As a Black Married Momma, I represent the Anti-Statistic these days. Wanna see how?
Ten years ago, nearly 70 percent of African-American children were born to unmarried black women. We’re now on the precipice of 2010, and the percentage is likely higher today; in fact, some estimate it now trends closer to 80 percent.
Nearly half of all African-American women have never been married, compared to less than a quarter of white women, a disproportionate figure which has many folks still asking: “Is Marriage for White People?”
Generational single parenting by unmarried black women has become normalized among Black America; however, historically, single motherhood was a condition induced by circumstances usually unfortunate and beyond women’s control, like husbands going off the war, men’s migration to other areas in search of better economic opportunities and untimely deaths. If most unmarried mothers had a choice, they would choose to have been – and to be – married, according to The Factbook: Eye-Opening Memos on Everything Family. Therefore, the idea that sisters are exercising some brand of feminist independence by having babies by themselves is likely a spurious supposition.
Black women have made it way too easy for men to reap all of the benefits and entitlements of marriage with none of the commitment, promises, legalities or spiritual protection of marriage. Whether incited by fear of the real or mythical ever-shrinking pool of eligible black men (those with jobs, education, no Baby Mommas, no criminal record, no addictions and a host of personally preferred prerequisites), their own sense of self worth or other issues, many black women today are willing to cohabitate with men, cook their meals, help pay the bills, clean up after them and have sex on demand with no ring and no marriage proposal within eyeshot or earshot. In fact, there’s a popular list circulating around the Internet on the “Top 10 Reasons Men Shouldn’t Get Married,” which outlines these reasons and more.
Once a sister becomes a single mother, the odds of her partnering with a quality man diminish greatly. Indeed, an online search about dating single mothers returns many results about dating single mothers. The overwhelming advice: Don’t! I am sure there are many kind, attentive, attractive single sisters who are mothers, too. While this generalized advice that proliferates the Web world may seem unfair and prejudicial, it is a reality women face when they have children by men without being married to them.
Children of single mothers get a very bad rap, whether based on real research or stereotypical judgments. Children in single-parent households are much more likely to live in poverty than children in married-couple households. Fifty percent of black children in single-parent homes are poor compared to just 11 percent in married families. Therefore, family structure is directly related to children’s economic status. Childhood poverty is also linked to all sorts of negative consequences – poor academic performance, worse health, developmental and social delays, involvement in the criminal justice system and much more. Add to this the notion that many black men are not paying child support for many reasons – mothers refuse to take them to court, men may lack sufficient employment to make a difference and fathers go underground in order not to be tracked down or traced – and you have many ingredients for an all-out disaster for the most innocent individual involved: the child.
Clearly, as The Black Married Momma: The Anti-Statistic, I am pro-marriage. I am against black women and men making bad decisions that place them among the most unenviable and maligned statistics cited in our nation. I cannot support “choices” that have dire repercussions for our children. And I believe the stakes are higher for African-Americans as a collective; we cannot afford to make poor decisions and simply view it as an individual, independent choice, especially when 80 percent of our women are making these unfavorable decisions.
If 80 percent of white children were born to single white mothers, can you imagine the hue and cry? There would be national conferences on the issue. The Congress would call for legislation that supported programs and policies designed to halt the trend. Instead, we as black people have come to accept this as normal, tolerable and, for some, preferred, even if 50 years ago, it would have made our forebears hang their heads in shame, pray for redemption and commit to never make the same mistake twice.
Most black married mommas will likely be spared the worst that these cited statistics suggest. According to the figures, most of us aren’t living in poverty. Our relationships – marriages – provide some hedge of protection in the event of a fallout. And married people are even healthier than non-married people.
Still, I must admit that many black married mothers probably could have wound up as statistics, too. Many of us probably engaged in pre-martial sex with men who weren’t right for us or who – even if they were – still weren’t our husbands at the time we were getting our groove on. Some of us may have contended with the consequences of shacking up gone bad, like unintended bills, bruised credit or a diminished regard and reputation among family that took years to reconstruct. Others might have even contracted STDs from non-committal, non-exclusive sexual relationships.
However, whether spared by luck, divine intervention or an abortion or two, many black married mommas will live lives comparatively different from their unmarried sisters who are mothers. Many of us get caught up on being on a high horse, pontificating about our people’s sad state of affairs without remembering where we came from. Instead, black married mothers who are reaping the benefits and rewards of our status should do a bit of introspection in order to provide a retrospective to those who may benefit from our experiences.
We should share what we learned from playing house, having one night stands, fearfully peeing into a plastic cup for a pregnancy test and whatever else we may have done. We should tell our daughters when they’re old enough to understand. We should spread the awareness to sisters who haven’t stumbled, fallen and made choices they can’t atone for or take back. Being a Black Married Mother isn’t about representing an ideal; it’s about knowing we’re in a position to act.