What do our reactions to Ciara’s $15 million defamation lawsuit against Future say about our collective attitudes toward Black single motherhood?
Earlier this week, recording artist Ciara made national headlines after she filed a $15 million dollar defamation lawsuit against the father of her child and ex-fiancé, rapper Future. The suit alleges that Future’s public comments about Ciara’s parenting have negatively impacted her professional life. Since beginning a high-profile relationship with NFL quarterback, Russell Wilson, Ciara has become a mainstay in social media jokes and memes, many of which are stoked by Future’s remarks. The rapper has criticized Ciara’s decision to allow their son to spend time with Wilson, saying to The Breakfast Club, “You never do that in our community. You don’t even bring a man around your son. You only know this dude for a few months and you’re bringing him around your kid? Who does that? Nobody does that.”
Future’s attitude (and the public’s reinforcement of his ideas) speak to the reality that many Black single mothers are subject to having their sexuality and decision-making policed. They are expected to provide round the clock care for their children all while being denied the freedom to simultaneously engage in romantic relationships. But these women are complete and complex human beings who should be allowed to date, to love, and to live full lives. They should not be criticized for new romantic relationships or for holding men accountable for the children they share.
On Tuesday, talk show host Wendy Williams joined in and chastised Ciara for her previous relationship with Future, citing his four children with three different women as evidence that the singer should have known better. Williams even went so far as to suggest Ciara’s career would be fledgling with or without his comments. While she may not have had the commercial success of some of her peers, Ciara has a career in her own right; and whether she is a chart topping success or a box office dud, Ciara, like any of us, is deserving of her right to privacy and agency.
Comments like Williams’ and Future’s place blame on Black single mothers in ways that ring unfair. Society has painted these women with a broad brush, namely as welfare queens who trap unsuspecting Black men into a cycle of child support demands and nagging. Black single mothers are questioned at every turn, from spending habits to dating decisions; and asking the court system to interfere when seeking child support is often cited as an outright betrayal.
When Future tweeted, “This bitch got control problems. I gotta go through lawyers to see babyfuture...the [f--kery] for 15k a month,” it was Ciara who bore the brunt of public criticism for allegedly denying Future custody while taking his money. However, in her only public comments on their parenting situation, Ciara told CBS This Morning’s Gayle King, “To speak on such a sensitive and real situation when you don't have all the facts is really...That to me is...the frustrating part of it all, because again, it's just like, us adults will be fine, but my son has to grow up one day and see [this].” Regardless of the specific details of Ciara and Future’s relationship, paying child support does not constitute a guarantee of visitation or custody. Further, that is the kind of issue best debated over family court, not over social media.
When we vilify Black mothers who demand financial support from non-custodial fathers, we contribute to a cultural attitude that paints these women as greedy people squandering monetary benefits for personal gain. It suggests that Black mothers use child support as a means of punishing fathers. Those attitudes, whether perpetuated by financially strapped fathers, or asserted as a social norm, can result in dire consequences for some Black women. Just last week, a Maryland man, Daron Boswell-Johnson, confessed to murdering his two-year-old daughter and her 26-year-old mother, Neshante Alesha Davis, allegedly over a child support dispute.
Attacks on Black single mothers only serve to damage the children caught in the center of the conflict and the women raising them. While none of us outside of Ciara and Future can truly know the intimate details of their custody and support issues, we should all agree that publicly referring to the mother of your child as a “bitch with control problems” serves no one. Ciara’s lawsuit takes an important stand, asserting her right to privacy and respect. The way we react to it, says a lot about our values. As we engage in conversations around these issues, let us not forget the impact demonizing Black mothers can have on women like Neshante Alesha Davis. We can do better, and they deserve that much.