As a follow-up to The Viral Video, EBT: We Have Failed You Chapter…An Open Letter, I want to talk about a comment that I received frequently about Chapter’s character in the EBT video. Many people have emailed me saying that they agree with my blog, but that they also know black women who do those things. Those things . . . as if those things that they do are so vile that the actual act must not be named for fear of its appearance. Those things. What types of those things? Getting pregnant in order to qualify for general assistance?
It has been my experience as a mentor that when a young woman tells me she wants to have a baby it is because she wants someone—the baby or her boyfriend—to love her, and, of course, this rationale comes with its own set of consequences. But, my young mentee’s rationale is not far removed from why some single privileged or married privileged women decide to have babies. They too seek love or at least commitment from the men in their lives. The difference between my mentee and the privileged women is that their class privilege absolves them of blame.
I say all this to say that perhaps the reason why young women decide to have babies is not to “swindle” the government, but to secure that which all women are taught to desire in this society, what bell hooks refer to as the “male gaze.” And, the male gaze includes having the man’s baby or performing your feminine gender of being a mother. So, perhaps, the larger issue is not about “those things” single black girls do, but more about who they are doing those things for. Of course, this is where people, both conservatives and progressives alike, will begin to say, “Are you taking agency from single black mothers and that they are mere puppets of the patriarchal system?” No, I am not. I am simply saying that there are more complex reasons for why they like all other women choose to have babies and that it has been my experience that one of the main reasons they share is that they seek love from someone, be it from the baby or the man in their lives. Not one young woman has ever told me, “I am going to get pregnant so that I can take advantage of the good tax payers money.”
And, mind you, who wouldn’t want to have a baby and/or a man if this is what you are told your existence is based upon? In some ways having a baby justifies women as good women based on how we traditionally construct feminine gender and having a man justifies a woman’s heterosexuality and gender. Meaning, you get privileges as a woman if you abide by these norms. However, if you do not abide by these norms because of your race (i.e. black), class positioning (i.e. poor working class), and sexuality (LGBTQ or not married), you are deemed the problem. And, poor unwed black mothers are deemed the problem which amplifies why they above all others deserve love and acceptance.
In general, black women are seen to be problems. They are seen to be unbeautiful because they are black. They are seen to be unnaturally sexual because of their black bodies. They are seen to be unnaturally strong. They like other women of color are more likely to experience sexual violence then non-women of color. So, having a baby to get love, does not seem too farfetched against an American backdrop that at one point wanted their bodies to reproduce the US slave economy and now want their bodies to cease in its reproduction for fear of breaking the US economy.
Honestly, if a woman chooses to have a baby to get assistance from the federal government, I am not, necessarily, against it because many people have babies for all types of reasons and sometimes accidentally so and it does not negate the love and care they have for their unplanned children. And, I venture to say that many people would not care if young black women had children if they were not tied to racialized and gendered cultural narrative of the Welfare Queen and if we did not need someone who is easy to blame for the state of the economy.
And, I know many people will have a problem with what I have written, but before you get upset. I want you to think about how corporations get millions of tax subsidies from the federal government and then do many downright sinister things to people, communities, and to our economy. If you want to know who the real welfare cheats are I would look to corporations because they are the ones who are using the federal government. They are the ones who are killing the global economy. They are the ones who should be penalized not single black mothers who deserve the option of help. There are no JOBS. And, we as black people should understand this, given the consistent double digit unemployment rate in the black community. There are no JOBS.
And, let us be honest about how single black mothers are treated on general assistance. They are treated no better than dogs by their case workers who make it their job to make them feel bad about the choices they have made even though the schools in their neighborhood were underfunded and there were not jobs in their communities. And of course, there have been many studies done that argue that welfare became the paternal regulator of single poor mothers. Meaning, unwed black mothers were not partying with their EBT cards without the penalizing glare of the federal government. Moreover, even if you know one single black mother that embodies the spirit of Chapter’s character it does not negate the fact that many people need help, in particular, many single and partnered mothers of color.
So, please, stop sending me comments about how you know someone like Chapter’s character in her EBT video.