I took a long time to assemble my thoughts on Shawty Lo's new show and the outrage it's inspired primarily because I was deeply conflicted. Shawty Lo's recklessness is indefensible. I have no desire to defend the show or its right to be on the air. I don't believe that the arrangement the rapper has with his 10 children's mothers and 11 children is a justifiable alternative family structure. The discussion around the show, however, has been largely unproductive and intellectually lazy. Too many men and women missed the greater, ongoing tragedies in black communities that this show represents.
Prescriptions of marriage for all Black women who wish to have children are bullheadedly misguided. Marriage, across many segments of American society, is dying, and black folks aren't going to revive it. Yet compassionate conservatives continue pushing it without acknowledging that this institution simply does not align with the lived experiences of most Americans. Now that white folks are doing it in larger numbers, cohabitation and unwedded co-parenting will be normalized, but it's a shame that majority culture has to adopt a habit so it will not be seen as pathological among blacks. Out of Wedlock shamers feel emboldened because their ideologies are validated by majority culture. That will soon not be the case.
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If teaching young Black couples the value of marriage were the answer to problem of abandoned children, these discussions wouldn't be necessary. Blacks are extremely conservative when it comes to theoretical moral stances, but morals, standards, and ethics are not fixed. They are situational and contextual. They require continual evaluation. I've known many men and women who've expressed a belief in the value of marriage who went on to have children out of wedlock. Things happen. Life happens. Stern lectures and catchy slogans don't displace real trials and tumult life brings.
Marriage fell out of favor in Black communities decades ago because of shifting economies and values, and the shift we're seeing away from marriage largely reflects that in the whole of America. When black folks do it, it's primitive behavior. When white folks do it, it's cultural evolution.
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We have yet to discuss real solutions. Pro-marriage advocates refuse to acknowledge that a likelihood to marry is tied closely to education. College-educated women marry later and stay married longer. We also know that better health outcomes and financial stability also accompany formal education. Why then would “personal responsibility” campaigns focus exclusively on fertility. If you want young Black women to lead more stable lives, encourage them to stay in school. Of course, acknowledging that fact requires reading beyond the headlines, and takes away the fun of slut-shaming. But that's a real solution – not a hash tag. A diploma.
Then again, higher education has become increasingly unattainable for those without family and financial support, and those are the women most at risk. The education solution does not account for the women who will not ever earn a diploma. That means we must turn to the women themselves and the families they produce.
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In order to progress past the hand wringing, black communities have to embrace and encourage supportive, non-traditional families. This is, however, difficult to do with a family that is the result of the kinds of coercive sexual relationships that produced Shawty Lo's situation. The majority of the mothers met the rapper when while they were underage or barely legal. This man is a predator, and he created a family born not of consent and support but of the perceived limits of black women's romantic options. Without a commitment or assurance of stability, the women had his children. It seems they settled for what was available to them rather than what they deserved. It's a mindset not uncommon in women – onne that stems from internalizing constant degrading messages.
Our worlds are limited by constant attacks. I question the motives of the black women bloggers who've taken this as an opportunity to further degrade women who clearly cannot see how valuable, beautiful and capable they are. You cannot claim to care for black women, especially those at risk of exploitation, and hurl the same insults at them as everyone else. Quite frankly, if you don't hesitate to refer to black women as livestock, you're not really for us. If further stripping Black women of their humanity is a central component of your movement, I have no choice but to hope for its speedy demise.
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We grossly underestimate the intelligence of the women who find themselves in less than ideal romantic and child-rearing entanglements. In reality, women must get creative in order to navigate the landmines of patriarchy. “Respectable” black women talk down to those they presume don't know any better and do nothing but preach to the wannabe upper class choir.
Alternative families can be beautiful; however, ideally those family structures would be created with consent and support. Support is more than financial. We must demand men assume emotional responsibility for their children as well as financial culpability. This requires a fundamental reimagining of the foundational roles of fathers. The problem cannot rest solely at the feet of women who birth the children.
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Shawty Lo and the mothers of his 11 children didn't reveal to me anything I hadn't seen or imagined. But they did force me to think through the ways we can improve the lives of the adults and kids caught up in less than ideal circumstances. Attempting to silence or erase them won't fix anything for the countless other women who face similar challenges. Empower women to pursue higher education. Empower them to seek partners that will uplift them. Empower them to use birth control and condoms. We must remember that strong families cannot exist without strong women, and the work of building them never ends.
Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Tweet her.