The Shaming Of Tanya Fields: A Lesson In Respectability Breeding And Reproductive Justice


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A few years ago, singer Erykah Badu responded to critics after having 3 children by 3 different men. Her response letter resulted in internet gold when she vehemently proclaimed, “How dare you disrespect the queendom? I’ve never been so disgusted in all of my life… (You can) kiss my black placenta. Every relationship I’ve ever been in was because I loved the person dearly and was dedicated to us exclusively for a number of years.”


Now the issue of respectable breeding reproduction has gone full-throttle as food justice activist Tanya Fields, spoke about her current state as a single mother. She is unmarried, pregnant with her 5th child, and had the children with 3 different fathers. She opened up about her current state at a forum featuring Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks. When she told her story, social media blew up.

She was clowned and bashed for “perpetuating stereotypes” and “bad choices.”

The shaming of Tanya Fields brings a few questions to light. Who has the right to reproduce? Who sanctions this right? And in what time-frame can people take up their right to reproduce? This shaming is rooted in the belief that the poor have less rights to reproduce and it screams of eugenics. There was a time in America where Black women went to the doctor, only to find out years later that they had been sterilized. In 2011, BBC News told the story of 60,000 people that were sterilized by the U.S. government during the 1970s for being “poor” or “mentally ill.” Many were Black women. The U.S. government and hospitals around the country had determined that poor Black women had not right to reproduce (outside of chattel slavery).

Beginning with Indiana in 1907, 32 states eventually passed laws allowing authorities to order the sterilisation of people deemed unfit to breed. The last programme ended in 1979.- BBC News

To put this into perspective, the Nazis used the same ideology.

Between 1933 and 1945, more than 400,000 Germans were sterilised under Nazi “racial hygiene” laws, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. - BBCNews

Critics of Tanya Fields, are missing two critical points.

First, they reinforce the notion that somehow Black life is less valuable or unnecessary when it’s not couched inside of a Cosby Show box of respectability.

Second, this shaming neglects how societal conditions construct the very circumstances that are being shamed. We should be questioning why upward mobility for the poor is nearly impossible with or without children. Furthermore, this is an opportunity to discuss reproductive justice and what that means for Black women. Sister Song, a leading reproductive justice organization for Black women states, “Reproductive Justice analyzes how the ability of any woman to determine her own reproductive destiny is linked directly to the conditions in her community—and these conditions are not just a matter of individual choice and access.  Reproductive Justice addresses the social reality of inequality, specifically, the inequality of opportunities that we have to control our reproductive destiny.”

The U.S. is in the midst of a very real systematic creation of a permanent underclass; powered by unequal access to quality education, non-processed/GMO free food deprivation, the denial of heath care and some of the highest imprisonment rates in the world.

It’s easy to get caught up in stereotypes and the politics of respectability. However, none of these things matter when we neglect to target the real societal issues that make it hard for people to live and exert the most basic and inherent human right, which is the right to reproduce. And when we start deciding who is more acceptable for reproduction, then we begin reinforcing the same racist, classist and sexist ideology behind chattel slavery and eugenics.

There is a real problem here and it’s not Tanya Fields’ womb.

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39 thoughts on “The Shaming Of Tanya Fields: A Lesson In Respectability Breeding And Reproductive Justice

  1. Great post! People love to feel high and mighty. It’s a shame that more people aren’t willing to look at the facts instead of putting other people down.

    • Sorry, but I can’t agree with this or give this woman a pass. We all understand that the plight of the black single mother is a complicated one, but there has to be some personal accountability. Women like this should be shamed for their bad choices and continuing to bring children into the world in this manner. One child I could understand, but five? What is the purpose or benefit of reproducing with multiple men several times? This woman clearly has some intelligence, but seems to be looking for a pass as far as this behavior is concerned. The black community is in trouble, and this is one of the behaviors that is contributing to our demise. I don’t agree on just blaming the mother, because it takes two to create a child. We need to call out irresponsible behavior by all in our community, whether it be drug dealing/abuse, absentee parents, criminal activity, etc. and not hide behind the guise of feminism…where exactly has that gotten us? Yes, we as women have the right to do whatever we want with our bodies, but being a mature adult should dictate common sense and better choices. Just because you CAN do whatever you want, doesn’t mean that you should.

