Tag Archives: black women

Six Things You Can Do Instead Of Shaming Unmarried Women For Having Children

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Image Credit: AfroDad

By Guest Contributor  Deesha Philyaw

A few years ago, there was an orchestrated online blogging effort to shame black women for having children outside of marriage.  This effort masqueraded as a movement of concern seeking to reduce poor socioeconomic outcomes for black children.  Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  As a co-founder (along with my ex-husband) of co-parenting101.org, I was asked to participate in this effort.  I took note of the fact that my invitation to participate came after the movement launched and was found to be wanting.  I mean, after you castigate women and call their children “bastards,” and critics are calling you out for it, it’s definitely time for Plan B (no pun intended).  Well, I wanted no parts of it, and I made my reasons clear when I declined the invitation.  Co-parenting101.org was created to support and encourage parents and their children, not demonize them.

Further, I refused to participate in something that I felt would dishonor the struggles of my single mother, who did not raise me to be ashamed of the circumstances of my birth nor of her marital status.  But for a variety of reasons, I did grow up feeling ashamed about it.  And I know that I’m not the only child of unmarried parents who experienced this shame, or the shame that’s heaped upon people simply because they are poor.  It’s a shame that predates blogging and the internet. Shame clearly isn’t effective birth control.

I also chose not to participate out of respect for my relatives and grade-school classmates who later became young, unmarried mothers unexpectedly.  Because I know that on several occasions, I was just one day in my menstrual cycle or one broken condom away from that same situation. We went to the same free clinics together in 8th and 9th grade, got our “foam and rubbers” to use until the birth control pills were reliable, and had sex while holding our breath.  Nobody said a word to us about HIV and AIDS in 1985.  A lot of them got pregnant before they wanted to; I didn’t.  I don’t feel superior.

That said, I absolutely care about the fact that half of all children raised in single-mother-headed households grow up in poverty.  But shouldn’t we be attacking poverty, instead of attacking people who live in poverty, if that’s really the concern?  Imagine if even a fraction of the $1 trillion in resources and public support for the failed “War on Drugs” of the past 40 years had funded a “War on Poverty?”  But that didn’t happen, of course, because it’s easier to simply blame poor people for being poor.  In the absence of actual solutions comes blame, shame, and the politics of respectability.  

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are six alternatives to shaming and blaming unmarried women for having children:

1. Get Your Stats Straight

Here, here, here, and here are some statistics that are often mentioned to highlight concern for children raised by single mothers in the U.S.:

*While half of all children raised by single mothers grow up in poverty, only one in 10 of their counterparts in married households grow up poor.

*Nearly 3 out of 4 black children are born outside of marriage.

*Most babies born to women under 30 are born outside of marriage, and in the last 20 years, the fastest growth for this trend has been among 20-something white women who have some college education.

However, a statistic that’s far less widely known is that most single mothers in the U.S. are separated, divorced, or widowed.  And these moms have higher poverty rates than single moms in other high-income countries, despite working more hours.  Across the board, single US mothers’ employment experiences and support from the social safety-net lag behind that of their counterparts abroad.  

2. Support Public Policies That Support Women And Children

Why are US single working mothers and their children faring so poorly? And why is marriage put forth as a cure-all for their predicament?

Writing in The American Prospect, Amanda Marcotte observes, “To justify obsessing over non-married-ness—at the expense of, say, asking why a single income isn’t enough to be middle class, as it was for huge percentages of the population in the 1950s—requires believing that single women need a bit more scolding…”

And if single women need more scolding, single black women–with our wanton baby-making selves–need 10 times more.  But, oh, right…it’s about the children.  Our children face a harder row to hoe than their white counterparts, hence the urgency of the situation…and the extra heaping of scorn.  

Except scorn never fed a child’s mind or empty belly the way, say, early childhood education and his mom’s equal and higher wages could.  Scorn doesn’t enact better family- and sick-leave policies, and it doesn’t protect the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or food stamps (SNAP) from Republicans hell-bent on destroying the social safety-net.

And scorn never gave a woman or girl access to birth control and abortion when politicians on the right want to eliminate access to both…at the same damn time.  

