Whose Body Is This: A Statement on “Out of Wedlock Births” in the Black Community

22 Sep

Last Monday, I watched a rerun episode of the Tyra show which drove home the entire significance of this “No Wedding, No Womb” campaign. Tyra was giving the results of her show’s annual teen sex survey and sitting on the stage next to her were 6 or 7 teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 18 years of age. As Tyra read the percentages of teens who admit they don’t use condoms before intercourse, drink prior to sexual activity, and who admit to having numerous sexual partners, the audience gasped in major disbelief.

As each of these young women took a turn answering Tyra’s questions about their sexual lives, I noticed several dominant discourses emerging in these girls narratives of “sex talk”. Most of the girls described sex as merely an afterthought—it was something that “just happened one night.” There was no planning—no foresight—thus no contraception. They hadn’t intended to have sex with that boy but they started fooling around and one thing lead to another….. Some girls asserted that sex made them popular—translation, “If I give it up, boys will want me.” Many girls were “looking for love” in all the wrong  places, saying things like“ I don’t feel good about myself, “I don’t like myself,” or “I don’t feel pretty and that’s why I do it.”  They claimed when they had sex they felt loved but once it was over the feelings of inferiority and “ugliness” returned with a vengeance. For other girls it was simply about the pleasure principal—having sex felt good to them. After the show was over I sat on my couch in deep thought or reflection wondering what I could say about all this. I guess what concerned me was not so much that some girls believed that having sex makes you popular with boys (it doesn’t) or that some girls just wanted to have sex because it feels good. Rather, what troubled me was that these girls seemed to lacked ownership of their bodies and by extension sexual reproductive organs. Implicit was the notion that sex is something you do for someone else—in particular for someone of the male persuasion—you are an object of male desire, nothing more or less. 

However, for colored girls the ramifications of discourses of sexual pleasure and popularity are not without impunity—there are social consequences, one of the most prevalent being out of wedlock births. Statistics reveal that teen pregnancy rates among black adolescent girls are more than 2x that of white adolescents and that one in every four black children born are to teen mothers.[1]  Had one of those young women of color on the Tyra show got pregnant she would not fair as well nor be as lucky as her white female counterparts. In the black community “out of wedlock” births has become a normalized feature of female adolescence. Young brothers run around siring children for whom they take no economic or emotional responsibility for. Inevitably, child-rearing gets left to the women who bear the brunt of the social stigma and scrutiny levied at single mothers of color in our society. We have entirely too many “aunties, grandmas, mommies”, etc… watching each others babies while she goes to work not because there are no fathers but we don’t know where they are. The social costs of “out of wedlock” births are tremendous, ever-increasing, and have far-reaching implications for our overall life, health, and longevity as a community.

It doesn’t come as news to any of us that teenage mothers of color struggle tremendously to stay in school, juggling the responsibilities of being a parent with that of being a student. Often, they have to drop out to get a job or end-up enrolling in some kind of alternative education program; and if they do not earn their high school diploma or GED equivalent that does not portend well for their current economic situation or future prospects either. Moreover, the social disadvantages accrued to children born “out of wedlock” are vast and numerous, extending to every area including healthcare, education, profession, etc… It has been said that a child’s zip code is the number one predictor of quality of education they will receive and when poverty is intertwined with teenage pregnancy as it so often is, the “out of wedlock” birth epidemic in the Black community virtually guarantees a sub-par, substandard, inferior education for countless numbers of African-American children. An impoverished education also denies African-American children access to the cultural capital— that is social networks, material resources, opportunities, rigorous academic courses, and the knowledge needed to navigate higher education and the professional job market. To condemn a child to a second-rate education in this day and age is a severe limitation. Frequently, children who come from poverty stricken communities of color usually have health problems that translate to a transient school record and low academic performance.

In the case of poor urban populations access to healthcare is mediated by the government which means our bodies become owned and controlled by the state apparatus.[2] Privacy is erased.[3] One has to divulge their sexual history just to receive earmarked social services.[4] Being dependent on the “good will” of the state forces us to surrender our bodies as well as our reproductive rights which opens us up to public censure and widespread criticism.[5]

Indeed, the trope of the “welfare queen” is still alive and well today in popular discourse. As a community I believe we can longer ignore or deny the deleterious effects of non-marital child-bearing on the life chances, outcomes, and trajectories of Black kids’ lives. There is no cure, no salve, no substitution, or replacement big enough to fill the hole left by a father’s physical, emotional, and spiritual absence and/or abandonment in the home. TRUST. I have mad love for the single mothers who are holding it down and raising their kids. As rapper/artist Fredo Starr said “single mothers y’all my heroes, y’all my queens.” However, it is high time that kings—FATHERS, step up to their fatherly responsibilities.

I believe Judge Glenda Hattchet put it best when she said “If we want our children to do right, we have to do right by our children”. Now is the time to take back our community. “No Wedding, No Womb!”

[1] Roberts, Dorothy. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. New York, NY: Random House, 1998.

[2] Davis, Angela. Women, Culture, and Politics. New York: Vintage Books, 1990

[3] Bhattacharjee, Mala & Silliman, Jael (Eds.) Policing the National Body: Sex, Race, and Criminalization. Massachusetts: South End Press, 2002.

[4] Davis, Angela. Women, Culture, and Politics.  New York: Vintage Books, 1990

[5] Bhattacharjee, Mala & Silliman, Jael (Eds.) Policing the National Body: Sex, Race, and Criminalization. Massachusetts: South End Press, 2002.


