The Birth Certificate

by Morgan Jerkins

Barack Obama and his family present an ideal picture of the black family unit for most. But how does that standard effect us when our ideals don't reflect our realities?

Morgan Jerkins
Morgan Jerkins is an essayist and novelist from New Jersey. Her works have appeared in The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, Salon, The Toast, Quartz, and Talking Points Memo among others. She's also the Blog Editor for Side B Magazine.

My birth certificate is a thin, yellow slip that states my name, Morgan Simone Regis Jerkins. Underneath my name are thirty-five dashes that reside in the place meant to indicate “Name of Father.” I quivered the first time that I saw it. Not even a blank space or an asterisk to indicate that my father’s name was soon to come, only tracks that resemble a barrier through which no name could pass. It is strange to me because my father has always been in my life even while I was predominantly raised by my mother in her home. Whenever I look at that birth certificate, I feel as though half of my lineage is missing and as such, I am not a full citizen who was ushered into this world with two human beings who could account for me. For a black girl child, I thought this was the worst stain upon my life.

When Barack Obama became the President in 2008, I wasn’t so much concerned with his viewpoints but more so what he represented to the world. I didn’t grow up in a political family, and as such I became more invested in the imagery and significance attached to the election of our first black president. He was an Ivy League-educated black man with a black wife and two black daughters, whose birth certificates I knew had both parents listed on them. They were not only the black family, but also a complete one. While I grew in an incredibly loving and healthy household and managed to find myself between the Venn diagram of a blended family, I longed to have a complete black family of my own to somehow right the supposed wrongs of my own birth. I didn’t want my parents to get together; in fact, I rather enjoyed them as friends but I was concerned with whether or not people branded me as yet another statistic one who was condemned to have “daddy issues,” and as such unable to be loved. Therefore, I wanted my own Barack to complete the dream image I had in my head.

When I matriculated at Princeton in 2010, I was ready to find my counterpart. I obsessed over how I looked and carried myself in front of my black male classmates and strategized to gyrate my hips whenever they passed by me at a party. Even if we only spoke for five minutes, I fantasized about future vacation homes in Martha’s Vineyard and children who would attend Hotchkiss or Dalton or Sidwell Friends. My close black female circle, who were also just as single and yearning for affection as I, often sat together bewildered as to why we weren’t being asked out on dates. Always, we would encourage ourselves by saying, “Well, Michelle didn’t meet Barack until after undergrad.” The disillusionment would subside but only until we stepped outside our respective dormitories again. For the four years that I was at Princeton, I never got into a relationship, hardly dated, and never kissed anyone. Not only did I feel unwanted, but I felt like a failure because I could not attract a man of my own race.

My luck began to change in the fall of 2015 when I met Jason*, who was a Georgetown alumnus and worked at Goldman Sachs. Like Barack, Jason was extremely erudite and aspired to become a lawyer. Not only was I enthralled with his vast knowledge of black literature but also his ability to stimulate my mind until my passion for him became all too-consuming. However, although I was ready for a relationship, he was not. I He had other obligations like taking care of his mother and preparing for the LSAT, neither of which included any necessity for me to be in his life. When he proposed that we become friends with benefits and I refused, he said, “You sound like you’re falling into the trope of the overachieving black woman with too high of standards.” I shattered. I spiraled into believing that I could never be loved by any man, especially not a black one like him. I was never going to be with a Barack because only certain black girls, ones with complete birth certificates and families, could obtain one, and I wasn’t one of them. How could I expect to attach myself to another man and have it recognized by the state if a man did not do the same for me when I came to exist?

It was only until last year that I began to seek therapy for what I thought were my “Daddy Issues” but were in reality issues about my sense of self. For years, I de-legitimized my humanity as a black woman because I could not secure a black man as a romantic partner. For years, I questioned my existence because my father and mother did not live in the same household or that my father’s name is not on my birth certificate. For years, I doubted if I were ever worth loving if a black man, particularly one of enviable socioeconomic status and education, did not choose me. I also realized that maybe I had de-legitimized the humanity of my potential partners as well. Instead of seeing them as full human beings, I saw them as images meant to complete a narrative I had created for myself.  In reality, I don’t know the amount of times Barack made Michelle wait by the phone or vice versa. I don’t know the amount of times Barack brought Michelle to tears or broke promises. I just know them through television screens and magazine photos. They are two-dimensional, the last aspect is unknown to me and the rest of the world, as it should be.

As Barack nears the end of the Presidency, I’m meditating more on his personal legacy and its effect on me as an educated black woman who hopes to get married and become a mother someday. I’ve realized that neither Barack nor Michelle can be the end-all be-all for black love or love in general. Barack cannot be the placeholder for the man who I think is right for me. What I think and what I experience are two different things, and I’ve been missing out on the latter by not remaining open and perceiving men for who they are in the present and not in my dreams. The man I will marry may not be Ivy League-educated. He may not be in politics. He may not be black. But what I can be certain of is that he will love me and I in turn will love him three-dimensionally. In turn, it will be a relationship that is not to stitch any wounds that I have to heal independently, but rather to forge a new path and continue the legacy of our parents who have loved and created in complex situations.

About the Authors:
Published by Morgan Jerkins
Morgan Jerkins is an essayist and novelist from New Jersey. Her works have appeared in The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, Salon, The Toast, Quartz, and Talking Points Memo among others. She's also the Blog Editor for Side B Magazine. View all posts by Morgan Jerkins

Leave a Comment