      • She’s made bad choices, but she’s taking care of her children. Maybe not to others standards, but I commend any mother that decides to have and raise her children. Why do we commend mothers who kill their children in abortion clinics? That’s another form of genocide ( 1 out of 3 babies aborted is black, not a good statistic ), but since it is self policed no one sees this to be the case.

        People have a natural right to have children, and no one else has the right to tell them that they shouldn’t. Or have you forgotten what was written in the above article about Hitler, and sterilization programs aimed at black, and native american women? This is a problem for black men too, but they are the real ones getting a pass. We tell women that they make bad choices, but where is your criticism of the men? They walk away, and then we put all the guilt, pressure, and shame on the women in these situations? No wonder black men continue to do this and act this way, there are NO real consequences for them.

        Not everyone who has children is going to be a good parent, that is especially true of two parent homes these days. Don’t you ever read the statistics of people in therapy these days? Many came from married, 2 parent, “stable” homes, and they’re not immune to problems or serious issues including drug, and alcohol use.

        Let’s tell the truth here, this is about egos and pride being bruised. There is a sense of “us and them” in the black community. Period. “Us” being those who see ourselves as being better than “them”. If this doesn’t stop, then one day when the powers that be start to enforce the same laws as the Chinese. The one baby policy. The black and latino communities will be first. And they will have enough support to get it accomplished. Just my thoughts.

      • @Wake Up… You took the words right out of my thought process. It seems to me there is a coterie of people who would propagandize this behavior. As you poignantly asked why, you could hear the crickets on the keyboards because there is no rational answer. Even the argument put forth in the article collapses in a heap upon itself: The article talks about the lack opportunity to move up social strata, while at the same time argue with the lack of government assistance to help the relocation. It failed to mention the drain on society financially: Children from single parent homes are more likely to drop out of school, become institutionalized, receive lower wage paying jobs and most detrimentally; repeating the single-parent cycle. And further more, what is wrong with having a husband and a wife planning for their children, their children’s future and their family’s stability? To do so in the Black community is considered, “Cosby-esque”. As I remembered, the Cosby family was a great role model for the African-American family–smart, educated, successful, complicated and most importantly, together!

      • Africans in America have adopted barbaric and savage American culture which is against and wants to destroy African people. Traditionally in Africa women are worshiped and having children is valued. This is not a bad choice it is a wise one because Africans are being murdered in large numbers everyday. I encourage African women everywhere to have as many children as the Creator allows. This is how we survive and keep the race going. If we wait for all the proper procedures to be in place then we will never have children. We have to understand that we are being attacked on all sides and it started with the breakdown of the family. destroy a peoples ability to love one another and u destroy the people. Common sense says that everything in nature reproduces itself regardless of what’s going on in the environment. Africans unite, love one another and have babies!!!!

  2. I don’t agree with the public bashing or shaming of women regarding their right to reproduction. I think it’s disgusting and goes against every moral compass the shamers themselves claim to hold so strong to. I do, however, think there should be open dialogue regarding the effects this phenomenon (multiple children by multiple men/women) has on our culture and families, because there is an effect, and it isn’t always positive.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The shaming is just the tip of the iceberg because it represents a deeper issue of the treatment of Black women’s bodies as community property. For too long Black women’s decision on who to mate with or how to mate has been coerced by a public dialogue that already has low regards for Black women.

      • So true, I have 7 children with 4 dif men, I raised my children as a single mom and am very successful, its not how many children we have its how you raise them and what you are teaching them, yes granted there are single mothers who are raising children who weren’t taught mothering skills of who carry a maternal gene in there body and this is brown and white women both. It starts and ends with the mothering skills and responsibility serious responsibility about raising a child, 2 parent households have the same challenges and problems as single, I was raised in a 2 parent home with a great mom and dad, but I WILL NOT deal with a man who plays games and lies, I do move on and all my relationships were for years 12,10 and 10yrs one was 3yrs.

