In light of the recent announcement by Beyonce and Jay-Z that they’re expecting their first child together, I’ve seen some commentary here and there about their marriage (which we really don’t know a lot about) as a pillar of sorts, as an example for the rest of us. Of course, I am happy for anyone who’s happy for themselves, doing what satisfies them, etc. But two millionaires who don’t know I exist aren’t any more an example for me than the mating habits of sperm whales. I’m serious. My examples tend to be everyday folks not terribly different from myself — people of color (black and non-black alike), queer people, college-educated people, and the like are my peers and close friends.
A rather heavy, weighty, often-discussed question has been running through my mind: Why would I look to celebrities for anything other than entertainment? Especially when it comes to personal life stuff. And, then, I let myself read Twitter a bit. Apparently, there’s this idea that the Carters’ marriage and impending parenthood are an example of “how it’s supposed to be done,” the “it” in this case being the road to parenthood. Or responsible adulthood. Actually, I’m not fully sure what “it” means in this case by virtue of the fact that there are lots of things Jayonce are doing that tie into being rich as shit, married, and expecting.
I read a few tweets (I’m not citing them here because I have not directly asked folks’ permission to use their tweets in a blog post) that specifically target black single mothers, judgmentally referred to as “baby mamas.” The sentiment was that any woman with a child out of wedlock wasn’t living her life properly. That is, per the old children’s song, love comes before marriage, and marriage comes before pregnancy and childbirth. Y’all know like I know that plenty of us out here have parents who brought us into the world without being married, and that a good number of us are doing just fine. There are some of us who are not, just as there are some of us who grew up with married parents, and could definitely use some therapy among other kinds of support in order to heal ourselves. There are factors that play into whether someone grows into a healthy, well-adjusted adult — factors that haven’t got anything to do with family life. There’s no direct tie to married parents and success. Proof of that comes from Jay-Z himself. He had an absentee father. He’s also a millionaire. And if we want to look at folks with married parents, there are numerous examples of both celebrities and everyday folks who couldn’t hold their shit together with Krazy Glue and a vice grip. It’s much more realistic to posit, in my humble opinion, that adequate support, care, and love are more important factors in a person’s life than whether their parents are married. Support, care, and love can come from extended family members, custodial step-parents or siblings, godparents, friends, teachers, coaches, et cetera. The vast majority of people live lives that are not isolated from other people — parents aren’t the only ones we socialize with. Period.
Another idea that stands out for me is the one that any woman (and to a lesser degree, any man) who chooses to marry before becoming a parent is somehow magically better or more deserving of respect than their peers who choose differently. No, really. This idea essentially fueled the No Wedding, No Womb online campaign in 2010, in addition to some of the marriage initiatives that seemed to gain traction during G.W. Bush’s terms as President. I’ll let that marinate for a bit … Okay. Like I was saying: most of us who live in the United States have been taught by family, church, school, and/ or the media we consume that the institution of marriage is respectable and holy, that it should be the goal of our adult lives, and that it makes us more worthy of respectful treatment. Unfortunately, we know that this idea doesn’t translate terribly well to actual factual real life where most of us live. If it were that simple, then there would be people breaking their necks to get married so they could magically wipe away any and all mistreatment they receive at the hands of people they are close to and complete strangers (like the police!) alike.
Upon my closer examination of this discussion of “worthiness” as it relates to Mr. and Mrs. Sean Corey Carter, the respectability talk around black women is nothing short of a thinly veiled Madonna-whore complex with some racism, slut shaming, and classism on top. That is, “only poor/ uneducated/ ghetto women have kids out of wedlock, and they are bad for having done so,” versus “good/ intelligent/ classy women get married and have kids afterwards.” Single parenthood is not the reason why black people can’t have nice things, though it seems that some folks might have us all think otherwise. The short answer is that there are structural anti-poor and anti-black rules (Rockefeller drug laws, welfare reform that doesn’t help anyone, etc.) that are compounded by sexism. This does not mean that black women have no ability to be agents of their own destinies, not at all. It means that the conditions are different for us than they are for black men, Latina women, etc. It means that the learning curve is sharper for us in a lot of scenarios, because we are not viewed by society in the same ways as our white counterparts. For instance, Brangelina are still unmarried as of the date of this blog post. How many kids do they have? Does it not matter because they’re ridiculously wealthy? Does it not matter because they’re white? I’m under the impression that it’s a little bit of both — because people are still talking about Lauryn Hill calling Rohan Marley her husband while he’s never divorced his first wife. (OMIGOD, BABIES OUT OF WEDLOCK! What are we gonna doooooooo?)
Black women are not usually regarded the same way as white women are, not because we are inherently wrong or bad. It points to the racism that essentially built this country. The Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate against black people in certain ways, but in no way has that changed the minds of people. Laws rarely do. And it shows in subtle and overt ways alike. I’m under the impression that this whole “get your life together, black woman” industry (see: Tyler Perry movies, Steve Harvey’s advice, and even Oprah’s down low hysterics) is tied directly to that. Yup. I believe it’s predicated on the idea that black women are unlovable, incapable of loving, and undeserving of any effort to love them. I know it’s an absurd thing to believe. But there are some people who’ll tell you in a heartbeat that black women are strong(er), tough(er), and don’t need to be treated gently. Or that we don’t care about treating black men well enough to “keep” them (see: The Moynihan Report or any of the aforementioned sources of commentary on black love). It’s so much more nuanced than that. It’s so much more complicated than I’m even able to discuss here.
Lovers, I have some questions. How much of the love we seek is influenced by complete strangers, those strangers being celebrities or authors or whomever? How much have our ideas of love been shaped by what we’ve seen (both negative and positive) in our home and family lives? Our friendships? Past relationships? What happens when we do what works for us and the person(s) we are loving? Does it even matter anymore what someone else thinks is the “right” way?
Until my next ramble,