Posted on Thursday, June 10th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
Author: Renee Martin
Erykah Badu lives her life without apologies. In a White supremacist patriarchal society, such an approach to life immediately comes under scrutiny, because it threatens the hierarchical order that we have created.
When I first became aware of Badu, it was not because of her music, but rather the public furor that erupted when she announced that she was pregnant for the third time. Badu now has three children, and each has a different father. She was forced to respond to the slut shaming that followed the announcement of her pregnancy with the following public statement:
I PRAY WITH MY CHILDREN
I FEED THEM GOOD FOOD
THEY RESPECT PEOPLES DIFFERENCES
THEY TRAVEL THE WORLD WITH ME
THE KNOW WHO THEY ARE
THEY ADORE THEIR FATHERS AND ARE LOVED BY 2 PARENTS OR MORE -
OR TWO OR MORE SETS OF LOVING GRANDPARENTS
THEY GET HURT
THEY GET SICK
THEY ARE real
THEY ARE NOT AN IDEA or a TOPIC
AND NEITHER AM I .
I AM ALIVE .
I AM BEAUTIFUL WOMAN.
I AM A GOOD WOMAM.
I AM GROWING
I AM COMPLETE WITH OR WITHOUT A PARTNER AND WILL ALWAYS BE
AND I HAVE DREAMS OF A FAMILY STRUCTURE
ALL OF MY DREAMS DO NOT COME TRUE
AND DESPITE ALL OF THE PAIN IN MY LIFE …
IN MY MOTHER’S LIFE …
IN MY GRANDMOTHER’S LIFE
WE HAVE ALWAYS ENDURED
AND THERE IS SO MUCH JOY TO BE EXPERIENCED.
I NEVER HAD A FATHER AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT FEELS LIKE -
BUT MY CHILDREN DO , AND THEY LOVE THEIR ‘PARENTS.’
The attacks she faced were not about sexual morality and the welfare of her children; they were about disciplining the Black female and labeling Black women as irresponsible breeders. P.Diddy has three kids and although they each have different mothers, he has never been subjected to the kind of shaming which is regularly aimed at Badu — so much for the “welfare of the child” argument.
Apparently, only serial baby mommas exist, but fathers are just doing what comes naturally — spreading their seed. Clearly, the world is being destroyed by the baby mamas: a term that was specifically created to denigrate Black women.
Some might say that Badu courts controversy. In March she released the video “Window Seat,” in which she was filmed walking naked through downtown Dallas. It was inspired by a Matt and Kim video, in which the pair ran naked through downtown New York. The media was quick to once again question the harm done to the children that were present. Badu was also further slut-shamed for having the courage to stand nude before the world on her own terms. One commenter at the L.A Times had this to say:
“I see why our children are suffering. People are only concerned with ‘entertainment,’ ‘music,’ ‘art.’ It seems no one is even concerned with decency, morality or protecting innocent children and men and women who are NOT voyeuristic, do NOT enjoy pornography and prefer NOT to watch naked people embarrassing themselves in public. That’s why we have decency and obscenity laws. Not so people can walk around in the name of ‘artistic license’ and offend others.”
When Matt and Kim ran naked through downtown New York, no one complained that children were being traumatized by their nudity, but Black bodies are always read as sexual, because this serves to dehumanize and belittle people of colour.
It is Badu’s Black body that is the threat, not nudity in and of itself, because Black women are seen as aggressive, hostile, and disease-ridden. This is about control and denying agency.
In April, Badu sat down for an interview with Tom Horan of the Telegraph. Once again, she took the time to explain to explain her perspective to a world intent on forcing her to perform be submissive form:
“‘I come from a long line of strong matriarchs… I live in a queendom, ruled by a womb-iverse.”
Badu has no master. This very same independence would be praised in a man, but because it comes from a Black woman who has been deemed a slave to the world, it is demonized.
When discussing the interview, Blackvoices, a premier Black Blog, chose to focus on the following:
“No. Infidelity is not a deal-breaker for me. We’re all born sexual beings… I myself am not someone with a very high libido. I don’t require sex for happiness – I need companionship. I need a partner I can depend on, that I can love and grow with. But I do understand the nature of these men I’ve been with, and men in general. They have a need to chase.”
“I’m having to recondition my brain, ’cos the first thing I got was a doll named Barbie and she had Ken and that’s how it was supposed to be. You’re conditioned to think that way, and when it doesn’t happen you feel you’re a failure. What we have in common, me and the brothers I’ve known, is that we are all trying to evolve.”
Even though no one is sleeping in Badu’s bed but her — and she is raising her own children — various Black blogs competed see which one could engage in the most heinous slut-shaming. Badu’s comments were essentialist in regard to men and sex because clearly not all men require various partners to be sexually satisfied, but detractors focused on the fact that she does not consider monogamy necessary to have a successful relationship. Just as when Monique announced that she is in a non monogamous relationship with her husband Sydney, many are quick to infer that this arrangement exists because of some kind of flaw in the woman involved.
There is an idea that to form a successful relationship, we must possess our partners in the same way that we claim ownership over a book or a piece of land. The fact that Badu brought up the Ken and Barbie analogy suggests that this is a perspective that evolved with her life experiences and growing awareness of her own physical needs.
What is intimacy? Is it having sex? Is it sharing your darkest secrets with someone, or knowing that you can truly be yourself without question or judgment? Each person has to decide for themselves what constitutes a pair bond, but when an individual steps outside of the norm, we attempt to force compliance. And this is particularly true if the people in question already belong to a marginalized group.
Badu’s revelation was yet another example of her courage. Polyamoury is not a new form of romantic relationship, many versions of it are practiced around the world . But many are closeted about their polyamoury, because of the kind of shaming that Badu endures.
Just as with Monique, those commenting on the story continue to use the word “cheat” to describe non-monogamous relationships because this helps to delegitimize them. If all partners are aware of the situation, it is not cheating; lechery requires deception. But then this distinction is considered unimportant because the goal is not to understand that there are various ways to love. The goal is to label all those involved as deviant.
If I had two words to describe Badu, they would be ‘fierce’ and ‘beautiful.’ She is a Black single mother who does what she wants to do instead of acting out the script women like her are handed at birth. Rather than questioning the morality of her behaviour, perhaps we should consider why we are so unwilling to give her a chance to be herself.
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