BROOKLYN, NY, USA — What is Baby Mama, or Baby Daddy? Apparently, a few Western educated Ghanaians had never heard the term in Africa. They swear that it only derives from Hip-hop culture, something they refer to as ‘Americanisms,’ which are bad for Ghana of course and fast creeping into Ghanaian culture.

Although I was startled, they continued:

“So Ghanaians too now use terms like ‘baby mama.’ Stop these silly americanisms. Never ever impregnate a woman you are not ready to marry. And if you do impregnate her she is not your baby mama, she is the mother of your child.”

Besides the obvious chauvinistic sentimentality, which should alarm you–that of a woman lying (there) prostrate, like a log, to be impregnated like an inanimate object—I was incensed more by the insidious lack of consideration and respect for a culture they imply to be illegitimate.

The idea that Baby Mama implies illegitimacy, of a child and of a relationship between a woman of your choosing and a woman who chose you, is one that is rooted in a philosophy of ‘othering’ cultures that are not so familiar to the people who do the judging at fine dining halls with fine utensils and to the people who learn from those judgments through colonial texts and mission schools.

I interjected and claimed the ‘othering,’ quite fully, perhaps even (re)-signifying its essence. But now, the task was to make myself sound human to these ‘fine people’ at this dining table. In the ethos of Du Bois’ sociological thinking, in ‘The Conservation of Races’ and ‘The Philadelphia Negro,’ I had to argue that Baby Mama or Baby Daddy occurred, if not in every culture, then it occurred especially in Ghanaian culture. More notably, the Ga culture.

It was not an ‘Americanism’ creeping in. If anything, it crept out.

Baby Mama and Baby Daddy are as much cultural renditions of Ga duolocal marriages and relationships. They are also synonymous with polygamous or polyandrous relationships found everywhere around the world. Not just Africa. The Mormons and the Amish communities in America are as much practitioners of these ‘uncouth’ behaviors – according to the ‘(re)-fined diners.’

But Baby Mama and Baby Daddy are parts of Ghanaian culture, all right. To explain it, I zoned in on Ga culture as a part of the larger Ghanaian cultural space for no other reason but for enlightenment alone. Hence, these so-called ‘Americanisms’ were and still are everywhere present in Ghana, in Africa and other parts of the world. It is no miracle that African Americans, who are largely of West African ancestry, should engage in a practice that is West African.

How I wish that other human beings would accept that what other humans do, they also do, or they can do. But I am African, and I have to make it clear that what I do, what African Americans do, others do! I had to argue my humanity and the humanity once again of African Americans in a bid to (re)-situate the stereotypes associated with African Americans right in the laps of those who initiated them.

But again, as in all cases, the ‘(re)-fined diners’ proclaimed their real intentions after I ditched their unqualified tribalism:

“In many ways your literalism is to be commended although it does not quite capture the subtleties. In the American context baby mama implies not only the illegitimacy of the child but the absence of even a common-law marriage.”

“Illegitimacy,” according to whom?

A whole community of African Americans, their children, their wives and their husbands, are often characterized as ‘illegitimate,’ their behavior maligned as ‘uncivil’ or ‘improper,’ but such a judgment cannot be made in an ideological or rhetorical vacuum. Insofar as ‘illegitimate’ or ‘uncivil’ or ‘improper’ is profoundly racialized and has a long history of demanding conformity from African Americans or Africans, I frequently choose to (re)-signify and accept fully, without reservation, the legitimacy of our humanity. This choice is both moral and rhetorical.

Some say ‘The Mother of my Child’ while others say ‘My Baby Mama,’ but to the priggish, ‘My Baby Mama’ is somehow improper and unacceptable. It is a difference in language—perhaps even a difference in philosophy, thought, and way of life—but if you told them to (re)-read Noam Chomsky’s Thesis, they would gawk.

Having babies with a woman (man), being present with the child and the mother (father), and taking care of the child plus the woman (man)—how is this not common-law? Or shall we discuss the several legally married couples around the world who barely see their children, or the mothers who barely breast-feed their own children, or still, the mothers who are capable of childbearing but do not even carry (in the womb) their own babies but hire stunt doubles—surrogates?

We can discuss absentee parenting, which every community can boast of a few no shows. But that topic has nothing, absolutely nothing, at all, to do with the concepts or culture of Baby Mama and Baby Daddy drama. Of course this stereotype is rooted in what Richard Dyer calls “whiteness.” Through this lens, everything African Americans do is irresponsible, and even illegitimate.

Even by the tendentious standards of “illegitimacy,” my understanding is more defensible than the accusations used to defame whole nations of people. The most deplorable acts of “illegitimacy” actually germinate in so-called high society. Many genocides have been glorified (or planned) around dinner tables adorned with shiny forks and knives made from actual silver, without a single inappropriate or illegitimate act or speech having occurred.

But ‘Baby Mama’ or ‘Baby Daddy’ is actually the term that lays claim to an important part of the family. The phrase is Bantu with an English vocabulary. Your ‘Baby Mama’ in Ga is simply, ‘Obi Mamie.’ My Baby Mama is ‘Nbi Mamie.’ The roots are not difficult to grasp with only a little understanding of the Bantu Grammatical structure.

So how is this so-called ‘Americanism’ creeping into Ghanaian culture? Those who open their mouths and lash their tongues against the upper and lower buccal cavities are either shallow in comprehending African wisdom and culture or confused about the multiplicities of remnants and vestiges of African heritage elsewhere in the world. These people do not know how to be accepting of others.

