Beyonce's Pregnancy And The Debate Over Black Women 'Doing It The Right Way'

Things being as they are, Beyonce's gestating fetus isn't just her own — it's already a site of intense debate about marriage, motherhood, and black women.

Although conservatives, many white and male, love to blame the broken black family for all and sundry societal ills (some even lionizing the allegedly intact families of slave times), the debate this week has been held by black women, some of whom have very direct experience with single motherhood. Janelle Harris writes in Clutch that despite whatever happened with Will and Jada Smith, "another Black couple is making marriage stylish, cool, obviously happy, and now they're having a baby....[Beyonce and Jay-Z] are making jumping the broom and raising babies palatable to a generation that has grown up listening to their choice of baby mama anthems while using 'baby daddy' as a term of endearment."

Harris is herself a single mother:

It's true: I consciously made the choice to lie down as a teenager with my good, common sense floating somewhere between good sex and first love.
So now, after besting 12 years of single motherhood and nine more months on top of that of being a baby mama, I see now that there is a reason why you should wait to be married before you have little ones. This ish ain't easy solo. Not that having a husband makes life a cakewalk, but if you've picked the right dude, you've got a partner to help shoulder and share the responsibilities that come with being a parent, a homeowner-heck, an adult in general.

And Keli Goff is the daughter of "one of these single moms of color doing the best she could and a pretty good job I might add." Still, she writes on Loop 21,

In the last ten years the number of children born out of wedlock has skyrocketed by 25 percent. Now, nearly 40 percent of kids are born to single mothers and among African-Americans the number is higher than 70 percent. ..The reality for a significant number of children born to unwed parents remains poverty, particularly for children of color.

All of this has been rubbing Charing Ball the wrong way. She writes that from the moment Beyonce married but indicated no immediate plans to have children, "folks responded with outrage and made charges that she was being selfish for denying herself, and more importantly, the world an offspring. Like, why else would anyone get married if it's not to procreate, right?" Now, she writes, the same people are praising Beyonce for doing it "'the right way.'"

In turn, she writes, one famous woman's life choices "have now become kindling to further flame the existence of ...unwed women, who by virtue of their singledom, are obviously failures at motherhood and are incapable of rearing a child with morals and values worthy of society," even though no one knows how much of the Knowles-Carter marital bliss is a PR illusion. Ball concludes, "There is no right way to make a family work. Let me repeat this: there are also unmarried, cohabitating parents, gay parents, families with adopted children, and yes even single parents in your own family and in the community, who all should be celebrated too for taking on the daunting, often thankless task of child-rearing." Presumably, plenty of those families aren't flagrantly turning up their noses on man/woman marriage and childbearing because of welfare or because Lil Wayne told them too. For many, it's not even an option.

Given how much this particular conversation entangles the fun three of race, gender, and class, it's not easy to separate them. But it's interesting how much, from this outside observer's perspective, is made of Beyonce's marriage rather than her decision to defer childbearing until age 30, which just happens to be a point where she's made enough of her own money and achieved enough to not even "need" Jay-Z. (Besides intangibly).

Goff writes that among certain celebrities of color, "having multiple children out of wedlock appears to have become a status symbol among the men and a viable career path among the women." Beyonce, she says, is "sending a message to girls everywhere, particularly girls of color who may feel like they don't have a lot of options, that you can earn your own money, enter a relationship with a man because you want to not because you financially need to, and when he's shown you he's deserving, you can give him the privilege of making a lifetime commitment to you and then you will give him the gift of a child. Not only when you both feel ready to do it but when you know you're both ready to be the best parents you can be." Surely this is a more resonant message — opting for sex and childbearing at a time when you're ready for them, emphasizing economic self-sufficiency — than telling women they've done it wrong.

My own suspicion is that these stories overstate the impact that celebrity culture has on black female-headed households. Public role models matter — the partnership of Barack and Michele Obama doesn't just seem like a model for African-Americans, but for anyone interested in a marriage of equals. But surely fantasies of instant wealth and fame are no match for forces that include systemic economic inequality, particularly affecting African-American men that would be half of those purportedly cure-all marriages; lack of access to sex education, contraception, and depending on where they live, abortion care; and young women making decisions based on a premise of their own limited options.

Not every potential husband is Jay-Z, and even Jay-Z wasn't always Jay-Z. Beyonce's genetic gifts of talent and beauty happened to combine with her own — and her husband's — unmatched drive and discipline. To the extent that those attributes can be emulated by anyone, they seem more relevant here than when she chooses to have a baby and with whom.

How Beyonce's Baby Bump Is Being Used To Look Down Upon Single Mothers [Atlanta Post]
Why Policymakers Should Rejoice At News Of Beyonce's Pregnancy [Loop 21]
Beyonce, Baby Bumps, And Doing It The Right Way [Clutch Magazine]