A few days ago, I was on chat with my cousin. He lives in Atlanta in the US with his wife and my niece and nephew. He was talking about how shocked he is that African American men have kids all over the place with different women and how this had surprised him because he thought that this was common amongst the poor and uneducated, not his well-to-do professional neighbours.
I mentioned that the monogamous black man is a recent development in history, having only come up in the 60 or 70 years and he laughed.
Hours later I was still thinking about this. It is a common and frequent lament from women who date black men that they cheat. These men are not necessarily promiscuous, but they cheat. Many of them do not go so far as calling themselves names like ‘cheat’ or ‘infidel’ they simply go about what they consider a male paradigm of living – you marry someone and have kids with her, but you are entitled to do the same with other women who will understand your marital status, and that your wife is the one you take to public and/or family functions.
The traditional African man in the village set-up saw multiple wives as an opportunity to spread his seed but also as a reward for wealth and an expression of status. African slaves were not viewed as human beings therefore could not enter into legally binding agreements and the idea that they could marry was laughable to the powers that were. They marked unions through ‘jumping the broom’ and knew that they were transient because master could sell your spouse on a whim.
Two religions have found deep roots with black people across the globe, and only Christianity dictates monogamy. In the last 60 to 70 years, we have seen our men try to adhere to Christianity but frankly, the African child who grew up in a monogamist family is in the minority. For most of us, polygamy or a modern version of it is not even two generations back.
I am not writing this to encourage men to cheat, or give them a new excuse; rather I am acknowledging where I live and who I live with. When the marriage bill was proposed, we laughed about it and mocked what it was trying to recognize: that we are a polygamous society being governed by laws that only recognise monogamous marriages. The current laws leave women in these unions destitute if and/or when their partner’s affections are diverted by another. There is legal room to recognise and provide for children from these unions, but no legal recourse for their mothers.
As we date and court in 2014, wouldn’t it be cool if we discussed monogamy honestly by date number four? Guys do not underestimate us women. More and more I am hearing from women that they can live with a man knowing that he has children outside of their home. Just tell us the truth - tangaza msimamo ueleweke vyema.