One Adinkra symbol says, “Eti kro nko ngyina” or “Two (good) heads are better than one.” But I believe that in fact, two bad heads are worse than one! Beware the collusion of the silver spooned otherizers and the misinformed mission boys.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks to Narmer Amenuti, we have a very fine essay, an entertaining one at that, and we can finally have a discussion about this issue surrounding Baby Mama/Daddy and the cultural criticisms thereof. I have come to learn the fact rather humbly that I am African, and nothing African is alien to me!

  2. Gorgeous photo by the way! My God! I think I saw the conversation involving Narmer Amenuti and Ayelam Valentine Agaliba. I decided to leave it alone. They were both at it doing a wonderful job. What Namer has done here though, few can do, and I will be mistaken to think I could give his deeply African sentiments better expression.
    But I will reiterate that the concept and the people – Baby Mama and African Americans respectively – have been so stereotyped by idiotic culture critics that it is all worth rewriting the history and starting a real dialogue! This is very entertaining stuff to see Africa’s cultural theorists – Narmer and Agaliba (although I am sure they’d say they’re something else – here debating African culture, and African cultures of the diaspora. I have always looked forward to such a day. Alas, it is here!

    But Narmer is correct. I agree with him 100 percent. And I am Ga!

  3. Narmer, so you have marked your territory: “One Adinkra symbol says, “Eti kro nkor Gyina” or “Two (good) heads are better than one.” But I believe that in fact, two bad heads are worse than one! Beware the collusion of the silver spooned otherizers and the misinformed mission boys.”

    Who thought you Africa? You have an utterly deep understanding of my village. More, you see brotherhood everywhere, instead of ‘Others.’ This is truly African. You treat the diaspora as if you have a role in it. Which you do! So, I do not see the inherent problem, I guess, except, those who are unwilling, or even incapable, of seeing things our way, as well. Well, shame on them!

  4. Guys, I was the subject of a dishonest hit job by a member of the left reactionary blog Grandmother Africa. Enjoy it. Really entertaining.

  5. I don’t always spend the time to read beyond the headlines of many of the posts that work their way through my pages; much as I would love to, there just isn’t enough time in the working day to do so and still get anything done. I have however, been enticed by both the strident complaint of ‘dishonesty’ and a ‘hit job’ by Ayelam Valentine Agaliba as well as my familiarity with the genesis of this exchange, to skim quickly through the article and have to say, I’m left scratching my head as to what the charge of dishonesty etc, relates to. As I say, having previously read the exchange between Ayelam and the author that seems to have spawned the article, my impression is that, the author has taken the time to pen a coherent and utterly relevant response to Ayelam’s initial assertions on the ‘baby mama’ issue. Given the legitimising significance that Ayelam sought to give to the notion of ‘common law marriage’, I am left wondering if he is aware that the concept itself has been excised from English law, arguably the cradle of the common law tradition for several generations now. Other for historical purposes, there is no such thing as common law marriage in English law and accordingly, no rights derive therefrom. Whatever legitimacy, moral or formal it retained, no longer subsists. Its utility in Ayelam’s argument therefore, continues to escape me and I find Narmer Amenuti’s references to that and other issues in rebuttal of Ayelam’s arguably controversial comments, rather apt.

    • Fifi …. I urge you to re-read my original post and the thread that followed. I will live it at that.

  6. Oh come on Ayelam! Dishonest? How? Where? I actually had my parents read this. They couldn’t stop laughing. My dad quibbed about the fisherman we buy our stock from – Onukpa Nii Kpakpoe: “Iye namei ete ke jole enyor.” Which literally translates: “I have three wives and two mistresses.” With all our reservations about polygamy aside (legitimate or not), Nii Kpakpoe always refers to his ‘women’ as “Nbii a’ mamie ii”, which literally means: “My Baby Mamas”. Look, just tell us exactly why you picked this topic. That’s all.

  7. Solomon …. just to illustrate: Lets look at the opening shot: “….What is Baby Mama, or Baby Daddy? Apparently, a few Western educated Ghanaians had never heard the term in Africa. They swear that it only derives from Hip-hop culture, something they refer to as ‘Americanisms,’ which are bad for Ghana of course and fast creeping into Ghanaian culture ….. ” Solomon, i want you to read my OP and tell me where a reference to hip-hop is made? The author, i am sure, registers high on the autistic spectrum.

  8. Ayelam.. No you don’t mention hip-hop. You are right! But, don’t you think you implied it? I view you as a cultural critic, but even I see the implication. Perhaps the issue is that Narmer, who I guess lives in Brooklyn, has a fair amount of familiarity with this cultural criticism as in ‘americanisms’. Obviouly you werent referring to all Americans – you were however referring to African Americans! That much was clear. You can understand that you are not the first to state this (parochial) observation though, in quite blunt terms. Narmer took the issue to heart. And I can respect your view, notwithstanding, especially that you didn’t say/write everything he wrote. Well, yeah! He didn’t mention your name either! Or did he? You cannot assume what you say/write do not have far reaching implications, especially for the culturally sensitive (like Narmer). So I also respect Narmer’s sensitivity. I think it’s a very healthy debate. I do not see how Narmer is being dishonest if your statements imply stuff that may even be outside your realm of comprehension. No?

  9. Solomon …. I did not say almost every thing he wrote. Certainly, not the straw man he has erected. Intellectual dishonesty is a very serious error. But like I said, I take it as a grain of salt because I suspect he is pretty high on the autistic spectrum.

  10. Ayelam… Oh just stop it. Stop being bitter. Do not, my friend, make fun of Autism! Please. I see you’re quite peeved. That’s okay too. Part of life.

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