Screenwriter Sherese Robinson-
What if instead of shaming & demonizing poor Black mothers & exploiting their pain, we shared stories that uplifted them? #HerDreamDeferred
I saw this question on Twitter and I was inspired to answer it, by telling my story as a single mother and film student.
I was resistant to speaking about my time as a single mother in film school, because I felt caught between shame and respectability politics—a brick wall and a Mack truck.
And, yes. I was on welfare. Welfare. Welfare. Welfare. And, not just welfare. The social programs that I was fortunate enough to have received at one point or another are: WIC, Medicaid, food stamps, Section 8, and HEAP. However, I was not eligible to receive to receive childcare financial assistance because I attended a 4-year college. The state wants you off welfare, but they don’t want you to have equal economic opportunity and that high wage job that comes with a shiny certificate.
I do feel shame that I was a teenage mom to two babies. I feel shame that I had to depend on state services to provide for them. I feel shame that my children deserved better in life—better schooling, better housing, better mothering. I feel shame that I didn’t give up my dreams for them.
I love my boys very much, but I was at best an average mother—not terrible but also not terribly good. Besides the sheer stupidity of not using birth control, I thought a baby would make me feel loved. That a baby would make my life better. Instead, I made my babies’ lives worse.
Now, I can certainly brag about my 3.8 GPA, graduating valedictorian, and attending an Ivy-league grad school with a hand baby and a toddler. That the toddler has a body of an African god sculpted out of amber marble, and is an in-demand fitness trainer. Or, that the hand baby is one of the most talented artists and nicest people that I know. But, honestly I don’t want to because it feels too much like f-ed up respectability politics. And, yet I just did. Having degrees, a “status” job and good kids that I didn’t break has led to praise. Backhanded praise. I refuse praise for doing the things that I did well because it goes against hateful stereotypes. I’m okay with being a stereotype. I’m not going to be used as a weapon in the war against Black single mothers.
A Black single mother is…. human. I’m human. I’m Rebecca in Sounder (1972), Claudine (1974), and Ronnie in Menace to Society (1993), and Mace in Strange Days (1995). And, although Hollywood movies do not include me as a “real mother,” and often pathologizes Black motherhood, I’m also Paula in The Goodbye Girl (1977), Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Dorothy in Jerry Maguire (1996) and Erin in Erin Brockovich (2000).
And, I happened to be producing an action film centering a Black single mother.