Kelli Goff is not the first Black pundit to project the problems of the American economy onto the “poor-decision making” of “especially minority” single mothers. She won’t be the last. Soon, the world will also know that “especially minority” single mothers are also responsible for global warming.
But this is not a callout. It is hard to be a web-published writer and not be pulled into the culture of “the callout.” It is hard not to imagine the internet as a hostile place, to write in the anticipation of clap-back. But when Toni Morrison advised us to write as if our audience was our own people, she did not mean for us to create the same hostile conditions we would find in a White readership. To see ourselves, and therefore our characters, not only human but more than enough was radical and necessary.
It was 1970. Martin had been murdered. Malcolm was murdered and fuck it; we were tired of carrying signs when White supremacists misread them anyway. The early 70s found Black women writing as if they were talking to sisters who didn’t need signs to see each other. They laid bare their humanity: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Sula, Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love, and Rosa Guy’s The Friends all showed Black girls hearing each other over and through the noise of difference. Their levels of truth telling could not have been achieved had they imagined their audiences as the White fathers in Black women’s makeup.
But this is not 1970 and my own truth telling is stymied by my awareness of people who look like me but don’t believe in my family’s basic right to a livable life despite my marital status.
I did not celebrate my pregnancy. I did not glory in my changing body. The only time I cried in an ultrasound was on the morning the technician found an abnormality in my baby’s heart. I’d spent months nursing the wounds of the confession of my “failure” to my family, who let loose the vitriol they’d been saving since my brother was sentenced to that place the children of clergy don’t mention. You can’t kick a brother when he’s down, but you can kick a sister when she’s pregnant. You can ask “how could you?” You can weep as if conception were cancer. You can throw around the words “ruined” and “disappointed” as if words do not enter the bloodstream, as if the bloodstream does not feed the placenta, as if the placenta does not house a being who is literally clinging to life despite her broken heart.
America has been my family’s true heartbreak, not me. We hope the American dream is available to all who espouse so-called American values; that marriage can be footholds in class climbing; that our middle class status could be an inheritance other than cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and debt. Some of our ancestors married and stayed– through cheating and beatings, silence and distance. They stayed through sickness and health, through “outside” children whose lives were invalidated because they distorted the family picture. They stayed. And still Katrina. And still Trayvon. And still Rekia. And still their babies locked away for first offenses. And still their children denied access to healthcare and birth control. And still the rising cost of the education that was supposed to set their families free. And still the price of freedom is restraint. Who wouldn’t riot? But when people feel powerless, they begin to burn down their own neighborhoods.
Guess what? Single mothers live in their neighborhoods. We are different, not worse. We did not wait. We did not stay. We did not blink when he walked away. We chose these children and needing help is not indicative of our bad decisions. Help would be a human right if we lived in a country that considered its people its most valuable resource. But it doesn’t and we don’t, so the welfare queen is born to assuage their fear that their families are one paycheck away from the line they despise. We stand between their “us” and “them.” We are here–with babies on our hips; with sometimes-breaking-down vans full of the children we love; with light bills that may not get paid this month (much like many of the two-parent homes that we don’t often point a finger towards); with amazing children who are more aware of what they have than what they don’t.
But this is not a callout; this is a calm-down. We are enough. They do not see us. They believe we are mice. They confuse correlation with causality. They practice simple math and believe that “two is greater than one” should be some moral code. We don’t have time to engage their arguments when we are busy raising American impossibilities: free Black children, lacking nothing, capable of everything.
Asha French is a writer and mother living in Atlanta.