The recent August 2012 cover of Essence caused a small bit of a firestorm in regards to the headline next to her picture “Single, Satisfied, and Raising Her Boys. “ While Nia is currently in a relationship with the father of her youngest son, Ime Udoka, rushing down the aisle is not a top priority. At first glimpse the Essence Magazine article presents Nia’s challenges with her previous relationship with her oldest son’s father while also discussing how she has grown through the process. Uplifting female empowerment right? So what exactly caused the backlash and firestorm?
Is it the fact that she has two children by two different fathers? The fact that she is not rushing to matrimony to create a nuclear family? The question that was posed on Clutchmagonline.com was “Should single mothers be praised and put on a pedestal in magazines?” In reality, the group that seems to be paying the most attention and bitching about this topic is the black community. Perhaps there are some among us who fear that this image of the single black mother perpetuates what poor and/or communities of color have struggled with for so long—the creation of family and the presence of the father figure.
As I read in between the lines of the question posed by the site, it is laden with shame and a bit of disbelief. In thinking about this for some time, it is easy to see why a sense of disgrace is present. After all, over the years this issue of missing fathers, or what we like to call “Baby Daddies”, has become a twisted-sad-yet-laughable presentation on the Maury Show. This talk show regularly invites single mothers (who are most of the time are of color) on the show to give some unsuspecting guy a DNA test to determine if he is the father of her child. Given this context, it is easy to see why one would ask why does it appear that Essence Magazine is celebrating Nia Long for choosing to be a single mother when so many in various communities have had this path forced upon them?
As I gazed at the magazine cover and skimmed the article, I got a sense that Nia was empowered. I applauded her for making a decision to form family in her unique way. Instead of being marriage-hungry or bashing the men in her life for her current situation, she is choosing to put the energy into her parenting and prioritize her life. Why should she be forced to create a nuclear family because it would make the naysayers of her lifestyle feel safe and secure? Also, this topic reeks of the old double standard. I think it will be some time before we see a magazine cover with a man on the cover that reads “So and So, Loving Bachelor Life and Raising His Children.” No. On the contrary, bachelorhood for a single man is strongly encouraged with or without kids in the picture while no one will ever question if he plans to settle down with the mother(s) of his children. He would also be celebrated (no matter his race or socioeconomic class) by many like a prize fighting cock because of the physical proof of his potent manhood.
The only thing that Essence may in fact be guilty of is presenting single parenthood (not gender specific mind you) in such a glamorous fashion. The stark realities and struggle of juggling children as a single woman (or man) would not leave one with a beautiful gown without the spit-up stains, a gorgeous up-do, and earrings or a bracelet that has not been yanked every which way to Sunday. Additionally, the diversified parentage is okay for Nia Long because she is self-sufficient and an actress but what would happen if she was just Nia from a poor neighborhood (be it a trailer park or apartment building) with her two or three kids from different men? Would we think differently?
I even have to ask myself this question about this factor of socioeconomic class as I continue to look at the cover of this magazine smiling because of her empowerment and strength.