Black and white: Single black female

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Churchgoing West Indians and black British tend to marry in pre- war English fashion, with children following marriage. So, as black churchgoers in English cities seem to significantly outnumber white churchgoers, is it true to say that being a single parent is part of black culture?

"Black culture" is vaguely understood to mean the customs of the black diaspora, those people in Britain, the Caribbean or America whose ancestors were taken away from their African tribes as slaves. Such people had to rebuild their lives as well as they could in the circumstances. The many different marriage customs that were lost were African, and usually involved bride price, arranged marriage and polygamy. Normal family life was impossible during slavery, and had to be reinvented at Emancipation in 1833 (British West Indies) or 1863 (United States).

Many couples married in Western fashion, but others, in an atmosphere of chaos, just let matters drift. From this drifting, fragments of African customs, slavery customs, American and English customs floated around, bumped into each other and settled as the "black culture" of today.

In England, many white couples "live together" for years but eventually have a quiet wedding ceremony at a registry office. Often, after that, the couple cease to live together in any sense, and separate, unsettled by the untimely ceremony. Even a registry office service is couched in embarrassingly out-of-date language left over from the days when weddings were for young people on the brink of leaving their parents' houses and setting up home for the first time.

Among many black or Jamaico-British people, however, a couple may live together for years and then have a gigantic expensive church wedding, with a sit-down banquet for 400 guests and dancing to a sound system till dawn. Not to mention interminable speeches, and teenage children of the bride and groom dressed to the nines as pages or bridesmaids.

After that, the marriage sometimes breaks up, perhaps from all the strain of recuperating from the wedding. I often think that an Affirmation of Love ceremony would be more appropriate for couples who have, in effect, already been married for years.

Among slightly less respectable Jamaico-British, a version of African polygamy prevails. Just as the traditional African husband of many wives lives in a large compound containing a hut for each wife, and has a rota system, so the black British "Baby Father" has girlfriends in flats all over the UK. Each girl has at least one child, most of the girls know about each other, and the Baby Father calls at each flat on a rota of his own devising. Having considerably more power than an African wife, the Baby Mothers often don't let him stay the night, but try to get presents from him. Some Baby Fathers agree to this, others don't.

Usually, the Baby Father's main base is his own mother's house, which he has never really left. Sometimes his mother grows indignant, if she thinks her son is paying more attention to the Baby Mothers and their children than to her, the Mummy.

African notions of virility seem to have accorded with slave-owners' ideas of profitability, for the more children the Baby Father has, the more he plumes himself on having done well in the world. His mother and grandmother often agree. One grandmother I know proudly tells everyone she meets that "Me have 12 pickney and 38 grand-pickney! Thirty-eight!"

As on the Old Plantation, numbers are all, and the wellbeing of the 38 a secondary consideration.

Some years ago, during the innocent hip-hop music craze, young white and black teenagers danced together and sometimes fell in love. Yet of all the carefree teenage "mixed couples" I used to see, few can be found together today. Like holiday romances, they have faded and white has moved in with white, and black with black.

However, some of the white hip-hop girls are now Baby Mothers, glumly waiting for the Baby Father to knock. Unlike black British girls, who may look on the baby rather than the husband as the happy ending, white Baby Mothers tend to be droopy and lacking in spirit.

I don't blame them, as it must be a bit harrowing when you're expecting your Baby Father to pay for the baby's shoes and all he says is, "Cha, how can I be expected to live on me student grant? The trainer shoes I want cost pounds 89, but I have to go out in last year's fashion! I vex, you know."

The Baby Father with a string of Baby Mothers is not so typical of Black British life as the "living-together" couple, fortunately. Lurline Champagne, the deliciously-named politician, let the cat out of the bag when she pointed out that the "living-together" young woman often claims benefit as a "single parent" and hides her spouse from prying officialdom. Couples of every colour, creed and background try this on, yet it's easier for black women to succeed as officialdom expects her to be single.

This is one occasion when colour prejudice can be used to a black person's advantage. There are far fewer "single parents" than statistics proverbially indicate. Over half of the "single mothers" of Britain, regardless of colour, are to all intents and purposes happily married.

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