambasted for “attacking for the regular folks” from her Ivy League ivory tower? Christelyn tried and was mocked at the time. If someone like Candace Owens said it, well, she’s clearly a self-hating plant only seeking to further the Republican agenda, so no one would listen to her either. I’ve said similar things and my tone was criticized.
So who is the right person to talk about this? Black men seem to get away with calling black women pretty much anything, and black women will be in their comments cosigning them and even paying them to continue to use harsh language to denigrate us. So how would this go down if a black man said it? After all, I believe black men originated the term bastard baby maker anyway, so it’s not that far of a reach.
The thing is, no one will be the right person to hear the painful truth from. It would take a lot to convince me that black people don’t like “the struggle”. And that’s what our current birthing practices largely are – a struggle. We identify with the struggle on every level. We love struggle so much we put it everywhere, from our media (most black movies), to our memes (asking if Burger King is a date). Being deeply entrenched in dysfunction and struggle allows us to continue down a destructive path and place the blame squarely at someone else’s feet. As such, when someone seeks to challenge it for what could be a better option, we have this: rampant excuse making and making the exception the rule.
White supremacy is a real and dangerous thing, and the ills of slavery have been passed down through the generations. But we know better now, why aren’t we doing better? Because these things serve as scapegoats that provide us with an excuse for our self-sabotaging behavior. It is not a white supremacist belief to think that children are better off being born to married people who made the commitment to each other before they had a child.
Again some people were put off by the word “bastard”. However, that’s where they drew the line and immediately dismissed her completely accurate point of view. I can’t believe that so many people are taking offense to a young black woman with a large platform and huge sphere of influence using it to ask better of her peers. Because her dad is in jail, apparently, she doesn’t have the right to speak on such issues. Because she rose to fame with memes (or however she did it, I don’t know, I’m old now), she is incapable of independent thought? And sure, she has done some questionable things, but that does not take away from the accuracy of her statement. We love to shout that black women are not a monolith, and here we are, criticizing a young black woman for her thoughts that diverge from the “done thing”. I really sympathize with Kayla when it comes to the topic of “tone”. As someone who has been taken to task for my own delivery when it comes to certain topics, I get it. But it’s curious thing. All this demand for soft and delicate language flies clean out the window when it comes from the males of the community. Why. Is. That?
I don’t know why it continues to surprise me that black people, despite our standing on the global stage, fails to see things in the big picture. Glorifying and normalizing being an unwed single mother only further cements one of the many stereotypes that plague us all. And yes, racists gonna racist, but why do we insist on giving them ammunition and fuel for their stereotyping fire? This deflection in particular gets a callout unto itself because it is quite pervasive, and not just in this topic, either.
We have normalized having children too soon, or having too many. So much that when I meet people for the first time and they find out I am married and childless at 31, and will probably be that way for at least two more years, they are completely shocked to hear this. I get hit with the stereotypes that I have never, and will never partake in, and it’s not just from nonblack folks either. Black women look at me crazy when I say I’m not ready for a baby yet, “at my big age”.
And you know how else it’s our business?
When your sister or your cousin or your friend from down the street turns to you to step in, to act as a babysitter, or support network, or ATM, or compassionate cheerleader when things go awry because her baby-daddy ran off. The community will turn to you, especially if you seem like you have it all together, to act as a surrogate father when you were nowhere to be found when that baby was being made. You may have even felt this at the hands of your own mother, who chose a bum to be your father, and she had you on diaper duty from the age of 6 onwards.
If you don’t want your child to be called illegitimate or a bastard or the other words used to describe an out-of-wedlock child, then ensure that you do what you must to prevent that. A moment in the sheets could mean a lifetime in the streets if you’re not careful. People are using the word choice as a shield from their feelings about the topic, you don’t fool me. As it stands, our current approach to marriage, family planning, and child rearing has not yielded great results and we broadcast this on a global stage. We call each other kings and queens (of what, I don’t know), but actual kings and queens were shunned for having children outside the prescribed parameters. Once again, not because the majority is doing things a certain way, means it’s the right way to do things.
Overall, black people are far gone beyond children being born in wedlock, though. It would be a start, but the problems we face in this community are many, and wedding invitations and speeches and cake are not the be-all end-all solution. The fact that this relatively harmless statement was met with such vitriol suggests that we have a lot of work that still needs to be done. But hey, society can’t function without a permanent underclass, and it seems to me that we are jumping at the chance to be the mothers of it.
This wraps up part two of this piece. What are your thoughts? Is marriage just a piece of paper? Will you be a baby mama? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
Disclaimer: This blog was written by me, Penelope, and my ideas are not necessarily reflective of Christelyn Karazin or other writers on this platform.