Sometime last year, I covered a story about a sister in Atlanta who had been paying rent every month to some scam artist who didn’t really own the property she’d been living on with her children—her 12 children—and as a result of that wickedness, she and her family were cowering under the inevitability of eviction. It was a situation that should’ve created some level of outrage, especially considering the state was sniffing around for a reason to wrangle her kids into foster care.
But when I scrolled through the comment sections of the outlets that were reporting on the situation, I noticed that readers—mainly women—were missing the point that this lady and her family were the victims of fraud. Instead, they zeroed in on the fact that she had birthed a dozen babies. How ghetto she is. How irresponsible her decision-making has been. How she’s a stereotype, an embarrassment, a liability to the government and, basically, a bad representation of Black womanhood and an abomination to all humanity.
They went in on her, y’all. Nobody was launching a Kickstarter campaign or asking for a PayPal address, but the venom from their misplaced disgust put her a good 17 feet under the virtual ground.
Now, I’ll volunteer that more kids than you can count on two hands is a whole lot of baby-makin’. It is. But she became the verbal whipping post for single mothers and apparently, sexually irresponsible women everywhere. More telling than splitting hairs about her birth control oversights, I think, was the lack of empathy for other Black women’s experiences, to the point where the conversations about each other cease to be constructive and start to be downright sadiddy.
There’s been a string of instances, as a matter of fact, that hint at a growing insensitivity for each other’s life walks. Maybe education is partly to blame; the divide between the haves and the have nots is outfitted in strobe lights when one sister has had access to college and the at-least-lower-middle-class lifestyle that usually comes with it. For some, it created a prevailing “us” and “them” mentality that gives ladies who fancy themselves to be more refined carte blanche to build a pedestal and stand on it so they can cast downward glances at other women. It’s happening a lot. Classism is putting our sense of sisterhood in a chokehold.
Lord in heaven knows I would never want to have half a dozen children, much less a full one. Janelle loves the kids and all but my goodness, that’s a lot of work and a lot of money and a lot of stretch marks and morning sickness and uncomfortable nights of sleep. That said, though, I also know there are dynamics at play that make it more likely for women who’ve grown up in different sets of circumstances to have a string of babies by a string of different baby daddies. It’s not always low-income residents or women who live in the ‘hood. Not always, but often. That’s because there are prevalent patterns at play that put themselves on repeat in certain communities. We all know that.
While many of us have broken free of them to change our mindsets and carve out a better way, there are plenty of others still engulfed in rote mistake-making, even if they don’t realize they’re caught up in a cycle. If all you see is broken relationships and babies born out of wedlock, it’s not a big deal to continue the pattern. It’s a norm. Add in the fact that many of us struggle with low self-esteem on some level—not just low-income women, but all women—but many don’t have access to the resources to improve it, and a mother with 12 kids and maybe 12 different fathers shouldn’t be a shock. Or a reason to judge.
All I’m saying is this: have some empathy and solidarity for sisters. All sisters. Poor sisters. Rich sisters. Sisters with 12 kids. Sisters who don’t want kids at all. Sisters who make six figures. Sisters who pull out their EBT cards at the grocery store. There is value in each one of our stories, across class lines, and opportunities to learn and grow from everyone, not just the ladies who walk a similar walk. We’ve already been generally pigeonholed and undervalued, only relevant if we’re cutting up on a reality show or shaking it fast on a video set. The last thing we need, en masse, is to build a hierarchy among ourselves and pass judgment about who’s best representing Black womanhood.
Janelle Harris is a writer, blogger and editor, and the owner of The Write or Die Chick, a boutique editorial services agency. She’s also a single mother, a proud Washington, DC girl and a longsuffering Kanye West fan. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.