  3. There’s a lot of context missing here. Is she choosing to be single with 5 kids? Part of the problem is that when we “progressive” liberals get a full head of steam around an issue, there are a lot of elements of the conversation that become taboo and a lot of context that gets lost, and to mention it becomes “shaming”. She has every right to have as many babies as she wants. There is definitely a conversation to be had about how black women relate to themselves and their self esteem. I’ve met women before who still see sex and children as being related to self worth. There’s a reason that there were 3 men and now, there are none, if that was the plan, then kudo. If that was the result of circumstance, then the behavior pattern may be worth examining. There are a series of decisions that were made and in all 3 scenarios, she is the only constant.

    Social media has an unfortunate ability to create powerful herds that make it almost for a dissenting voice to exist. I’m not pointing fingers because judgement is the right of no one here, however, the making of sheroes because they end up being a single parent seems a bit awkward and out of context. Does she lose her super powers if baby father #4 stays around? Just curious on from where the power is being derived.

    • Underdog, thanks for sharing your thoughts. The context is set and present. Regardless of whether or not she choose to be a single mother still doesn’t warrant the name calling and bashing she received. You’re right, she does have every right to have her children and that’s my main point. However, this article’s purpose is not to make her a Sheroe for being a single mother (I’m not sure where you got that from).

      She was a Sheroe already because of the important activism she is doing in her community, which is why she was honored as a foot solider on the Melissa Harris-Perry show. The article’s purpose is to point out the underlying truths behind public shaming surround Black women’s reproductive rights.

      • I don’t think there is public shaming about Black women’s reproductive rights, it’s the manner in which they conceive and/or who they choose to reproduce with. You mentioned the Cosby show; nobody has a problem when there is a cohesive family unit (2 parents, 5 kids). But 5 parents, 5 kids? That’s a bit much. As russiarobinson below mentioned, the absentee father is a huge problem in the black community. So of course people are going to look at a woman a bit critically when she continues to put herself and her children/future children in that situation.

        Tanya, along with every other [black] woman, has the right to have children. However, I think many people are also concerned about the financial aspect. Middle class families with TWO incomes are struggling. So when you see a woman, on her own, several children in tow, and admittedly not in the best of circumstances financially, CHOOSE to have yet another child, you start to wonder: why? If wanting a woman to not burden herself physically, emotionally, financially, and time wise is infringing on her reproductive rights, I’m guilty!

      • Neisha, thank you for your perspective. You do raise points that should be addressed. I definitely want Black women not to burden themselves as well. However, I think once again, one of the main issues are being overlooked. Economic disparities play a huge role in birth rates, medial attention, fatherless homes and etc. We can’t sufficiently tackle this issue without looking at this highly documented factor. The larger problem, as I stated in my article is the creation of the permanent underclass that is a driving force behind why even middle class families are struggling. We have to stop and ask ourselves, why is her womb and finances a topic of discussion in the first place. It’s because as you pointed out, times are hard. Well, we have to put in the work as a community to end inequalities and provide a better atmosphere for families of all economic levels to thrive. Otherwise, we’re just paying lip service without any real concrete solutions.

      • My labelling of her as Sheroe was from the responses that people have had and the discussions that were classified as “shaming.” One article I read raised the same points I did and people went ballistic calling the author names and shut down the discourse. Social media can be a dangerous place for an “intelligent” conversation…

      • Its really crazy that she is called names for having her babies and raising them, but if she aborted(SELF-GENOCIDE) no one would say a word!

    • Underdog, I get what you’re saying now. I don’t participate in those types of discussions. People tend to get out of line just because they’re sitting behind a computer. No matter, how we agree or disagree, no one should result to calling names. It’s important that as a community, we are able to have these types of discussions. At this point, all perspectives deserve a second look. It’s unfortunate that discussion ended that way.

