In case you decided to forego the interwebs today (or you’re still recovering from the #EddieLong Twitter bonanza that was last Sunday’s social media brunch special–see Jelani Cobb or Dr. Goddess for the recap), last Wednesday saw the internet launch of the No Weddings, No Womb Movement. The site can feel a bit confusing in part because the founder, Christelyn Denise Karazin is doing a commendable and blog award worthy job of posting both criticism and support–the woman is braver than most Twitterati and I applaud her for it. But if you want a quick rundown, you can find the FAQs here, the initial announcement here, and follow the citizen-bloggers listed on the site here.
Plenty of critique has been levied at the No Weddings, No Womb “movement.” Two of my favorites were written by Bené and Sister Toldja but just throw the #NWNW hashtag into a Twitter search and you’ll get slammed with responses. Nothing gets the blogosphere buzzing like the action going on in a black woman’s womb.
There are also a number of supporters–like Sophia Angeli Nelson who wrote a lovely, non-judgemental post for the Grio. Some aren’t even turning a pro-marriage stance into an excuse to re-hash old Moynihan-esque arguments full of single mother stigma. Or offering chastity belts & promise rings to fourteen year old girls to be returned upon completion of their wedding ceremony.
Unfortunately, over the course of the last week, the conversation grew increasingly vicious. Twitfam were getting blocked and swarmed, misconstrued and misunderstood. The vitriol came from both sides (Note to Self: Is “Google it if you want to” the new “Meet me outside”?) and none of it is fostered productive and healthy debate. So I’m going to suggest something unusual and unnatural in this brave new world of 24 hours news and 21st century cyborgs.
Let’s. Slow. Down.
Yes, I know: Your timeline is full of words like #wedding, #marriage, #womb, #singlemother, #blackfatherlessness, or #wedlock. And I know that when those words appear alongside #black, #African-American #woman or #woc it causes some of you to break out into hives, scream invectives at your computer screen and run to your local library for a copy of Gutman’s, The Black Family in Slavery & Freedom, or perhaps E. Franklin Frazier’s The Black Family in the United States.
And yes, I know: You are the daughter of a married couple who have remained so despite X number of obstacles –or– you are the daughter of a single mother who made it do what it do despite X number of obstacles. This issue is personal for you–I hear you. And yes, I do recognize the extent to which the black/African-American community’s post-civil rights movement-traumatic stress and betrayed expectations of same are feeding into the intense, emotional and physical reaction we are having.
But there have got to be some things we can agree on without jumping down each other’s throats, making personal attacks or using our considerable, 140 characters worth of wit and sarcasm to discredit each other.
For example, and just for argument’s sake, let’s all agree that the “movement” in this case is the health, welfare and well-being of all children born under God’s yellow sun. Equal access to a safe, quality education. Equal access to opportunities and resources that will lead them down the professional path of their choice. Equal access to housing, to communities free of violence, to safe bodies and minds (no rape, no incest, no street harassment) and while we’re at it, we can throw in full bellies in those bodies, literacy to fuel those minds, confident images of themselves and their future in the world, a support network of kin (elders, parents, siblings and all other kin, fictive and real) who are completely committed to their just and whole development.
Is that a decent enough baseline to start with?
If so, the question becomes what did #NWNW leave out that may be causing such a ruckus? And is there a way for the #NWNW movement (or something similar) to assimilate the things that are missing–or is it just what the detractors are saying it is? (#Solutions)
1. Where are the men? This one is easiest. The #NWNW FAQs clearly state:
NWNW calls for both MEN and WOMEN to put the needs of children first, and advocates that couples abstain from having children until they are emotionally, physically and financially able to care for them.
Many of us–on both sides–are painting #NWNW as though it is all about women. I’m not yet convinced that is entirely our fault–Christelyn is a woman, most of the images on the site and on companion blog posts are of women. Add that the movement has identified the “problem” to be the high incidence of single-parent households (presumably because these households do not have the same resources as two-parent households to accomplish the goal of child well-being and health described above) and most read single-parent to mean single mother…Detractors have, understandably, read this as #singlemotherstigma.
But let’s come back to that (I promise). Because there is nothing wrong with this statement on the surface. It is lovely and preemptive…and it does not address the problem of fatherless children.
Because of the way that our society (U.S.) understands motherhood, the burden is always on the woman to raise and maintain the child. Married or unmarried, mothers have seen the fathers of their children disappear into the night for reasons that ranged from violence, prison sentences, employment prospects, general angst and their own twisted sense of masculinity. And I’ll add that the same has happened to men, although single fathers get the short end of the media stick when this comes up for discussion.
Moreover, the buzzword #abstain is thrown into the mix but lacks context. Abstain how? No sex at all before marriage? Stick with monogamy? Use condoms, birth control pills and spermicide all at once? And how are we going to make sure that these men and women (once-upon-a-time boys and girls) are actually ready to care for them? It seems we are assuming another kind of baseline there that may or may not exist and the movement isn’t offering clear solutions.
Solution: If we want men and women to put the needs of children first and wait until they are emotionally, physically and financially ready, then we need to organize for, promote, support and create programs that get. them. ready. That includes supporting sex-positive education, affordable birth control (and education on how to use it), employment programs & welfare, access to affordable mental health services and funding for community-centered approaches to policing, education, arts, housing and more.
