Monday, September 27, 2010

"No Wedding, No Womb!" is Not and Can Not Be My Mantra

I worked for a Catholic-based organization many moons ago when I was in my late-20's after getting my MA in Mass Communications. About a year and a half after working at this organization and getting promoted and awards for work, I got pregnant with the child who is often the topic of this blog. She's 7, so, that was about almost 8 years ago. I got pregnant by the lead guitarist of the band I was a part of. We weren't married or even courting, if you want to be technical. The dynamics of that relationship is for another blog post. (Note: Today, we live together, did not have a wedding, refer to each other as spouses and refer to our unit as a family). But, the reaction from my job is the topic of this one, as is the "No Wedding, No Womb!" initiative that has been building in fervor on the internet. 

Back to the story: 

So, that organization-- the heads, including my immediate supervisor, had a meeting about my pregnancy and to discuss if I should continue working there and how to discuss my pregnancy to the youth I work with. I can only assume what was discussed because I was not asked to participate. At 29, I was discussed as if I was a problem-child. A disobedient girl who was knocked up by Roscoe down the street and now needed a place to stay. I guess I would have needed a place to stay at some point if they had decided to fire me and I was unable to pay my rent. But, I was ok by their standards. Perhaps they surmised that with a graduate degree and as a supervisor of a youth program, I may have had a little sense. Maybe they felt that I had a enough intelligence to share with the youth that though I was unmarried, it probably wasn't a good thing for them to run off and get pregnant. Whatever they decided, the point is that they decided. They made a decision about my future without as much as two words from me. As an unmarried mother-to-be, they assumed that my daughter's father and I were not in cooperative agreement on the fact that we were going to raise her together. They assumed he was triflin from jump. They assumed that I wanted to get married. They assumed that I was in trouble because I was not married.

This type of behavior by my job is the mentality that empowers folks to believe that they have the right to give "advice" and start initiatives like "No Wedding, No Womb!" Because statistics are spewed out by government agencies and the media, alluding to things like an achievement gap when black children are compared to everyone, then someone or something has to be blamed (not the racist thinking that creates these assessment measures, of course), and, most times, it's us, Black mothers. We've become scapegoats in a patriarchal society that has used the family model as a marketing tool since Biblical days.

What I get when I read blog posts for "No Wedding, No Womb" is judgment cloaked in good intention that assumes that there is a problem with Black people and our inability to parent and work cooperatively. What I hope my own personal story shows is that our social construct in general perpetuates a stigma that is attached to any relationship that is not within the strict template of how family has been defined. And, we know this. Anything out of a nuclear family model is automatically deemed dysfunctional from jump. No father? Oh, you must be f-- up. No mama? Oh, heavens. Then you hate women, right? What, your grandma raised you? Oh, then you must be gay. These ridiculous assumptions wouldn't be so offensive if they weren't how folks responded to the very real and abundant instances of people being born, raised and nurtured within a non-nuclear family construct. These assumptions wouldn't be so sad if they weren't meted out by, sometimes, the very same people who were born from such environments. But, I won't go there just yet. @Blowthetrumpet had asked me on Twitter if I support the elimination of black fatherlessness, and if so, to share solutions and mine starts with telling dads who don't want to parent, "bye". I don't believe that any woman can know for solid sure if her mate will be a good father or not. I've seen men love up on the kids they have by one woman and totally neglect children by another. Why get into the psychology of all that?  I want us to consider how revolutionary we would be if we moved away from the idea of fatherlessness, low marriage rates in our community as a trigger of acheivement risks and economic downfall and turn to the institutions that we exist within that are not accomodating to our roles as mothers-- whether married or not.

How revolutionary would it be, then, to accept the fact that some people won't get married, but will have sex and have kids? How revolutionary would it be also to let a person who does not want to parent walk away and not be judged while the remaining parent, family members are supported, uplifted and rallied around to raise the children in a space where they are acknowledged, cherished, encouraged and supported? How revolutionary would it be to shift our focus from trying to make parents who abandon or neglect their children financially or in any other way "feel" bad and "pay" for their inability to parent and focus on putting in place measures where jobs are providing work/life options that support working parents and encourage their employees to be the best parents AND employees they can be. For, let's be real. It all boils down to economics. 

We are afraid that these kids being raised by moms with no time to fully nurture are going to grow up and knock us in the head b/c, of course, they'll be criminals. We think the moms are going to be on welfare or in some dead end job. We can't imagine that, perhaps, that the moms could possibly be working in a job that is not compatible with her role as a mother-- whether she is married or not.  We can't imagine that perhaps, regardless of whether that woman is married or not, there is someone at her job that knows that she is a mother and assumes that she is not up to par with those around her who are not parents, thus sabatoging her efforts. 

Folks, the war against moms-- whether single or married...but mostly when unmarried, is a vicious one.We still picture unmarried Black women as poor and uneducated when study after study indicates that while socio-economic status impacts sharply whether an African-American woman is more likely to be married or not, this status is not impacting the choice to become a mother.  In a Harvard study of over 170 countries, the United States was one of only four nations without any form of paid leave for new mothers. (The others were Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea).  

Another fact finds that discrimination against hiring mothers and paying mothers fairly is rampant. Mothers are 44 percent less likely to be hired than non-mothers who have the same experience, and qualifications; and mothers are offered significantly lower starting pay for the same job as equally qualified non-mothers. And God forbid you try to embark on a career or better yourself career wise upon becoming a mother. In our country, mothers earn less than everyone.  Married mothers earn 73 cents to a man’s dollar. Mothers who are non-married earn about 60 cents to a man's dollar. Lastly, when the question of flex time comes into play, it is found that women with low income jobs also need flexibility, yet are the least likely to have flexible work options—these are also the very moms who are more likely to struggle with access to affordable childcare, and who are least likely to have paid family or other leave.

So, it's clear to me that enabling folks to feel comfortable to talk about unmarried Black moms as less intelligent humans who are supposed to just accept this unsolicited analysis of our situation is a bad thing. So, I publicly state that in no way is  "No Wedding, No Womb!" my mantra, and never can it be. For, while it deconstructs me into no more than a breeder, it also deflects our attention from the very real trigger of inequitable work options that ultimately impact everyone.

Khadijah Ali-Coleman is a blogger and playwright. Her play Running: AMOK speaks to the challenges of 21st women facing motherhood amidst the challenges of relationships, economic struggle and work balance.

NOTE: I had not a clue about the craziness which is the "No Wedding, No Womb" when I wrote this. I had actually met the creator of this movement via Twitter, exchanging niceties and thought she seemed nice enough to network with as a fellow blogger. When I followed conversation about this initative on Twitter, however, under the hashtag #NWNW, I got a taste of what was some of the machinations fueling this and became disheartened.  What was particularly shocking was how I was "blocked" by Christelyn Karazin, shortly after tweeting this blog post, not allowed to converse w/ her on Twitter, though, she had touted in her interview on the Michael Dyson show that she was interested in starting a "conversation" regarding this topic. The blogger who introduced me to her on Twitter also "unfollowed" me, accusing me of misrepresenting myself, when I NEVER indicated that I was in support, but, instead, was interested in being a part of the dialogue.

 My heart gets really sad when Black women start making assumptions about Black families where the parents aren't married. To blame non-married and single mothers for the ills of our community is reckless. To do so for celebrity is criminal.

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