Reposted in honor of Mother’s Day. Originally published here in June 2009.
[Editor's note: I asked one of my favorite bloggers, Renee, who writes about race, gender and more on Womanist Musings, what she thought of the recent article on Racewire that said:
America is experiencing a single-mom boom. Federal health authorities report that about 40 percent of births in 2007 were to unmarried women, up from 34 percent in 2002.
Keeping with previous patterns, the highest rates and largest increases were seen in Black and Latino women. But the statistics diverge from some stereotypes, too. Compared to 1970, the portion of single-parent births by teenagers has declined steeply—a sign that more older women are deciding to have children without a husband. Researchers suggest several factors behind the trend, reports the Washington Post:
Following is Renee's response:]
One of the least valuable people on the planet is a black mother. Her gender and her race make her invisible unless an opportunity exists to exploit or marginalize her for gain. She is perceived as little more than a brood mare and often constructed as reproducing for the sake of either profiting from the system or trapping a man into subservience to her. Each generation she passes this legacy from her womb to her offspring and no matter her love or investment in her children, she is forever understood as lacking the wherewithal to raise responsible and successful citizens.
The capacity of Black women to love and nurture is only accorded respect when their energies are spent raising, and suckling white babies. Mammy speaks in soothing tones and is not threatening whereas; the Black mother has already proven to be a sexual being in her reproduction threatens to end the majority status of the White population. As 2050 quickly approaches and the balance of racial dynamics changes, whiteness fears that a loss of privilege will result from the blackness of the African American womb.
The patriarchal Black family has been under decline as eligible Black men have increasingly become incarcerated due to the racist prison industrial complex. Black women have been placed in the position of raising their children themselves and have been demonized for their efforts to hold their families together despite their attempts to create a positive environment for their children. In a society that understands family as consisting of the coupling of a man and a woman the single Black mother has been constructed as a social piranha. She has been held responsible for the men that abdicate their parental duties to be involved both financially and emotionally in the lives of their children.
Single motherhood is something that has been traditionally frowned upon because such a model subverts the patriarchal family. As part of the compromise for the exploitation men experience in the public sphere, the ability to wield a tyrant like authoritarian power has traditionally been granted within the household. The family, though constructed as the nurturing nest is quite often the very first place we experience oppression. Women and children are sacrificed to maintain male hegemony and capitalism continues to benefit from the long suffering flannel suit wearing masculinity that performs robotically because he has been given the responsibility of provider. Though the single wage earner family has rarely to never been the model of black families it is still presented as justification for the continued subservience of the Black woman.
In recent years with a rise in single motherhood, social shaming has become even more race divided. When Bristol Palin became pregnant she was not slut shamed in the way that she would have been had she been a young woman of color. She has gone on to be a spokesperson for abstinence proving that an identity that was once considered spoiled may be reformed if the person in question is white and exists with class privilege.
Angelina has been reborn as the worlds “earth mother,” reframing her public persona of vampy wild child, even though she is not married to her partner Brad Pitt. The two are the parents of several children and have not yet decided if their family is complete. A few scant years ago, Jolie would have not been able to use her maternity to change the ways in which her body is understood; however in a time when whiteness is undergoing a panic regarding fertility rates, a woman that is willing to devote herself to reproduction is celebrated.
When we place Jolie next to Erykah Badu; the black white binary reveals whose motherhood is valued. Badu as a successful artist is more than capable of caring financially for her children and yet her unmarried status is understood as problematic. She has been slut shamed in the court of public opinion with some going as far as to suggest that she needs to close her legs and take care of the children that she already has. How does her continued reproduction suggest that she is an unfit mother? The issue is never maternity, the issue is the race of the mother.
Some Black women are forced into single motherhood because of death, abandonment, or even the imprisonment of their partners and others wilfully choose this as a viable option in a world that teaches them that their bodies are worthless. As long as we continue to be a society that is determined to see difference as an indicator of value the maternity of Black women will continue to be understood as problematic