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Social Studies

Mother Issues

By Vincent Williams | Posted 4/20/2005

I am wrestling with Fantasia. Specifically, it’s the American Idol’s latest single, “Baby Mama,” that has me in a bit of an ethical tizzy. If you haven’t heard it, basically, it’s a song about, well, “baby mamas” that gives them a shout-out and a show of support. Sort of. But we’ll get to that.

I have to say, I certainly see why single mothers should get all the dap they can. Me and the wife got a 3-month-old here in the house, and even with the both of us, lemme tell ya, she is kicking our asses. It’s perpetually like the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan up in this piece; there’s crying, yelling, chaos, and vomit—and, y’know, that’s just us parents. At least once a day, as we’re tiptoeing through the house trying not to upset The Queen, we look at each other and say, “I don’t know how folks do this by themselves.” But people—specifically women—do raise kids by themselves every single day, and God bless Fantasia for acknowledging them and their efforts.

Yet, I don’t know if it’s just acknowledgement and support. My gut reaction is that a line like “Nowadays, it’s like a badge of honor to be a baby mama” crosses the line from acknowledgement to glorification. I mean, I feel a little skeevy about the way the hook spells out the word “B!-A!-B!-Y!-M!-A!-M!-A!” so that it sounds like a cheer.

And, if you accept that there’s more than just support going on with “Baby Mama,” there’s also the tricky issue of audience. Who is this song for? American Idol or not, the song isn’t called “Single Mother,” or even, hell, “Unwed Mother.” There’s a line where she uses the term “single mother,” but the name of the song is “Baby Mama,” a term that implies very specifically a poor, black female, often in her teens. And I have to say, directly or indirectly advocating baby mama-dom to teenagers isn’t cool. I don’t even care about the morality of the thing. The bottom line is that having a kid while you’re a teenager and raising it, often by yourself, is really, really, ridiculously hard, and Fantasia advocating a Baby Mama Holiday doesn’t get that reality across.

This territory, of course, is where it gets tricky. There’s all this stuff that could come flowing out of the keyboard pretty easily in regard to “Fantasia’s responsibility” and “personal responsibility” and “impressionable young girls” and “glorification of teen pregnancy” and a bunch of other terms and phrases that, frankly, most folks interested in this kind of thing can just plug in themselves.

I understand that it’s easy to write a scathing critique of “Baby Mama” and, through implication, poor black women—and that’s what is so deadly. The template exists in the back of all our minds because poor black women have been demonized forever due to racism and sexism and, to be quite honest, because they’re an easy target—they don’t usually have a voice to fight back. Female slaves were accused of being overly sexualized, Ronald Reagan talked about “welfare queens driving Cadillacs,” and, apparently, I have a problem with Fantasia. And who wants to be in the same category as Ronald Reagan and slaveholders? Uh, no one.

Hell, I can’t even use my Black Pass card for this. Look at Bill Cosby. Regardless of what you think about the issues he’s brought up in recent public outbursts, I don’t think anyone can deny that he came from a place of love, and look at the way cats are coming at his neck. He certainly didn’t mean for some of the conservative talking heads—who clearly do not come from a place of love—to rally to his statements and hold them up as justification for the hate that comes out of their mouths. And it’s so sad looking at his face sometimes, because he looks so confused. It’s like he’s wondering, How the hell did I get over here with Ronald Reagan and slaveholders?!?! Hell, even if you don’t get lumped with the folks who use racist imagery, you’re accused of being elitist and out of touch.

So what are the options for me, my concerns, and this column? Do I not address it at all? Should I pretend that the song doesn’t bother me? Am I not permitted to raise my voice and publicly say to Fantasia that it may be a bit reckless to cheer the experience of being a “baby mama”? I mean, can I say that not only do I find the term “baby mama” insulting, but that I believe that it feeds into all the stereotypes America holds about poor, black women? Is it possible to be a black man who loves black people and still critique certain elements of the culture without looking like silly-ass Calvin Butts bulldozing Tupac CDs? I don’t know, but I’m certainly wrestling with the whole thing.

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