2. Where are our queer sisters and brothers?
I won’t lie–despite all of the work the LGBT movement has put in to expand the definition, you toss the word marriage around the black blogosphere these days and you are still talking about a man and a woman. The fact that #NWNW is explicit in using a heteronormative framework–i.e., asking that men and women be committed to raising the child they conceive together–creates a problem that none of @Christelyn’s avowals of supporting gay marriage and queer members of the African-American community seem to address.
Solution: Drop the two-parent biological family structure emphasis. Easy. Instead of worrying about whether or not the parents of the child are both in the picture, ask whether the child has a loving and supportive family structure. This of course requires you to lose the wedding part–since gay marriage is still illegal in most states–and it may even require you to change the dimensions of the problem–since some (but not all) single parents are supported by an extensive kin network of family elders, aunts, uncles, friends, god-families, and church members.
After you’ve done that, create social services that are supportive of all family structures–back to welfare for all, safe and affordable child care for single mothers, education….jobs….housing….*deja vu* But this second leads me to the third most-obvious-thing-missing from #NWNW….
3. Where are the children and single-parent households of this generation?
This one requires the caveat that @Christelyn just may not be interested in what is happening right now. There is nothing wrong with that. There is movement enough for futurists who want to protect the children who aren’t born yet and those who want to protect the children who are growing up in our backyards right now.
The better question is whether or not #NWNW needs to address the specter of single mother stigma that permeates the movement (head back up to #1 for the overview)
Solution: Recognize that if the issue is the well-being and health of our children, and our children are not well or healthy much less safe, that the problem is not single-parent households in and of themselves. It is the history of economic gerry-mandering that has strapped our communities with a legacy of debt and poverty. It is a prison-industrial complex that shuttled damn near a generation of men and women into jails and prisons across the country. It is gentrification that breaks apart communities and gang violence, exacerbated by police violence, exacerbated by internalized racism, youth-hating and slut-shaming…etc, etc. It is a lack of education (sciences, humanities, arts) and intensive programming that creates in young people and in adults a vision of themselves that is bigger than their sperm count or their wombs. It is a lack of sex-ed that teaches girls and women about their bodies, what makes them feel good, how to get pleasure with or without a man–and acknowledges that many of these girls/women may or may not even want a boy/man as a sexual partner (orgasms are feminist, vibrators are a human right). It is a lack of emotional support for queer girls and boys. It is slut shaming our girls and ignoring childhood sexual assault. It is the AIDS epidemic. It is pre-K, literacy, sex-education, drug rehab, arts and youth job programs that have been shut down by strapped city and state budgets or moved out of areas that needed them to make way for high-rise condos, shopping malls and office complexes. It is a lack of investment in our human potential across race, class, ethnicity and gender. It is the fact that in the African-American community we are still suffering from what we did not ask for (slavery), what we could not gain (civil rights movement) and have yet to grapple with (internalized sexism and a willingness to buy into patriarchal norms of behavior)….
Sorry…where was I? Oh yeah–
Well, the easiest solution, assuming that #NWNW is a futurist movement, would be for @Christelyn and company to create a second conversation/programmatic thread. This could be a conversation with, for and about single-parent households (single mothers and fathers) to discuss what that means, what they need, how to uplift them, etc. But the purpose would be to decenter single-parent households as the “problem:” recognize that there are plenty of f*cked up kids in two-parent households, make deliberate efforts to create a pan-class conversation. Acknowledge that extended kin are also part of family structures and brainstorm ways to promote wide and deep kinship networks for children to grow up. Shut down anyone who is re-iterating the same tired bruhaha about single-households spawning a legion of gun-toting gang bangers. Prove that you aren’t exalting the two-parent model over extended kin (or a really amazing and committed single mother, although I find it hard to believe that anyone does that job alone) because the ultimate and primary focus shouldn’t be counting how many caregivers but the quality of the caregiving.
I’m going to be honest. The #NWNW meme feels weak in actual programming and structure but strong in attack, rhetoric and moral righteousness. This just isn’t very interesting to me. But, like it or not, @Christelyn has our attention and the pulpit. So my challenge to her and her supporters is to make it work. I’m afraid that if she, et. al., did even half of what is above, #NWNW would be a very different movement, one that lacks such wide hetero purchase. In a way, #NWNW is only trending because it is a straight, Judeo-Christian throwback to black middle class respectability–in this, it triggers our worst and best experiences with members of the opposite sex (including our monolithic absent fathers and single mothers) and skates on the backs of (too many) black women who still wrap their success and personal purchase in their marriageability. #NWNW’s biggest problem is that it is letting the silence of privilege speak louder than actual words. To hear @Christelyn’s twitter timeline speak, #NWNW is gay-friendly because the gay-rights movement wants marriage too (a logical fallacy), it is supportive of single-parents even though it paints them as the systemic flaw in the black community, & it is a movement although it offers no concrete solutions to the everyday realities households around the country face.
The violence of the internet fracas isn’t the internet’s fault. The rhetorical fuzziness of #NWNW’s mission works on #NWNW’s behalf because everyone is reading what they want into what “No Wedding, No Womb” means. The result: #NWNW can claim to be everything to everyone. But as numerous websites are quick to point out, we don’t have time for games, ambiguous action items or a movement that isn’t inclusive or without judgement. It does us no good to rehash old debates about the black family structure unless we are going to critically analyze how the black family became that way in the first place. We need to demand, implement and protect the programs that will strike at the root of the problem. Not amuse its superficial doppleganger.