Race Card: Single Black Women and the Motherhood Debate


If you haven't had your fill of stories about lonely, unwed black women, check out The Root's piece advising African-American ladies who've made marriage a prerequisite for childbirth to consider conceiving without a "ring on it," as Beyoncé would say.

In "Planning for Single Motherhood," contributing Root editor Jacque Reid describes her longing to have a child and recent connection to a single woman who entered motherhood a year ago with the help of a sperm donor. Predictably, the piece is filled with references to "failed relationships," "biological clocks," and grim marriage rates for black women.

Citing statistics from an Ebony article published way back in 2003, Reid reports that "only half of black women marry by the age of 30, compared with 81 percent of white women." However, a Yale study released in 2009 arguably has more reliable data on black women and marriage. According to the study 42 percent of black women have never married, compared to 23 percent of white women.

Whatever the true numbers are, Reid uses black women's seeming disadvantage in the marriage market as a platform to suggest that such women devise a plan about how they would manage motherhood alone.

"Go ahead and figure out how you want to become impregnated: have a baby with a friend or casual sexual partner, or use an anonymous donor?" she asks. "Better to have a plan in place than trying to throw one together under the pressure of possibly running out of time."

That last line is one of the reasons the article doesn't sit well with me. Like the other stories on black women and marriage, the impetus for the piece is fear. Not only should black women be scared about their marriage prospects, they should be scared that if they indeed end up "spinsters," they'll never bear children, so better act now and devise a motherhood plan before their ovaries dry up.

As Reid surely knows, not all black women want to marry and have children. Some married black women don't want children, and many single black women do have children. So, perhaps a more interesting perspective on this issue would be to examine why privileged African-American women who want children, such as Reid, hesitate to enter motherhood solo.

MSNBC.com contributor Brian Alexander reported in 2009, for example, that some elite African-American women worry about being stereotyped as "ghetto" if they become single mothers. After all, black women have largely been vilified as drains on the system for bearing children out of wedlock, while white women in popular culture—from Rachel on Friends to Bristol Palin—are applauded for having the courage to become single mothers.

In addition to the fear of being negatively stereotyped, there's also the religion factor. Black women of faith would likely face twice the stigma if they turned up at a church or mosque pregnant and unwed. But other than artificial insemination, Reid neglects to mention options for women forbidden by religion from engaging in sex outside of marriage. Adoption, for instance, is never raised as a possibility for these women.  

There's also no mention of lesbian women interested in having children. Certainly, these women aren't waiting for a husband to show up to decide if they can become mothers or not. What lessons can other women take from them?

by Nadra Kareem Nittle
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3 Comments Have Been Posted

Great article!

I completely agree about the tone Reid's article. Must a road to being a single mother be clouded with "failed relationships over the years and our insatiable desires to have children"? It makes it sound like being a single mother is something one is "stuck with" as opposed to a road anyone has chose. Not only that, but many peoples' reactions are "why would you choose to be a single mom?" There are also typically familial repercussions and advice against doing so.

Love this article

I agree with the previous post. And I like the point you made about the double standard.

The Root is a low-quality

The Root is a low-quality site with substandard writers*… one shouldn’t expect in-depth provocative analysis on any important social issue from that site.

Having said that, you know what was truly disturbing, outside of the normal shenanigans on that site, was the reaction to the woman “Beth,” the subject of the article. Black men and women charged this woman with being “morally bankrupt”, quite a few blamed so-called ‘white feminism’ for the choices of black women like “Beth,” and one person even went as far as suggesting that black women who make this choice should be subject to public shaming. Oh and get this, many black men accused this article and the action in question being used to reach motherhood, an affront to them. Of course, per usual, the discourse devolved into accusing black women of being responsible for all of the ills in the black community. The general consensus was that black women who make this choice are unscrupulous and are going to impart some sort of harm to their children if they choose to remain single and raise their children as a single woman… this way of thinking is reflective of the views often heard in the black community.

Next, the mere mention of lesbian couples would have been a distraction to the core issue at hand; a distraction in the sense that the rampant gay-bashers on that site would have accused Reid of “pushing the gay agenda,” and any hopes of true intelligent discourse about the focus of the article would have been lost.

Finally, Reid probably didn’t mention other options like adoption because it appears that artificial insemination is a choice that she is considering and through “Beth” she is weighing the pros and cons of choosing that particular option.

*Exception: A few writers who rarely write on the site.

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