“How dare you disrespect the queendom?”: Single mothers of color in the spotlight

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Last week a study from the University of Michigan was released that shows an increase in the numbers of American women having children by multiple partners.

The study shows that 28 percent of American women with two or more children have done so by more than one man, and when it comes to African-American women, that figure jumps to 59 percent. MSNBC reports that the study’s author called this trend “pervasive” and compared the number of women with multiple baby daddy’s to “the number of American adults with a college degree.”

Some people, perhaps most notably Melanie Eversley over at TheGrio, believe that these survey results — and the media attention that is sure to follow — could become another way to attack women of color.

I echo this concern. It’s one thing for the findings to be reported in the name of science, information, and modern trends. But it’s quite another for them to be used as fodder for critics to bash and moralize the behavior of women, and women of color in particular. From Eversley’s article:

“If I was a betting woman, I would guess that many people will point to this fact as an example of the decline in American morality and the cause of a great number of societal ills,” said Winfrey Harris, who is based in Indianapolis. “And because our society likes to police the sexuality of women — especially women of color — these troubles will be laid at our feet.”

The shift is not necessarily a bad thing, said Winfrey Harris, who married a man with two children and became a stepmother.

I don’t see this news as inherently bad or good. It simply is,” Winfrey Harris said. “One married mom and dad is not the magic potion that makes families work. There are millions of successful, healthy, blended and non-traditional families.”

The figures are likely a reflection of changing social norms, Jones-DeWeever said.”

[Emphasis mine.]

I agree with Jones-DeWeever and hope folks are able to resist the urge to extrapolate too much from this one study. Further, I hope folks know that this conversation is nothing new. I don’t feel as much of a need to defend women of color against criticisms for their decisions about when and with whom to have children, because my girl Erykah Badu famously did so already. In a memorable and passionately delivered diatribe in an OK Player forum, she responded to criticisms that surfaced after news broke that she was pregnant with her third child, and had yet to be married to any of her three baby’s fathers. “How dare you disrespect the queendom?” she begins her frustrated rant:

i am a great mother and care giver to my 2 children and to this world .
my children are 2 of the kindest and happiest people i have met.
I home schooled them and taught them the ways of good to the best of my ability.
i am their doctor and their nurse.
and even sometimes their mother and their father.

i am an excellent mother and resent all of the negative comments and insults on my character.
I PUT MUCH TIME AND THOUGHT INTO HAVING AND RAISING MY CHILDREN.
IVE HAD THE HONORS OF HAVING 2 HOME BIRTHS AND 2 WONDERFUL PARTNERS BY MY SIDE.

every relationship i have been in was because i loved the person DEARLY and was dedicated to us “exclusively” FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS.

the fathers of my children are my brothers and friends .
we have a great deal of respect for one another and always will.
WE LOVE OUR CHILDREN TO NO END.
we took our own “vows” and CONTINUE TO UPHOLD THEM.
AND THAT IS WHAT THAT IS .
question.

WHAT IS MARRIAGE ?
WHO IS THE JUDGE?
WE ONLY UNDERSTAND THE EXAMPLES WE ARE GIVEN (well sort of)

WOULD IT “LOOK BETTER ” TO MARRY AND DIVORCE AND MARRY AGAIN ?
WOULD THAT BE MORALLY CORRECT ?
WHATS THE DIFFERENCE ? the government’s involvement i guess.

While maybe not a formal or scholarly takedown of the line of reasoning that would blame women of color for daring to raise children outside of the nuclear heteronormative family model, it is an impassioned — and I believe a powerful response to dehumanizing and blindly, selectively critical voices directed mostly towards slut-shaming women of color.

So to everyone who would use the findings of this study to further demonize, judge, or criticize the agency or morality of women of color, I echo Badu’s invitation for you to “kiss my placenta.”

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5 Comments

  1. Posted April 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    “There are millions of successful, healthy, blended and non-traditional families.”

    We need to spend some time as a society disassembling the idea of “non-traditional” family- by which, I assume we mean “non-nuclear” (Mom, Dad, Kid). Because, quite frankly, the nuclear family only ever really existed in sitcoms. The reality of our history is that blended, multi-generational, absentee-parent etc. etc. families have been the historical norm of familyhood for… forever. Yes, even in America. “Non-traditional” families are, in fact, the tradition- and the idea that they aren’t creates an enormous amount of pressure on people- not just through a desire to conform or feeling shame at not being “traditional” but also through policy and legal assumptions about what it means to be a family, and to what rights that entitles one.

    • Posted April 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Great point! Thanks Rebecca.

  2. Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    The observation that a trend for American women to have children by multiple partners is interesting.

    I find myself curious though, why? Badu hinted at something that sounds rather revolutionary to me, that the reason might be choice. Pure, maximized, choice.

    The way the quoted piece of her response is constructed and the way that she describes her relationships seem to approach a description of “polyamory.” I use the word “approach” because I have no other information about the specifics of her relationships (except that both were very loving and very dedicated) and I cannot be sure what title she would choose for herself. Regardless of specific label and semantics, we have a situation wherein utility is maximized via multiple partners. I find this to be fascinating, and I would love to hear more about this story/situation.

  3. Posted April 4, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    And who is researching how many American men have children with more than one partner?

  4. Posted April 7, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    @sheila plank, great point!! I generally agree with your view Lori, but I think it’s important to note that most families do not have Ms. Badu’s wealth, and many people do not receive any economic support from a partner.

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