A few weeks ago (in the July 7 issue of Creative Loafing), I wrote about the tragic events surrounding the fatal stabbing in Charlotte of 18-year-old Laqueda Antoinette Hall by 16-year-old Tyesha Roberts. Roberts allegedly fatally stabbed Hall during an argument over the father of both of their children. I discussed how these two young girls had thrown their lives away over a "baby's daddy" who had yet to be identified in the media.
While I got a lot of interesting responses to the article, one reader commented that black women having babies out of wedlock was the problem. And another comment actually said that black women have most of the out-of-wedlock babies in the U.S. But the fact is those statements aren't true -- and if they were, what does that have to do with the article? In the piece, I addressed this culture of baby's daddies, of all races, as a reason for the fight. Why pummel these two girls for being teen mothers? As I was preparing to pen my response, there was a knock at my door. Interestingly enough, it was a young, pregnant white woman on my porch. (I had been interviewing dog walkers, and she was the next candidate.)
This young woman was a sweetheart, extremely mannerable, and we had a great conversation. She referred to her unplanned baby as a "surprise" and the father of her child as a "significant other." As we talked, I thought to myself that with white women, an unplanned baby is often a "surprise" -- but with black women, situations like this present us as lazy, trifling, irresponsible chicks who just lie around and make babies. What's interesting is that when she walked in, I didn't make any judgments based on her appearance because it's not my business. Even though she wasn't wearing a wedding band, I didn't assume that she wasn't married. I didn't immediately jump to the worst-case scenario; I made room for the best-case scenario.
That said, the more I thought about the comments on my article, the angrier I became. First of all, black women do not have more babies out of wedlock than other populations. Proportionally we do -- meaning more black women in the black community have babies out of wedlock. We've all heard the stats that 75 percent of black women are having babies on their own. This is a trend among women of all races. More Latino and white women have babies out of wedlock than we do in terms of overall population. Though honestly, it doesn't matter who's having babies out of wedlock. The question, however, is: Why assume that blacks are having more babies out of wedlock?
Blacks only make up 12 percent of the total U.S. population, so in order for us to be having all (or most) of the out-of-wedlock babies in the nation, all black women would need to have multiple births.
As a trend, more American women are choosing to have babies on their own, the majority of whom are in their 20s, not teenagers like many believe. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 58 percent of births in 2009 were to unmarried mothers between the ages of 20 and 24. In fact, births to women in their late 20s -- the most productive group in terms of childbirth -- was about the same from the previous year, at about 116 per 1,000 women ages 25 to 29. The assumption that it's mostly teenagers having babies out of wedlock is a false one, and that's due to a number of reasons: people getting married older, shifting definitions of marriage, or -- hold on tight -- adult women choosing to have children without being married.
Just because someone has a child outside of a marriage does not mean that they are not part of a couple or co-parenting this child. Why do we automatically assume that the father is not in the life of the child if the woman is unmarried? Single-parent homes are not always "broken," just like two-parent homes are not always better. We all have married friends of all races who may as well be single parents, based on the lack of involvement in parenting by their spouse.
The comments really stuck with me because I feel like black women are never given the benefit of the doubt in these types of cases. Perhaps someone is older and chooses to have a child with a partner. Perhaps someone is younger and has a "surprise" with her partner? Perhaps someone just wants a child and is perfectly capable of taking care of him or her emotionally, spiritually and financially. Black women are usually painted with the worst brush.
A lot of this comes from hatred, but also the inability to police or control women's bodies, which is as American as apple pie in this country. Just because a woman has a child out of wedlock does not make her a monster. Just because she's black does not make her a welfare queen. Women's bodies are their own, and we have the right to have or not have children if we want. When you see an unmarried pregnant woman, perhaps we should not assume the worst and ascribe stereotypical behavior to her. Perhaps it is simply a "surprise" with a significant other and that is all -- nothing more, nothing less. Whatever it is, unless you're the father, it's none of your business.