Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

Have him put a ring on it

No Wedding No Womb (NWNW): Another exhortation to African Americans to change their behaviour in order transform the rate of out of wedlock birth, and thus create better economic conditions for black women and children.

I normally avoid engaging with these sort of endeavours because discussions about out of wedlock birth in the African American community tend to come with a healthy dose of anti-feminism and moralising that puts me right off. After seeing the movement mentioned at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ place and at Postbourgie I decided to take a look for myself, and saw much to gnash my teeth about, for example the presence of Mitch Albom’s fumduckery on the media page. Yes, I’m a real masochist.

What bothers me most is that NWNW does not do anything new. Christelyn Karazin, the movement’s founder, claimed that she is bringing together top bloggers, artists, and journalists who believe that out of wedlock birth is a key factor in the “emotional and economic enslavement that black women and their children continue to experience”. And therein lies the rub.

It should be noted that there is at least one study in a 1995 report on out of wedlock birth, which points out that 75 percent of African American Women were poor before they became single mothers:

Single motherhood is associated with higher poverty rates and higher rates of welfare receipt among women. It also is associated with higher rates of depression, unhappiness, low self-esteem and poor health (McLanahan and Booth 1989; Seltzer 1994; Brown and Eisenberg 1995). However, it is important to note that while the official poverty rate is 4 to 5 times as high in single mother families as in married-couple families, 45.7 versus 8.4 in 1992 (U.S. Census 1993), these differences greatly exaggerate the consequences of single motherhood per se. Women who become single mothers, either through divorce or a nonmarital birth, have less education and lower earnings capacity to begin with than women who marry and remain married. Their partners are also disadvantaged relative to other men. Mary Jo Bane found that about 25 percent of white women and about 75 percent of African American women were poor prior to becoming single mothers, suggesting that single motherhood accounts for no more than half of the higher poverty rates of single mothers as compared with married-couple families (Bane 1986).
Furthermore the birth rate for unmarried black women has been on a downwards trend for a long while now, and as I’ve mentioned before, the “astronomical” 72% out of wedlock birth rate Karazin cites is attributable to a decline in marital birth rates for black women.
The aim of the movement, as I understand it, is to search for solutions to improve the prospects for development of the African American community, yet all I see in articles like this, this, this, and this are the same old assertions of moral decline, and slut/poor/sex-shaming that are incongruent with a nuanced understanding of the available data.
The emphasis on personal choices that the appeals of endeavours like NWNW typically entail is misplaced because as G.D notes:
You have to actually change the conditions that inform the calculus by which people make the decisions they make. It’s annoying to have to even say this, but keeping black men out of jail or bringing up high school graduation rates or whatever might actually require more complex solutions than getting enough people to wag their fingers really, really hard.
Exactly. I would that rather than marriage and women’s sexuality NWNW emphasised expanding access to things like education, health care, family planning, affordable child care; the things that shape the choices people make.
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4 responses

  1. ralph kenol

    We have to come up with solutions independent of the government because that solution is becoming nonexistent. It’s also important to remember that there are people, black people, that are coming into our communities, staying a while and leapfrogging ahead. They are not doing this because of government programs but rather because of strategies and approaches that are more successful than others. I fear

    September 29, 2010 at 1:11 am

  2. Thanks for the shout, Ralph.I would argue that action on the socio-political level is the most effective means of generating sustainable change. That involves engaging with the government in order to change policy.

    The people leapfrogging ahead are likely those who are best able to do so. For example (probably an inapt one, but bear with me) we could look at thinner, fitter members of the community and tell the community members considered fat that they would be better off if only they imitated the behaviour and diets of the former.

    However what if the more pressing need for the fat community members was getting enough food, rather than healthy food? My concern then would be looking at ways to get people the resources they need to get enough food, and increase the availability of affordable healthy food so that they can begin to think about healthier options.

    Writ-large, the only institution I know of with the resources and legitimacy to support such an endeavour is the government.

    Similarly, the many issues that face the black community in the US cannot be addressed by pointing a finger at poor black women and admonishing them to immitate the behaviour of the middle class and upwardly mobile.

    September 29, 2010 at 3:09 am

    • ralph kenol

      Let’s expand your leapfrogging analogy regarding the fitter people. Let’s also compare African or Caribbean Immigrants to the U.S. and US born African Americans. The dietary practices of the immigrants are often healthier. These groups tend not to eat as much processed food. (Although this is changing) The other interesting thing thing is that the food is often cheaper. I once compared corn meal prices to ramen noodles and the corn meal was both much healthier and cheaper. (Like 10x cheaper) To suggest that people can’t learn the positive habits of others to their own benefit erases 500 years of western history and the history of Japan since 1868. My argument is essentially that if one sees something or some behavior that is on the whole, more productive for that person, one should seek to emulate it. This is not a class issue but an approach issue. As to government involvement, I think that we have to recognize that the increasingly diverse electorate in the United States and our massive debt will make a lot of the government programs a thing of the past.

      September 30, 2010 at 1:37 am

      • Thanks for the response Ralph. There’s something there that touches on the crux of my argument. You wrote:

        The dietary practices of the immigrants are often healthier. These groups tend not to eat as much processed food. (Although this is changing)

        It isn’t simply a matter of willpower that is causing a change in diets. Put a Japanese student in a food-desert in NYC with no car and a budget of about a 5 dollars for 5 days worth of groceries and I expect their diet will not be all that great.

        I am not suggesting that it is impossible for people to learn, that would be silly. What I am saying is that if you want people to make different choices you need an approach that addresses the environment that shapes those choices.

        September 30, 2010 at 10:21 am

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