Don’t Call Me a Baby Mama — Them’s Fightin’ Words

Janelle Harris
93

Baby mamaFor a handful of reasons — because I’m a black woman, because I’m a journalist, because I was born short and stout with a bad overbite — I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty ugly name-calling over the years. Everything from an n-word to a b-word to a no-talent douchebag to a bucktoothed hippo (it’s okay, you can laugh).

But if you really want to push my buttons, call me a baby mama. It’s tacky. It’s weighted with prejudice, and it has all kinds of disdain attached to it. And at the very friggin’ base of it all, it’s grammatically incorrect. Shoot, at least call me a ‘baby’s mother.’

If you want to get really technical, every woman who ever birthed a child would fall under that category. It’s just some of us are going through the hellfires of single parenthood while we’re raising our tots.

Like bling-bling, haters, and gettin’ jiggy, baby mama is an African-Americanism, yet another fine product born from the hip-hop vernacular that the mainstream picked up on and beat to death. Around our way, some 70 percent of households are being headed by single parents, most of them women. Mine is one in that hefty majority.

I generally hate when people inject stodgy dictionary entries when they’re trying to make a point in speeches and sermons and articles, but I have to share what the Oxford-English Dictionary says a baby mama actually is: “the mother of a man's child, who is not his wife or (in most cases) his current or exclusive partner.”

Well damn. Not only are we unfortunately single mothers, we’re basically — by that definition, anyway — either pretty desperate, pretty stupid, or pretty complacent. Maybe all three. I mean, wouldn’t a woman have to be to bear a child in a non-committed relationship? That’s just what that excerpt above suggests. And even if you’re not an avid follower of the OED, it’s what the term ‘baby mama’ implies whenever someone says it: another single chick foolish enough to have procreated with a man who didn’t think she was worth committing to.

If you’re married and have a baby, you’re a wife. If you’re divorced and had a baby, you’re an ex-wife or, at the very least, ‘the mother of so-and-so’s children.’ But if you're a single female parent, you’re that dreaded two-word combo. 

I’ll admit there was a time when I was head over heels about my daughter’s father and would’ve done anything for that fool — heck, I look at my grades from my sophomore and junior years in college now and could gouge my own eyes out for not doing better academically because I was so worried about maintaining our relationship amorously. Even when I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t really sweat it because I had starry-eyed dreams of us getting hitched and heading up a little, happy family once we graduated and moved on into the real world. But things didn’t work out the way I intended (thank God for intervening!) and ... well, you know the rest.

The 'baby mama' label doesn’t take any of that background into account. It doesn’t give any single mother’s story validity or credit, as a matter of fact. It just dumps a whole heap of asinine assumptions about a woman into her lap and lets society at large basically poke fun and pass judgment about her failed romance or precarious situation or fleeting moment of bad decision-making, no matter how much she loves the child it produced. Oooh baby mama. Couldn’t get him to marry you, huh?

Actually y’all, I’m pretty glad he didn’t.

I may have had a baby with a guy named James. I am proud to be Skylar's mother. But I’m darn sure not anybody’s baby mama.

Is there a label or term that you, as a woman or a mother, just cannot stand? That just grinds your gears whenever you hear it?  

 

Image via .A.A./Flickr

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