Posted by on September 22, 2010 in Uncategorized


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9 responses to “Whose Body Is This: A Statement on “Out of Wedlock Births” in the Black Community

  1. harleyq2

    September 27, 2010 at 12:32 am

    -Very good article. I find one thing I do disagree with and that is “giving it up” does make the girls popular but not in a good way. When guys know they are able to the goods then they will all flock her way but for one reason only. Hence, the reason some of these women do not even know the identity of the fathers
    -The problem is these girls do not have good role models or high self image and things are especially deterimental when they do not have both. Majority of the all black communities are poor, limited values, and their ideals are very screwed. This makes a wonderful breeding groups for OOW children.
    -Even though black communities do not have the best education, most of the children see their family and friends who have dropped out and “living the life” and so they follow their example. This continues the cycle of young mother, no education, living in below or at the baseline poverty level.
    -Too many of the black young people avoid working hard in order to elevate themselves. The moment they hit a barrier they stop and give up then expect things to come “easy.” Education is not valued in majority black communites actually it is something that they seem to mock.
    -Education, values and morals are the only things that will curb this epidemic

    • smelodydiva

      September 28, 2010 at 12:21 am

      harleyq2–Thanks for reading my article. I hear what you’re saying about “giving it up” does makes girls popular but not in a way that is positive. I definitely think role models and self image are a part of the problem but I’m not comfortable with arguing the “OOW” problem is a result of “limited or no values” in the black community. Our history proves that we as black people have always valued education, family, marriage, and the community but somehow in this day and age that message has gotten lost. Slaves struggled for the ability to read, write, and after emancipation rushed out to find their families and to get married. We have a long line of scholarly thinkers, writers, poets, : W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick Douglas, Cornel West, Marcus Garvey, Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr., Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Audre Loudre, etc… not to mention all the scholars and writers who are of African descent or hail from the diaspora. What we have to do is bring back the idea that Black is to be educated, to be a leader, to be an activist, to be a father, to be a mother, to be a parent, to be a advocate for one’s community. The cycle of poverty and lack of education affects our community disproportionately but it is not just teen mothers. The problem goes much deeper than teen or young un-wed mothers. There are health ramifications also (go to: for article about “OOW’s” from a health perspective”. To me it seems we need a reclaiming of our agency as a community, our bodies as women, and our political status as Black people. Hopefully, NWNW is only the beginning of the conversation!

  2. harleyq2

    October 1, 2010 at 12:19 am

    I have to clarify. I meant that values and education are not important with this generation. I know that American Blacks have a history of fighting for their rights: freedom, education,etc. however, that strength seems to have been lost on the recent generations. When I say value it means what is important to people and for these men and women the idea of family stability has loss it’s meaning hence the multiple babies by multiple baby mamas and fathers. Taking parental responsibility is gone, respecting ones self as women is gone etc. The church was the rock for American Blacks for a number of years and involvement in this institution held people accountable for actions but since then things have changed and most poor families have no specific values or what they believe in. When the family unit is destroy so is a community and you can see this in so many areas include OOW births.

  3. Elle est noire

    October 4, 2010 at 1:02 am

    Thank you for not blaming it all on the Black women/girls, which I am afraid too much of this NWNW rhetoric is sounding like.

    • smelodydiva

      October 4, 2010 at 2:14 pm

      Thank your for your comments. I’m really disheartned that people are reading NWNW as blaming and/or shaming Black women/girls. The point of the campaign is to raise awareness about black fatherlesness in the Black community and for us to figure out how we are going to get ourselves out of the hole. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the gov’t IS NOT going to address or try to redress the problems they have caused and created in many communities of color including ours. We have to be proactive! WE ARE NOT GOING TO GET OUR 40 ACRES AND A MULE! In doing NWNW, I think Christelyn is trying to sound the alarm and the amount of people who don’t want to look at the problem or offer solutions boggles my mind. It is not really one or the other it is a both/and kind of situation. There is always intersections between personal agency and structural barriers. I’m looking for that place where we as Black people can begin to act in our best interest and not wait for handout from anybody. We are plenty capable of addressing “black fatherlessness” and now is the time to have the conversation.

  4. elaine12qw

    October 18, 2010 at 3:10 am

    I strongly recommend ______ BlackwhiteCupid * co m ______ to you where I just found my interracial boyfriend! You know it is a great place to meet black men and beautiful women. What’s kind of relationship do you want? 😉

  5. ebony

    October 21, 2010 at 12:34 am

    I LOVE your blog. I am so happy these issues are being discussed. I am so sick of the media making it seem like all the problems faced by black women were bound to happen and that we are always doomed. “Those poor black girls”. umm…no! Its time we start talking about the issues ourselves and spread the word so the media can’t add their own agenda to the messages from the “black community”. When really its their way of keeping us down, while they try to appear to be helping us.

    I have recently started a blog because I want the world to know what being a black women is all about. The REAL perspective. Check it out.

    Also there is a new Tyler Perry movie based of the book. “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf”. the movie itself is simply called “for colored girls.”I am so happy to see a new perspective of the black community is the media. Its sooo refreshing!! Its real and authentic.

  6. BKS

    January 12, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    OWBs are not limited to teenagers. In the past there was a stigma for out-of-wedlock births. We need to bring that back and take away government subsidies for poor life choices.

    • smelodydiva

      February 27, 2013 at 10:06 pm

      There is still a stigma for out-of-wedlock births. Ideas of baby mamas and welfare queens still run rampant in our society. And as far as government subsidies go, a lot of policies put in place have actually worked against the preservation of two parents households in high poverty areas.


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