Black folks don’t need a nuclear family to be legitimate
We can refuse to measure ourselves by the yardstick of whiteness and its unimaginative, restrictive metrics of what constitutes family.
It’s Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week and, as per usual, the miserable trolls have crawled out of their pitiful caves to smear their shit on any and everything that might make people feel happy, accepted, and seen. Trolls, of course, typically believe in nothing. They simply enjoy a perpetually contrarian existence, and actively seek to make other people feel hurt, angry, unwanted, and unsafe.
But the thing about trolls is that they open the door for other folks to offer up their harmful opinions because they feel emboldened and validated by someone else’s willful destruction. As a result, this week (much like during Asexuality Awareness Week) folks participating in the celebration have been pelted with assertions that aromanticism—loveless and inhuman, as the deniers see it—is a disease, a mental illness, an excuse, a lie.
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Among these accusations is also the persistent belief that those of us who aren’t participating in romance culture are selfish in our perceived refusal to partner with another human, because “building families” is the foundation of our society. But the families they demand we create are never in service of ourselves or our needs and always in service of achieving a type of “normalcy” that makes others feel more comfortable. Many aromantic people choose to settle into or cultivate families that many narrow-minded people would not recognize as families at all.
I firmly believe that people’s aphobia—hatred of and discrimination against asexuals and aromantics—is often revealing of other bigotry and bullshit. And the hot takes I’ve seen during another social media conversation this week—about the nuclear family and Black people’s relationship to it—has only reaffirmed this belief for me.
In a now deleted tweet, a popular YouTuber stated that “70% of African American children are born out [of] wedlock” and implored Black people to “please break the cycle of making bastards and make getting married a traditional belief again.” When challenged, she defended her tweet by saying that she would not be shamed for simply “wanting better” and calling the statistics “so disappointing.”
“Everything that goes down in the black culture affects us all!” she went on to say. “Single parent homes [have] led to an increase in crime and feminine/dependent men.” It is a queerphobic sentiment that is directly related to Terry Crews’ comments from last year about single and queer parenting. “I believe paternal AND maternal love are like vitamins and minerals to humanity. No matter where you get that paternal and maternal love,” he offered, insisting that children who grow up without both a mother and a father will be “severely malnourished.”
The response to the young YouTuber’s tweets was as polarizing as you’d expect, but it’s always disheartening to be reminded of just how many Black people hold on so tightly to the myth that the nuclear family will somehow save us, and that anyone who does not participate in the structure is somehow either “setting Black people back” or “making us look bad.”
Now, I very much doubt that anyone participating in the devaluing of Black folks who choose to or end up having children while unmarried were considering Black aromantics (or asexuals) at all in their tirades. Even so, as someone who has been told more than once that I am an “agent of white supremacy” because I have no desire to marry, procreate, and “build” with a Black man, I gotta say, I’m tired of this shit.
The nuclear family is a relic of white capitalism and cisheteropatriarchy. It rests on the concept of one cis hetero man and one cis hetero woman being locked in a contract with the State with the aim to produce children (read: State subjects) and “contribute to society.”
In this rigidly prescribed family model, the wife is supposed to provide unseen and unthanked labor for the husband. That’s how married men were originally able to work a 40 hour week and not feel as exhausted and overworked as single people might. The fact is that, in the vast majority of heterosexual marriages—and unfortunately so—women’s domestic work supports men and their out-of-home work, even though the dominant cultural narrative is that men’s work supports their spoiled wives.
Within this structure, wives provide support by taking on all domestic labor, and their other purpose is to provide the husband sexual release and gestate, birth, and rear the children who will eventually become cogs in the capitalist machine as adults as well. And in all of this, the husband is supposed to be “in charge.” He is not a partner, he is a boss. The nuclear family is, conceptually, nothing more than a business franchise.
Respectability politics and decades of anti-Black government propaganda have convinced a number of Black folks that replicating the nuclear family structure will somehow make our lives better. That’s why people, especially womxn, who don’t adhere to it are social outcasts, why we are so feared and hated. At least, it’s one reason. We go against what capitalism and patriarchy have prescribed for us, and Blackness adds another layer, of course.
To be clear, I understand the concern for the state of Black families. After so many years of watching families becoming “broken” due to the prison industrial complex, the preschool to prison pipeline, descendants and memories of chattel slavery, Antebellum times, the Jim Crow era that followed—plus everything in between and a whole host of other things—I mourn the loss of family stability for many of us.
But respectability will never save us, and the concern for Black families need not limit us to a nuclear family structure as our only legitimate and valid option in order for our families to be whole. We can recognize and directly address the things that have impacted Black families for generations without resorting to shaming unmarried Black folks for having children—a shame that is overwhelmingly, almost exclusively reserved for and aimed at Black womxn.
We can acknowledge challenges to our families without reinforcing anti-Black and queerphobic ideologies that were born out of capitalist, sexist, and white needs. We can refuse to measure ourselves by the yardstick of whiteness and its unimaginative, restrictive metrics of what constitutes family and legitimacy.
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When we buy into these respectability politics, we aid in the misogynoir of blaming single Black mothers, and the pitying and shaming of Black children, without genuine investment in support systems for them. Swallowing the lie of the nuclear family as legitimacy means erasing and denying the significance of the tradition of multi-generational, interconnected, and extended “non-traditional” families and households in Black cultures across the globe.
There are a multitude of family structures—many of which happen to be aromantic or otherwise queer and emphasize community care and support—that do not depend on the restrictive “husband, wife, two kids, and a dog” formula. I hope that we can continue moving towards decolonizing our understanding of what family is and abandon the idea that Black children could ever be “bastards” or illegitimate.
White supremacy is what is illegitimate, and we will always be valid in the many ways we form families and support systems in order to survive, thrive, and prosper while navigating it. The nuclear family is a concept that never has and never will serve us as Black people. It’s past time to stop prescribing it and embrace the beauty in subverting it.