babydaddy/babymama

When speakers use the phrases “baby daddy” and “baby mama” in non-colloquial contexts, do they mock African-Americans or do they embrace one way that the American vocabulary has been enriched by the contributions of African-Americans?  Both?  Neither?

The above query comes from the post “White People’s ‘Baby Daddy'”on the Feminist Law Professors blog and I must admit that I’ve often wondered the same thing – do the terms ‘baby daddy/father’ and ‘baby mama’ take on a different meaning or carry a different connotation when used by white people? I want to say no because I don’t want to think that any particular group has ownership or privilege over certain words. Yet regardless of what I want to believe, I know that’s not true. We only need to look at the ‘nigga/nigger’ debate to understand how a word can have different meaning and impact depending on who is using it. For the most part, Black people own that word and, until recently, have been able to say it without being demonized or called racist. Bridget Crawford continues…

These phrases seem to pop up everywhere. Shawn Wayans plays one in the spoof movie Dance Flick and Amy Poehler plays one in the comedy Baby Mama.  Angelina Jolie’s “baby daddy” is Brad Pitt (here). Heck, even the President of Paraguay is dubbed a “baby daddy” (here).

Whether one consults the OED, reads the Urban Dictionary or absorbs by cultural osmosis, the phrases’ meanings are the same.  A “baby daddy” is the father of a woman’s child, especially in cases where the child’s parents are not married.  A “baby mama” is … well, you understood it already.  The monikers are pervasive.  The OED provides more background information:

baby-daddy n. colloq. (chiefly in African-American usage) = baby-father n.

baby-father n. (orig. Caribbean and in British Afro-Caribbean usage) the father of a woman’s child, who is not her husband or (in most cases) her current or exclusive partner.

One Slate writer speculates (here) that, “The terms probably arose in Jamaican Creole—where they would have been pronounced “biebifaada” and “biebimada”—before taking hold in standard Jamaican English.”

I don’t want to “turn baby mommas into wives,” as does Maryann Reid, the proponent of “Marry Your Baby Daddy Day” (she appeared on ABC’s 20/20 here).  But there is something self-conscious about the popularization (or is it appropriation?) of the phrases that crosses into twenty-first century blackface minstrelsy, to my ears.

I don’t know. I just don’t like to hear the phrases used by people who are not Black. Truthfully, I don’t really like Black people to use them either. I just have more of a tolerance for the latter. It’s the same way I feel about ‘ghetto’. Ooh, I hate folks using ‘ghetto’ to describe something tacky or bad or in any way inferior. Black folks saying it is annoying and I do my best to avoid saying it altogether. But when people other than Black folks say something like,  “Oh don’t roll down that window, it’s broken. My car’s so ghetto” I get this feeling of disgust on the inside.

It’s true that not everyone is trying to be mocking, mean or insensitive when they say certain things and it’s also true that we Black people don’t own certain words or phrases. Perhaps it’s just a long-held and underlying distrust of white people’s motives? Or maybe it’s because we know all too well about the history of our language, style, art and culture being co-opted and watered down for mass consumption? I can’t really articulate the way I feel about it, I just know that sometimes that shit doesn’t sound funny or cool.  I tend to agree with Crawford that it comes off a bit mocking and minstrelsy, a sort of blackface through speech if you know what I’m trying to say. Thoughts?

Oh, it’s also worth it to check out this related post from Stuff White People Do, “think that blackface is okay if white people are the butt of the joke.”

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “babydaddy/babymama

  1. I have often had some of the same wonderings about the terms baby mama and baby daddy. It particularly caught me off guard when I saw the movie “Baby Mama.” Check out my blog: http://lovestutter.blogspot.com/2008/10/baby-mama.html.

    Its an odd paradox because clearly the terms really have entered mainstream American language with an OED definition to back it up, but the usage is still so tied to race, that who and how the words are used (by blacks or non-blacks) is really questionable.

  2. OOH! I totally agree with you on the usage. I hate to hear anyone say either (baby___ or ghetto), but I really don’t like it when white people use it. It never sat well with me.

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