Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's A New Day?

"because it's love/because it's all the way love/because it's really love..."--Luther Vandross

"Why does Essence keep showing this type of relationship as if it's suppose to be normal for women of color to have children and not be married. First you put that dispicable, disgrace of a father P Diddy and his "" because that's all she is to him Kim and use them as an example of "Black Love". I know that there are some blacks who still get married. Please Essence stop representing this as "Black Love". "Black Love" is when the man respects the woman enough to make her his wife, "Black Love" is when the woman respects herself enough to stop giving your bodies to these men and make them work for it. Make them put that ring on your finger and MARRY YOU!!!"

Perusing through some of the comments on the beautiful pictorial and accompanying article on LaLa Vasquez and Carmelo Anthony's family life with their son, Kiyan, on Essence's wesbite, I wasn't surprised to see some of the responses to the story. Considering the ridiculously gigantic bruhaha amongst Essence readership over the then-as well as-now unwed Diddy and a very pregnant Kim Porter gracing the cover of the December 2006 issue as they prepared for their second and third child together, it wasn't a shock to see snarky comments about LaLa and Melo's family situation like "What example are they setting for their son by shacking up? Do the honorable thing and get married, stop playing house!", and "Black women are settling and its a shame. I'm tired of this baby mama culture that is destroying our race. Who cares if they have money? That is not the way you raise a child" and the golden nugget, "I am so sick of Black women reducing theirselves to just "Baby Mommas", you can have a child with the woman, play house, and but she is not good enough to have your last name. Black women wake up!!! Stop being a breeder for black men. That's all they see us as BREEDERS! Trust me if she was white oh you better believe Carmelo would have been married her. We are we going to learn!!" Before I launch in, I will state clearly that I do not now, nor have I ever condoned the use of "theirselves" as a word. But there's more to discuss.

There are a few things to consider here when tossing around the relevance of these arguments against featuring unmarried couples as examples, one being the source. Once upon a time, when print media was relevant and well-to-do black media companies managed not to blow their entire budgets on lavish parties, we had the now-defunct Honey Magazine, Suede Magazine, and Vibe Vixen. This is important primarily because one might argue that Essense, while often entertaining and undoubtedly the queen of the cover story, caters to your auntie. And not necessarily your dad's sister, either, but often grandfather's younger sibling whom, even while remaining fly, entertaining and quick-witted, still can't quite pronounce Beyonce's name correctly and isn't quite sure which rapper she married. And while Essence has made every effort over the past decade to stay relevant by getting young, intriguing stars on their cover, it's clear that the young, chic, savvy urbanites that regularly purchase (or subscribe to) to Vogue, Glamour, Marie Claire, and Vibe and that flocked to stores for every issue of Honey and Suede, still regularly look past Essence on the newstand. The same reason you take some of that old auntie's advice and leave the rest is the reason many Gen X & Y'ers don't fool with Essence. It can feel like a lecture, rather than a celebration, rather, most importantly, than a discussion. And it's the Essence readership that spends time online bemoaning the fact that Black pro-athletes and entertainers are treating women that live in their homes and wear their engagement rings as 'breeders', that makes us all give the publication the collective side-eye.

True, Black men and women do need to get more serious about commitment and more careful about all of the out-of-wedlock children that our community indulges in, because yes, the burden of raising those children does ultimately fall on Black women. I am a member of a church whose pastor's #1 priority in teaching about relationships is male accountability, and I do think it's important. Our churches and schools need to be driving home family responsiblity to our men more, and I do think that the "new day" in which we're currently living, with Barack and Michelle Obama as a national template for a healthy relationship, will go far. However, the entire burden can't fall on the Obamas. Commitment is important, and I'm not dismissing its significance, because it's largely the instant gratification our culture craves that creates all the problems later--disproportionately so for Black women who end up raising children alone, struggling to find someone to help and too often raising young men who go to jail rather than college and young women who trade possible lives as professionals for motherhood that comes too soon. I'm not downplaying that, nor am I dismissing the covenant of marriage in the church as unimportant. With that said, I'd be remiss to not point out that there are plenty of couples who have children before marriage and end up having perfectly healthy marriages later. For every Diddy (who while being an undeniably great father who takes care of his children, has consistently blown the chance to make an honest woman out of someone who truly loves him), there's a Melo, who clearly treats LaLa with respect and love as both his woman/fiancee and the mother of his child. I don't think it's fair to sweep that under the rug and lump them in with the men who create "breeders". I mean, isn't that almost entirely the message of the movie Baby Boy?

I think that LaLa and Melo will get married when the time is right for them, and no one knows their story better than they do. The same goes for all the couples outside of the limelight in the same position--marriage is not to be taken lightly, and if more people looked at it that way, we'd have less divorce. Instead of trying to guilt and shame someone into marriage, we should be respectfully observing their current commitment, whatever it may be. Kiyan Anthony, for example, is too young to know whether or not his parents are married, but it seems as though he lives in an affectionate home in which his father respects and loves his mother, which is not too shabby considering the alternative.

Futhermore, let us not ignore the fact that the majority of the women who feel strongly enough about this to sit and post comments on the internet in response to a perfectly lovely article are typically unmarried or bitter from the consequences of their own poor choices. I'd be remiss if I said that all the comments were in the same vein, however. There were a few rational standouts, which included "Get married, because it is the right example to show to your son and the future of couples of color. There are too many people "co-habitating". You are a queen, not a princess. Queens are married. Don't be antoher "lady~in~waiting". Most importantly, it will be pleasing in the sight of God. Honor God and the sacredness of marriage. Keep things in the right perspective. You will reap a bountiful harvest when you do what God has ordained. Be blessed." I feel this woman. This is what I was taught growing up and what is extoled to me today in my place of worship and amongst my older relatives and mentors.

Things aren't cut and dry like they used to be, our generation says. God is the same today as he was yesterday, they say. True. But specific to LaLa and Melo, the "damage" is done. At this point, isn't the best thing to do is to wish them the best, pray for their continued happiness, and conduct our own business? Hatefully banging out dismissive comments about a man's level of respect for a woman when you know neither of them is neither relevant nor productive. I have all the love and respect in the world for the God-ordained institution of marriage, but I don't think anyone who isn't ready should even bother discussing it. I also don't know that I have a huge problem with people testing the waters by co-habitating, provided it's couched in a real commitment.

This is my thinking, but what are your thoughts? There's a lot to consider here. Are more young women today settling for "breeder" and "babymama" status instead of demanding marriage?

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