      • @JAM… The question of how the womb and the finances becomes apart of the conversation because the tax payers are footing a large portion of the bills for these particular situations.

  4. I think this has less to do with reproduction and more to do with absentee fathers and the state of marriage in the Black Community. Men are more willing to impregnate than marry. It leads to single family homes and fatherless children. It is much too easy for men to jump out of the picture, rather than commit to one woman and build a family. Alot has to do with the conditioning of the Black family unit over time and the social changes of this era. 50 years ago, if you got a women pregnant you were expected to marry her. Today, single-mothers is an epidemic in the Black community and is now socially acceptable. Until this cycle changes, many Black women will continue to be single-mothers or parenting children with different fathers.

    • RussiaRobin, thank you for sharing your perspective. Reproductive rights, absentee fathers, and marriage are all linked in this topic. It of these issues are intrinsically connecting and proven be linked to poverty and economic disparities (not that personal accountability doesn’t play a factor). One of the reports by the Urban Institute outlines how the poverty, the criminal justice system and other factors affect the state of Black families. Page 6 specifically highlights this issue:

    • And whose fault is that? Why are women having babies with a track record of “jumping” as you say? Women don’t place any real value on who they are. What they bring to the table, and certainly not sex.

    • @Ruiss…. The mere fact that the men will leave, should be a hint to the women to require more commitment, stability and responsibility instead fantastic notions and assumptions that are not grounded in reality.

  5. I am writing what I need to say in simple English here.
    I dont think anyone in this day and age needs more than 2 children. There are already more unfed, unclothed, unwanted children all over the world. We have so much people to take care of… why bring more into this earth that is already drying up. That said, 5 children by 3 fathers shows irresponsibility. She could have loved these men without having to reproduce. If anything happens to her today, who is going to take care of those precious ones, the fathers who did not stay to bring them up??? And the sad prediction is that her kids will likely reproduce the same way she did hereby prolonging the government dependent long suffering lower class.
    Let us be real here. Poor people have the right to reproduce but shld also be realistic and discern that multiple kids are a burden to everyone and unfair to the children. Why bring these children into this world to make them struggle.
    Tanya shld know better, right now I cannot imagine the legacy she is going to teach/leave her children. Tanya may not be poor but the chances are some of her children are going to fall between the crack just because she has not given enough time to raise them well especially given the demands of a working woman in this era. Multiple kids were for our mother’s mother when all they had to do was to stay home and raise the kids or help at work. Times have changed so Tanya and others like her can love all the men she wants but should close her legs.

  6. It seems to me that it is a value systems and self-value issue at its core. Other people (children, specifically) are collateral damage in these scenarios. We are putting the mother’s right to choose to validate that her womb is healthy and works above the child’s REQUIREMENTS to be fully attended to by loving, supportive MALE and FEMALE energy sources. When it was the norm for all of society to ridicule this behavior, poor black families and communities were better off. Marriage is an economic institution that is more likely to propel a family forward than single parenthood. Even a recent study shows that superstar NBA players are most likely the product of mother-father, MARRIED-TO-EACH-OTHER households..the study states that Lebron James is an exception. We all pay a heavy price for children who don’t start out with the support of the community (which starts with mommy and daddy). And let’s be real, these children are likely to flounder. From a practical standpoint, how do you get everybody where they need to be without the physical presence of the dad (school on time, extracurricular activities and the like), let alone attempt to provide for them materially? This notion of single motherhood as a right also negates the need for male energy to perpetuate a healthy species. Men bring a different order, discipline, sense of adventure, risk-taking, ambition, and motivation to a household than women, no matter how capable mommy is. The presence of a man also allows mommy to tap into authentic mommy energy and female energy that our community needs access to. This behavior is absolutely self-serving and narcissistic. It is not loving, for real love is a discipline and requires discipline and self-control!!!