3. Ditch The Marriage Myths About People With Low Incomes

According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, people with low incomes subscribe to more traditional values with regard to marriage and divorce than those with moderate and higher incomes.  Thomas Trail, UCLA postdoctoral fellow in psychology and the study’s lead author, notes that lower-income partners “have no more problems with communication, sex, parental roles or division of household chores than do higher income couples.”  But, according to the study, they may still choose to remain single because they recognize that sustaining a marriage is particularly difficult when you’re struggling to make ends meet, and they don’t want to end up divorced.

The study also concluded that unmarried women with lower incomes have children because while they may have no role models for successful, healthy marriages and may not trust the men they know with their “financial and family future,” they do feel capable of raising a child because they have role models for successful single motherhood.

Unfortunately, government policy is based on false assumptions about what people with lower incomes value and how they relate.  The result? A billion dollars spent on educational curricula to promote marriage to people who already believe in it.

Benjamin Karney, co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA and senior author of the study, says increasing social mobility, through educational and career opportunities, is the best way to lower teen pregnancy rates.  In general, government money is better spent helping people with the “day-to-day challenges in their lives” such as transportation and affordable child care, not on relationship education.

4. Remember that Life Doesn’t Always Go As Planned

Relationships and marriages fail.  Birth control fails.  Some women choose not to marry people they deem to be unsuitable mates, while still choosing to have a child. Things happen that we don’t anticipate.  Punishing ourselves or teaching our children that they should feel less-than when life doesn’t go as planned isn’t productive.  As parents, our job is to help our children make wise and healthy decisions.  But it’s also our job to raise resilient children who know how to be resourceful, how to cope, and how to bounce back when bad, difficult, or unexpected things happen.

5. Stop Talking About Single Moms…and Start Listening To Them

Stacia L. Brown, founder of BeyondBabyMamas.com, makes so many excellent points about the diverse social, personal, and economic experiences of single moms in her piece for The Atlantic Sexes, “How Unwed Mothers Feel About Being Unwed Mothers,” that I’m just going to link to it here.

6. Remember That Not All Single Moms Are Parenting Alone

Research, anecdotal evidence, and plain old common sense bear out the fact that children can thrive when their fit and willing parents play an active role in their lives, even if their parents aren’t married to each other.  If the government wants to spend on curricula for parents, then funding ongoing, quality co-parenting classes–not just the handful sometimes required by family courts–would be a wise investment.

Someone can make a terrible mate, yet still be a great parent to their child and a great parenting partner to their ex-mate.  This isn’t always easy, to say the least, and our cultural expectation is that exes will be hopelessly combative.  Yet some co-parents manage to put their animosity side and put their children first.  Some previously absentee fathers do the hard work of re-engaging in their children’s lives.  And some single moms parent with the support of a “village” of extended family, other moms, and friends.

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Children born to unmarried parents are not a foregone conclusion. Condemnation of single parents doesn’t allow for the myriad of possibilities of their children’s lives.  But for black folks, embracing these possibilities requires us to let go of cultural presumptions about deadbeat baby daddies, child-support-misspending, promiscuous baby mamas, and their “illegitimate” children.  Our children deserve better.  They deserve our advocacy and our activism–not our contempt.

Deesha Philyaw is the co-author (with her ex-husband) of “Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce” and the co-founder of co-parenting101.org. She is a remarried mother of four girls–two daughters and two bonus daughters.

 

Quoted: Leaning in While Black

In a review, published in In These Times, about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, Racialicious senior editor, Tamara Winfrey Harris, writes:

Whether Sandberg, from her perch at the pinnacle of a tech behemoth, is the right person to lead a revolution for less-privileged women has been the topic of much debate. But bits of the author’s wisdom may “click” for particular readers in unexpected ways. Sandberg’s message about choosing supportive partners made me blink, because it stands in stark contrast to advice directed toward a particular segment of professional women. Thanks to concerns about low marriage rates among African Americans, professional black women are bombarded with warnings about careerism and success. A burgeoning genre of advice books instructs straight black women to, in effect, “lean back” in order to attract men.

In Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, (the basis for the film Think Like a Man), author Steve Harvey admonishes: “If you’ve got your own money, your own car, your own house, a Brinks alarm system, a pistol and a guard dog, and you’re practically shouting from the rooftops that you don’t need a man to provide for you or protect you, then we will see no need to keep coming around.” Elsewhere, Harvey warns women that if they travel for business, their left-behind husbands might understandably stray.

Black women, especially highly successful ones, are expected to sacrifice achievement for the alleged greater good of traditional marriage. And they are encouraged to think more about being chosen than choosing—making themselves attractive to men by conforming to an outdated template of femininity rather than, as Sandberg suggests, selecting a supportive mate interested in a 50/50 partnership.

