The other day I came across an article essentially saying that we should accept black womenâ€™s decision to have their children out of wedlock, as they are now doing in large numbers. â€˜Thisâ€™ the article said, â€˜was about a womanâ€™s right to make decisions about how and when to reproduceâ€™ in addition, â€˜the individual has the right to determine their own life path.â€™
I donâ€™t think anyone can legitimately argue against peopleâ€™s rights to make specific choices in life, but what if those choices, have an unfavourable impact not just on them but others and in this case their children? Are we simply to ignore all of that? Are we at all allowed to dig down to ascertain if this is indeed about black women making free and informed choices to go it alone, or if it is about putting up with demands that have unexamined, unfair historical roots, indeed if black women are dealing with what is essentially historically imposed on them?
In terms of an analogy to further illustrate, I think that it remains your choice to â€˜drop out of schoolâ€™ if you so desire. However we are aware that dropping out of school has economic consequences which many would not knowingly subject themselves to. Therefore the lack of educational ambition among certain groups is almost exclusively explored as an issue of government policy failing and almost never as an issue of â€˜freedom to chooseâ€™ to drop out of education!
Tracing the historical roots of a sitaution and why it is important
In France, down the road from me, there are discussions about the â€˜rightsâ€™ of Muslim women to wear the Hijab in public places. I have noticed that many if not most western feminists have come out swinging for the right to â€˜wear what you like.â€™ I cant help feeling that these women are imposing a western historical context of â€˜women should be able to wear what they want without being harassedâ€™, on a situation that has itâ€™s own historical roots in something altogether different from the right to wear what one wants (and might even be said to spring from origins totally opposed to the rights of women to wear what they like without!).
In this particular issue I see western feminist speaking from an ahistoric interpretation of events.
Which brings me back to black women (in the United States of America and in the western world as a whole), and this peculiar feature of them being more likely than women of other classifications and racial groups to be single mothers (a situation with an attendant disproportionate responsibility for resourcing these families). On the surface of it, these women are making the choice -that is in cases where sexual coercion or rape is not involved- to get pregnant or to carry pregnancies to term when they occur. We should support this choice shouldnâ€™t we? Giving this situation an ahistoric interpretation or an interpretation divorced from its historical roots, leads to an unquestioned yes answer.
Black women’s situation is different, forget spin
As I have said in the past, marriage might represent the site of oppression for white women, as some have actually theorized, but for black women it represents the place of shared responsibility, where they can better negotiate for dividing the labour of family upkeep, something black women have never been deemed to require or be due. Indeed it isnâ€™t rocket science to conclude that in the face of the high rate at which black women are being left without help by their male counterparts in raising black families, that a spike in marriage at this point would represent â€˜progressâ€™ as opposed to regression to female dependence as other women might themselves define such a spike.
So rather than applaud lack of marriages as black women casting off their social fetters, I think it is cause for high alarm that we are at a point where 73% of black children are born to single parent mothers in the United States of America.
I reiterate that black women have always been left to get on with things, without support and assistance, and I donâ€™t mean the sort from government. The history of slavery tells us that black women were essentially bred, but when families were split up as was a common occurrence then, it was likely to lead to black women left to look after young children alone. They were on the whole, less likely to form long term partnerships within which children would have access to both parents because of the dynamics of slavery. So same outcome, different era, but this time there is a â€˜spinâ€™ applied to the picture. Some want to â€˜reclaimâ€™ the situation as a positive turn of events.
These days you will find a large contingent of folks of all groups and races and political persuasions happy and in agreement with the status quo of black women with mostly no companionship, and male partnership with the job of raising their families. They even defend the situation by supporting variants of the ahistorical interpretation of the situation for black women, announcing that this is all about exercising freedom to choose an alternative way of raising their families, in other words, â€˜womenâ€™s liberation.â€™
It’s about structure in the end
In the end I can only say that the issue of marriage to me is about structure, that is having a structure within which you make the decision to exercise your reproductive abilities. Marriage is a structure for setting up a family. If you donâ€™t want or cant choose marriage then at least choose some other stable structure, which means give it some thought, rather than just â€˜live throughâ€™ the situation of conception, pregnancy, child birth and rearing, or passively have it all just happen to you without any deliberate control over the situation. This is my suggestion, given what we know about raising our children in optimal conditions.
Humans cannot give less time and attention to the issue of a structure for raising the next generation, than birds that take weeks out of their short lifespan, to build a nest to guarantee a high probability of their offspring surviving into maturity.
Halima Anderson is a pioneer black woman empowerment and relationship blogger who writes at