  7. The wealthy tend to have less children than the poor. Based on our current society, children tend to use alot of resources. In instances where parents don’t have sufficient resources it is the child who suffers. At some point we have to be prudent in discussions around reproduction. Planning to have a child is not a bad idea. Controling your reproduction is a good idea. “Getting pregnant” is a passive rather than active effort at reproductive control. We have way too much technology at our disposal to “get pregnant” unless we want to. Shaming serves no purpose, but let’s not pretend that having children is an issue that exists independent of society at large particualarly in instances where you are relying on external resources to support your choice.

  8. Bottom line if you haven’t raised a big family how can you say anything? When you haven the faintest idea of what you are talking about. I was never on GA I worked and now a stay at home mom, my hus travels a lot and is now in another city so it is mom who holds it all down, Its about responsibility and having our children come first and not a man and this is something our ppl haven’t grasped yet.

    • Somewhere in Proverbs it says that only a fool has to experience all things to learn; it is the wise man (woman) who learns from the mistakes of others. I don’t think King Solomon only meant mistakes; I think he was telling us to be observant so we could become more discerning. You are actually insulting everyone’s intelligence, who is participating this discussion, to imply that we need to have your exact experience in order to put forth valid observations and critiques. We need to own up to what works and what doesn’t. We need to not do “reverse” bashing because the chorus being sung doesn’t suit the rhythm of the life we have chosen. There is no way that anyone can justify that the increase in out of wedlock births (and several of them within many families) have shored up American society, let alone the Black community. Our children’s emotional state and sense of self is largely fractured because women have not had the courage to hold out for better. They have reduced themselves to reservoirs of biological matter through self-imposed objectification and then want to be validated for behavior that is resulting in real destruction, soul and spirit destruction.

  9. I’m just happy to see that commentators are being rational and not condoning this ratchet behaviour. This woman is choosing men that are terrible – they are not being forced upon her. SHE IS MAKING THE DECISION to have several children which according to her – she cannot afford. Please don’t try to pass this off as being progressive.

  10. This woman can have as many children by as many men as she chooses as it is not my businesses, unless she requires government assistance (ie my tax dollars), then it becomes my problem (literally and figuratively).

    • “Okay” is relative. Marriage doesn’t mean healthy relationship. I believe you don’t have to have a child with everyone you enter into a relationship with. It’s about reproductive control. Anyone can reproduce yet those children in many ways may belong to society. Low income women receive the brunt of critique because we live in a classist society.

  11. I wonder would it be okay if she married and divorced each man she had children with? I ask because no one says boo about Christie Brinkley, and she has three children by three different fathers. Or are we only going to insult low-income women?

  12. One of the things that bothers me about this discussion is the assumption that just because she’s no longer with these men that they must not be involved with their children. While we all know that absent fathers exist, most of us also know two or five or ten men who are active in their children’s lives even though they are no longer romantically involved with their child(ren)’s mother. Let’s say she had married and divorced each man (as Stanley W. has illustrated) – does that legitimize her situation? Does that make the world feel better about her kids? But then, WHO CARES HOW THE WORLD FEELS ABOUT HER KIDS?!?!??!?!?! Maybe that should be the real point. There are plenty of white women who have kids and their ex-husbands/boyfriends walk away. There are TONS of Mexican and Hispanic women who have kids, and their baby daddy isn’t in the picture. No one is talking about them. But for some reason, it’s okay to talk about black women in this context. Why? Why is it okay to make a black woman feel bad about her choices, but those same choices on another skin tone aren’t worthy of discussion?

  13. Eugenics for nonracial things makes sense in a way, but looks bad because of racial eugenics, so I wouldn’t automatically dismiss criticism of her for that reason.

    However, I agree that being told to not act like a stereotype can itself be constricting.

  14. It is crazy how long America (and probably other countries) continued doing the things Hitler was so reviled for, sterilisation, testing, political blackballing etc
    It would be nice if we could agree on basic human rights and decency for example the Geneva Convention is now an ideal rather than a binding agreement.

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