Sandberg counsels that choosing a mate is one of the most important decisions a working woman will make. If that is true, lack of support, in addition to systemic sexism and racism, may explain why black women fare worse than their white counterparts in the halls of power. All women of color make up just 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 3 percent of board seats and 5 percent of congressional seats. Snagging unsupportive life partners isn’t likely to improve these statistics (or the personal lives of women).

Read more…

Quoted: Marriage is like Kitchenware

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Over at Clutch Magazine, Racialicious editor Tamara Winfrey Harris contrasted marriage advice aimed at black women with the old adage “there is a lid for every pot.”

On a literal lid hunt, one looks for the top that suits the particular contours and properties of the bottom. No one would dream of perching a saucepan lid on a cast iron skillet and expect the fried chicken to turn out right. And you wouldn’t take a hammer to your crockpot to make some random cover fit. But society constantly bangs on black women in an effort to mold us into something allegedly more attractive to potential partners — as if our needs are secondary and as if they don’t really care about healthy partnerships, but just marriage for marriage’s sake.

Read more…

 

Image Credit: Vladimir Yaitskiy

Troubled Waters

by Guest Contributor Cheryl Lynn, originally published at Digital Femme

Frank Ocean publicly addressed his sexuality recently, with the same deftness, eloquence, and gentleness that is evident in the manner he approaches his music. I was elated at his announcement and at the warm reception he received. I was glad to see that another young man had the strength of character and the purity of spirit to share his true self with the world and to show that queer men of color have been a part of our community and have contributed immensely to our culture. However, I was also pleased for more selfish reasons. I had hoped that if the straight and straight-identified men of hip-hop could openly love and embrace the black men who resided in their hearts and their minds and their beds, that perhaps they could embrace the black women who inhabited those same regions as well. My hopes have been dashed, for I realize that the hatred of black women is so profitable and pervasive and has such a tenacious hold on mainstream hip hop that the men of power and/or influence in hip hop would likely extinguish the culture entirely before relinquishing it.

And yet, strangely, due it its current ubiquitousness, hatred of black women is not a tenet of hip-hop, is not necessary for hip-hop to thrive, nor was it present at its birth. Though the arena was dominated by men, women were given a clear voice in the genre via ladies such as Roxanne Shanté. Hip hop in its earliest days was an even field where men and women of color could have an open dialogue—one that was teasing and playful. The words of black women were considered and sought for inclusion. Black women were not depicted as a monolith and had multiple roles available to them—sister, wife, and lover; trophy, thief, and soldier; adversary and confidant. No, not all of these roles were beneficial. However, there was diversity and choice. That choice is long gone, quietly usurped during the late nineties and aughts with the onset of the commercialization of gangsta rap and its permeation of hip-hop. Continue reading

Street Harassment And Race: A Sliding Scale

By Guest Contributor Chiquita Brooks, cross-posted from The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns

Is it just me or has street harassment reached an all time high?! Granted, as women we learn pretty early on that men will “cat call” us at any given time they deem appropriate once we’ve walked out of our homes. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in the car at a red light with your mom, or if you’re a mother with your child in hand, at foot, in stroller, or on back, these factors will not deter some men from their quest to get your attention. Unfortunately, it has become common place that cat calling or street harassment is something that as women we “have” to deal with, preferably in silence.

Those of us who identify as LGBTQ are also subject to street harassment, especially if we refuse to wear clothes that are gender specific. I personally experienced the most vicious street harassment, as a queer woman of color. From threats of rape & even death threats simply because I was walking with my partner.
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Didn’t You Forget Me? A Queer Black Feminist’s Analysis of the Black Marriage Debate

by Guest Contributor Taja Lindley, originally published at Nicole Clark’s Blog

By now we are all too familiar with the preoccupation with the unmarried Black woman in the media. The question that keeps getting raised is: “Why can’t a Black woman understand, find and keep a man?”
Fundamentally I don’t have a problem with conversations about love and relationships. I have them all the time. What’s unfair about this question, and the conversation that follows, is what’s at stake because when single white women search for love, they get an HBO series (Sex and the City). But when unmarried Black women are approaching, at, or over the age of 30: it’s a crisis, it’s a catastrophe with severe consequences for the ENTIRE Black community, warranting late night specials on major television networks and talk shows dedicating entire segments to finding us a man.The conversation always becomes “what’s wrong with Black women? “ and we get demonized as: unlovable, broken, undesirable, domineering, angry, aggressive, incompatible, uncompromising, too compromising, (in the words of Tyrese) too independent, possessing unrealistic expectations…and the list goes on.Then here come Black-male-entertainers-turned-experts on their horses with shining armor to save the Black woman from herself! To save her from her own pathological destruction so she can do a better job of successfully creating and preserving the Black family. (Damn, that must be a lot of responsibility.)

