Figuratively, your wombs are on my mind, along with the wombs of the numerous other mothers who do not fit the first-comes-marriage-then-baby-in-the-carriage narrative.
The diverse experiences of Black female motherhood remain a hot topic in Black social commentary. Last week, an online viral campaign entitled “No Wedding No Womb” hit the blogosphere and Twitter community like a 2×4 appearing from the dark. Founded by relationships author and blogger Christelyn Karazin, the “movement” sparked a ton of controversy and, perhaps, some conversations that we, as a community, have become lackadaisical about having. Good or bad, it is true that approximately 70% of Black children are being born out of wedlock. From the perspective of our parent’s generation, this is astonishing, yet it is a reality and something we ought to be discussing. Although this online social blitzkrieg called for weddings and/or couple commitment before having children, the questions beneath the shouting and #NWNW Twitter bashing truly were the following:
“How do we create a healthy, cohesive environment where we can raise our young ones?” “How can Black women get the support they need as mothers: financially, emotionally, physically, etcetera?” “How can we as a community deliver a strong message that warns younger Black women that single mothering can be tough, and that waiting for a healthy marriage, or committed relationship, could perhaps serve their futures better?”
When I analyze a social issue, I don’t simply take things from the surface. The title,” No Wedding, No Womb,” is salacious, but the messaging of the 100+ bloggers who participated in the campaign were not speaking in one voice. They were conversing, challenging each other, and trying to promote why this was an important issue for our community to discuss because, in truth, we’re not doing well. Full disclaimer: I participated in the movement by critiquing its heteronormativity and I introduced into the conversation the politics of gay marriage.
I believe that healthy marriages can be one tool by which Black women can see social change. It’s not simply the marriage or commitment factor, though, that can solve our social ills. The problem is that Black women, particularly, face tough economic conditions, disheartening long-term relationship prospects, societal sexism, homophobia, not to mention the “Black card” that has ridden our skin since birth. There are several other oppressions that intersect with the ones above, but the main point is that we have the end of the stick at our feet. While we are not victims and instead claim ourselves as warriors, we are struggling—and healthy life partnerships could make our lives easier. One person cannot fight everything, all the time, everyday. Man, woman, or transgender, we need partners who want to support our life paths. Healthy marriages can be a strong answer to that plight.
Particularly from a heterosexual perspective, Black men do need to be brought into the conversation about our struggles. I don’t want to bash our men, but, truthfully, they’re not pulling the same amount of weight as we are as parents. Many of them are not there for our children: financially, emotionally, and physically. And these are not simply men who had children out of wedlock, this also can apply to divorced and separated fathers who had children within heterosexual marriages. Black women are the strong backbone of this community, married or not. We don’t need to be replaced in that capacity, but we do need more support. Healthy marriages or long-term committed relationships can give that support.
Children do thrive better under stability, and I’d argue that two parents can provide more support than one. This is not about bashing single mothers because actually they’re the larger population of contemporary Black parents. Many do just fine and will continue to raise their children to be successful young men and women. In the same way, I applaud single fathers, who are raising their children alone. I do not want to forget them because I’m sure that they have some valid contributions to this social conversation. Growing up under a single parent absolutely is not a death sentence, even if it may bring a unique set of challenges. There are other family members and community folks who step up to the plate to create the necessary team for raising a child. This support is imperative, not simply for single mothers, but for married/committed parents challenged by other social issues. Marriage and romantic commitment does not solely ensure a child’s success. Let’s be sure to discuss what other support mechanisms our community can bring to the table.
On the same-sex parenting side of things, homosexual couples have proven that they can raise cohesive families without a marriage certificate. Unfortunately, I would argue that a lot of this was not by choice, but circumstance. Yet, they have done it and continue to do it, proving that the marriage certificate is not a necessity for a commitment to each other as parents and to their children.
I do believe that healthy marriages are powerful tools for building strong, committed relationships enabling parents to feel supported by each other and, thus, provide a stable household for children. I also think that wedding ceremonies are a beautiful celebration, especially if the marriages resulting from them transform into healthy unions. The celebration and subsequent healthy marriage can set a strong example of unity for the children in our community. Therefore, this is something positive and admirable to be promoting.
Ultimately, we’ve got to reshape the state of Black relationships, in addition to other social oppressions, if we’re going to set examples for our kids and provide them with better opportunities. Admittedly, healthy marriages are hard to come by, just like most non-marital relationships are not long lasting. There needs to be a stronger, more realistic conversation about what works to create stable, parental environments. This is not about judgment, and it’s unnecessary to throw darts at women who could be labeled as “baby mamas.” Not every woman is going to have her child inside wedlock, and this is something we need to acknowledge and factor into the conversation.
We may never go back to the days where weddings before kids were the norm. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a social change that needs to be dealt with in terms of how we become unified for our kids. We could try to go back to the old way of doing things—or we can try to come up with another solution. Regardless, we need to figure this out for our children, personal health, and overall community’s strength.
Don’t simply critique, help come up with intersectional solutions for our advancement. I don’t have all of the answers and perhaps you disagree with my analysis. That’s quite okay. I’m just thankful to be a facilitator of conversation and hope you’ll contribute your voice too.