It was my cousin Dee-Dee who told my grandmother that I was pregnant. I couldn’t tell her myself. I remember my grandmother coming to the door of my bedroom that I shared with my cousin and two sisters and any other family member who needed a place to sleep. She looked at me – her eyes piercing though me – she said nothing, turned around and walked away.
Today I thought about being a teenage parent and the disgrace that comes with it. I thought about the hundreds of thousands of black mothers who are rearing their children alone and about the stigma that’s been associated with the “baby mama” drama. We put pressure on black women, pressure to raise their sons into men, and too many of the only men they see, their role models, are strung-out uncles and dope-dealing brothers. We put pressure on black women to go from welfare to work; and they accuse us of being lazy and unproductive if we don’t.
Has anyone taken into account that CVS and Walgreen’s aren’t providing adequate health insurance, but Medicaid does? I remember when I got my first job as a receptionist for the New England Medical Center’s accounts payable department. I was making $8.00 per hour, which is roughly $560 every two weeks. I reported that I was employed to the welfare department, excited that I had my first job and welfare didn’t have to fully support me. Can you believe that because of the $560 that I was now earning, my $100 food stamp benefit was reduced to $10?
Meanwhile, my grandmother Alice worked most of her life for a Jewish family that I love and adore, the Steinbergs. The Steinbergs have three children — two daughters and a son. My grandmother helped raise those children. When my little sister was pregnant, my embarrassed grandmother tried to hide it from the Steinberg’s. Mr. Steinberg came by my grandmother’s house one day to drop off some groceries, and my grandmother told my sister not to go downstairs: “I don’t want him to see you like that.” I was pissed because all I could think of was his oldest daughter, Ann, who has never had a job in her life.
My grandmother always tells the story about how the Steinbergs’ kids would come home from school to be greeted by my grandmother. Bernie and Dan, but not Ann, would ask, “Alice, can we help you clean up? Fold clothes?” And so on. My grandmother would ask Ann if she wanted to help and Ann would say, “No.”
Ann is now divorced because she still hasn’t picked up a broom or emptied a dryer. She has three kids. Ann has been living off daddy her entire life. Is there a difference between the expectations that society has on a single black mother versus a single white mother? Does it make Ann better than the black mother who receives welfare and is called lazy and unproductive, because Ann is lazy and unproductive and living off daddy?