Conversations like these put Black women on the defensive where now we need to explain what we think, how we act, and for what reasons so that these so-called experts can give us paternalistic and patriarchal prescriptions for solving the so-called crisis of the unmarried Black woman.

Academic professor and researcher Ralph Richard Banks, recent author of Is Marriage for White People?, administers the latest advice for us. He enters the conversation on the assumption that has gone unchecked: that all Black women are successful, and all Black men are victims of America…as if heterosexual Black women seeking marriage aren’t in poverty with a net wealth of $5, suffering from wage discrimination, or also dealing with escalating rates of incarceration. But setting those facts aside, he advises that Black women consider interracial marriage for the purposes of bolstering the Black family and better serving our race. (No, I’m not making this up, see for yourself.)

So clearly what’s at stake here is the Black family. Not Black women’s happiness, not our ability to learn and grow as lovers and partners in a relationship or in marriage. What’s at stake is the responsibility that consistently gets laid on our back about the success or failure of the ENTIRE Black community. As if single parent families headed by women are the root cause for disparities and inequality. (Sound familiar? Yup, kind of like the Moynihan Report.) Continue reading

Announcements: Tulpa, or Anne & Me Opens June 2nd

Compiled by Andrea (AJ) Plaid

Racializen and playwright Shawn Harris will premiere her play, Tulpa, or Anne and Me, this Thursday, June 2, at NYC’s Robert Moss Theater, the eco-friendly performance space located at 440 Lafayette Street in Manhattan. The show starts at 6PM.

Tulpa, or Anne&Me explores a strange friendship that begins with an artist whose lonely world gets turned upside down when Anne Hathaway crawls out of her television. As their friendship blossoms, they begin to examine how race impacts their lives as women, as friends, and as human beings.

The 90-minute show will also run on these dates:

  • Friday, June 3rd @ 4:00PM
  • Thursday, June 16 at 8:00PM
  • Sunday, June 19th @ 8:15PM

The play’s proceeds will benefit the anti-racism organization People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. While anticipating the show, you can follow behind-the-scenes convos about it, check out the show’s musical inspirations, and much more here and here!


 

Dark Girls: A Review of a Preview [Culturelicious]

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

**TRIGGER WARNING**

I recognize the women in this preview: these women were me when I was growing up. The kids at my mostly black Catholic school called me just about every black-related perjorative ever since 3rd grade, letting me know and telling others within my earshot that I was physically inferior solely because I was dark-skinned. I even remember a boy in my 7th grade class drew a picture of me being nothing more than a solid black square. Even though the same kids voted me 8th grade class president…I was still considered in their estimation an ugly (vis-a-vis my skin tone) girl. Even had the only boy who was my boyfriend (we were in 8th grade) dump me for a lighter-skinned and younger girl, to the mocking laughter of the lighter-skinned students.

My mom—a dark-skinned African American herself—told me something that didn’t make any sense through my woundedness: “You know those light-skinned girls people think are pretty in school? Wait ‘til you’re grown and see where you’re at and where they’re at.” Added to this was my mom’s constant admonition to “get an education.” Well, sure enough, what my mom said came to pass. I’ve had photographers approach me and ask to photograph me. I had lovers of various hues—even had a husband. (He was white.) And women of various hues, races, and ethnicities have given me love on the streets, at the job, and at workshops.

I’m not sure how—or even if—some of the women in the clip worked through the pain some black people have inflicted on them. But, instead of the usual devolving, derailing, and erasing conversations of “that’s happened to me, too, though I’m a lighter-skinned black person!” (that’s a thread for another post) or “it wasn’t me! I’m a down black person!” (will be met with an exasperated eyeroll)…it would be a really good thing to simply listen to these women’s truths, as uncomfortable–sometimes, as implicating–as they may be.

Transcript after the jump.

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

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