Black Women's Empowerment

The Gift of Shame (Part 1): Is a Little Shame Always Bad?

First, what is shame?


shame: [sheym] noun, verb, shamed, sham·ing.
the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another: She was overcome with shame.
susceptibility to this feeling: to be without shame.
disgrace; ignominy: His actions brought shame upon his parents.
a fact or circumstance bringing disgrace or regret: The bankruptcy of the business was a shame. It was a shame you couldn’t come with us.
verb (used with object)
to cause to feel shame; make ashamed: His cowardice shamed him.
to drive, force, etc., through shame: He shamed her into going.
to cover with ignominy or reproach; disgrace.


So shame is either a feeling brought on by an action (to be ashamed of one’s behavior) or it is actively used to police other persons (shaming someone out of behaving a certain way).

In certain contexts, shame can be a terrible thing. It is shame that is used to keep young girls ignorant about their bodies. The irony is that this ignorance results in unwanted pregnancies and STIs, things that can be avoided with proper and honest education. It can also be used to manipulate black women into adhering to harmful social cues. For example, telling them it is better to procreate indiscriminately within the black community and not consider marriage than to even think about dating interracially. Wanting to keep one’s ethnic group thriving isn’t unexpected, but we are aware of the hypocrisy that allows black men to date out with no sanctions, but harass and belittle black women for not solely making their wombs available black men. This even though it’s more likely now than ever that such availability will not be within the bounds of marriage.

At the same time, shame can be a good thing. If used/felt correctly, it can keep a person from acting in a way that works against their group and against their individual best interests. Some people are against shame because they do not believe anyone should be policed for any reason. We have entered the era of it being more dangerous to “offend” than it is to hit the brakes on behaviors that can affect your health, quality of life, and that of any children who might be born. Hurt feelings can heal, but many mistakes will NEVER be unmade or unfelt. Still, there is ever present energy invested in undermining the message that you need to think carefully about your sex life and exercise caution.

For example, ever notice how when it comes up that black women should not have children out of wedlock, you always get some person popping up going on about fine they turned out/their kids turned out? Because clearly they represent black OOW statistics everywhere. Or, what about persons who rant about the EVILS of judging the lifestyle choices of black women who have multiple children by multiple men? There wasn’t an “amen” to be had when these women were making these kids out of wedlock (a sin), and in some cases while acting out adultery (also a sin), but somehow we’re rolled up on with a Sunday morning sermon. And  these persons in the pulpits come down not on persons, male and female alike, who continue to contribute to the high OOW statistic, but down on those who would point it out as bad, condemn it, and even seek to change it. Suddenly the previously-forgotten-about-Bible gets thumped over the heads of anyone with anything less than positive to say on the matter.

And black men are all but invisible in this circus. Everything comes back to the wombs of single black women. It’s as if black men have successfully hypnotized the black community into thinking that they are the freaking Keyser Sözes of fatherhood (And like that [POOF!] …He’s gone.). Expectations of responsibility have reached the laughing stock phase. It’s as if you are nuts for even expecting a black father to have anything to do with your OOW child. I cannot think of any other ethnic group on the planet where this expectation of absent fathers is so normalized.

And this is where shame comes into the picture: If the attitude that an OOW child were unacceptable under any circumstances took the place of it being unacceptable to criticize the high numbers…would it be a problem today? At what point did the shame of OOW births become replaced with normality which in some cases became replaced with pride (bragging about all the babies you’ve made, while not marrying any of the mothers [or in some cases even seeing or caring for the kids])?

Coming up in Part 2: Ashamed of this but not of *that*?

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