Yesterday two states, Michigan and Arizona, held their Republican presidential primaries and my womb apparently is on the campaign trail. At the last GOP debate in Arizona, all of the candidates took a lot of time to blame single mothers, especially brown single mothers, for many problems in the United States. The mainstream media, including a front page New York Times article, has fallen in line attacking single mothers of color and our kids for the poor state of the economy, crime, failing schools and the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran. Ok maybe not what’s happening in Iran but the arguments are just as ridiculous.
This revived attack on brown single mami’hood is just another front of a war of anti-Latino sentiment. It’s root is that same that led to anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 in Arizona and HB 56 in Alabama. It doesn’t take a big leap to move from targetting anchor babies to calling my being a single mother of two a “social catastrophe”. It’s not hard to say that poor brown people with uteruses shouldn’t choose the type of families they want to create when in some states it has already been determined what books shouldn’t be put in the hands of our youth.
As Bianca Laureano points out one of her recent RH Reality Check columns, the cultural and sexual habits and values of Latin@s are still read through old, racist narratives like Oscar Lewis’s La Vida and Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s The Negro Family. Rich Lowry, who was given a whole page to trash brown single motherhood in the same issue of TIME that highlights the power the power of the Latino vote, cites the Moynahan report as just the beginning of how a problem of “the underclass” (people of color) has climbed outside the realm of race. In other words, brown loose morals are catching. According to the editor of the National Review (full disclosure : I went to high school with the online editor of the NR), us poor, people of color just aren’t following the example of the upper classes who cling to marriage as a class rite of passage. Marriage, according to Lowry, is a way to climb the social ladder, if only we poor single moms would get on that ladder and find ourselves a good man. Lowry goes so far as to suggest a public service campaign in favor of marriage mobility with First Lady Michelle Obama as its spokeswoman.
There are quite a number of problems with the arguments presented by Lowry and by all who point to single mamis as the downfall of modern society. The whole family model relies on the invented notion of a whole, nuclear family that only really exists in the realm of 1950′s sitoms. I took enough sociology and history classes to know that The good ole days were never that good. The family model we are expected to aspire to leaves out extended families and families of choice including LGBTQ families. The assumption is that because I don’t have a ring on my finger that my kids are not inside a warm, loving home with multiple people caring for them. It assumes that the only legitimate relationship comes with a certificate. It assumes that it is better to be in marriage that contains violence than it is to be single it also assumes that women of color don’t have a right to control their sexuality.
It’s not that women of color have more sex than white women, it’s that the state has always intervened to control when and under what circumstances we will have sex and what the outcomes will be. Slavery, sexual violence via colonialism, forced sterilizations, rape, forced abortions, forced child birth, childbirth in chains, non-consensual medical prosedures and experiments have all been used as ways to control our allegedely uncontrolable sexuality. Women like me, unmarried women who haven’t achieved a certain academic or economic status, women who aren’t white – well we are just expected to keep our knees locked unless told or forced to do otherwise. Enjoyable sexual experiences are not for us.
We, women of color are blamed for having children out of wedlock and then having those children have more children. Forget the fact that according to a recent report by The Guttmacher Institute
the teen pregnancy rate dropped by 37% among Hispanics. The fact that the rates of teen pregnancy among black and Hispanic teens remain 2–3 times as high as that of non-Hispanic white teens isn’t blamed on a failing healthcare system or a failing education system (have you seen what passes for sex ed?). It’s blamed on our hot blooded culture. A large body of research has shown that the long-term decline in teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates was driven primarily by improved use of contraception among teens. But instead lawmakers like Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) want to pass laws that limit access especially to poor people of color.
I am sure that many would love to use my picture, my life, my story as a poster for what not to do. A Nuyorican twice single mami, without a college degree, struggling financially. It’s easy to give a white man like the editor of the National Review a page in a major magazine about my poor values than to ask someone like me how I am making it. It’s easier to have a major magazine run a feature on how important my vote is as a Latin@ than to confront the reasons why my vote is more important than my right to decide when and what goes in or comes out of my body. It’s easier but that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean that while people are trying to lock my knees together, I should lock my lips.