They're known as 'baby fathers' - black men who have children with more than one partner. But while some white women lust after them, many black women have had enough. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown reports
MTV`s Rob D with his baby and his baby`s mama.
This has been an extraordinary week for Patrick Augustus. His autobiographical novel Baby Fathers has been optioned by the BBC. It is a bold move because the theme - young black men who have children with a number of women and wear this as a badge of honour - is usually left well alone by anxious white liberals and radical anti-racists who are always wary of "encouraging" racism.
The deal is worth nearly £1m and Augustus, himself a father of five, is delighted if a little bemused. He is your proud, black, urban man with all those subversive traits that are irresistible to many women and deeply threatening to white men. Last winter he brought another baby father, Victor, to talk to me about his children for a book I am writing.
There was, said a weary Victor, the problem of the new black woman who no longer indulges men like him: "They're changing, man. Three strikes and you're out. They want their BMW man who will come home bringing flowers, a happy-ever-after life. Most black men can't provide this."
Patrick, a local hero among south London lads, believes that men who womanise are victims of circumstance and of wily women who know exactly how to exert power using their sexuality: "There is a lot of animosity between black men and black women today. Black men reject intelligent black women and go with young girls who look up to them. You know, give them comfort because it is hard being a black man. Sad to say, what starts as a dance or a flirtation, ends up as a baby. And let me tell you, there are a number of men who never agreed to be fathers. It was the girls who decided and who went ahead."
This may well be the case sometimes. But again and again and again? What about personal responsibility, what about restraint? And the boasting which we have both heard from baby fathers about their big and small babies? Is this not living down to the worst stereotypes of black men?
Yes and no, says Paul, 23, a computer programmer who "visits" three baby mothers at the moment, two black and one white: "Yes we are doing what society expects. Just like Darcus [Howe] once said. We are black men, that means we make babies all the time. I try to buy them nice things and I would break anyone who tried to harm my kids. But try to go inside our heads. We are kept out of everything. The one place we know we can win, where the white man is no good, is in bed. This is where we can be kings. That is what I thought when I was young. All my children were born before I was 21."
It is essential not to see this only as a "black" problem. Young white men have as many partners and children. All around us there are black fathers and partners - Sir Herman Ouseley, Paul Boateng and a host of others - who are role models for all of society. Writing in Black British Feminism, the academic Tracey Reynolds rightly criticises the dangerously simplistic way this subject has been dealt with in the media, but you only have to read the Voice to see that it is now perceived as a major area of concern.
The 1991 census recorded that 49% of Afro-Caribbean families are headed by a lone mother compared with 14% in the general population. Some are high achievers who have made the decision to go it alone, partly because they cannot find the man and relationship they want. These are self-determining baby mothers rather than gullible victims of baby fathers.
Others are lone mothers as a result of death, divorce and other "normal" events. But a substantial number are young, poor and emotionally vulnerable. But even these women do seem to be getting more sussed.
Sadie, 19, has two children by two men who are friends: "I am stupid. I thought they were the coolest guys, and I was so lucky. They were great dancers and they look at you and you melt. But now I just want to look after my boys. I don't want them to grow up like their dads - all talk and nothing else."
Donna, finally decided to throw out Wayne, the father of her child and another by her arch rival in school, Aimee: "I think Aimee and I both had babies as a competition for a man who was never worth it. Then he started beating me up and said he would go off to her if I complained. And just to keep face I said nothing. Now some third woman is expecting his child. I will not let him near my child."
A number of other women have multiple partners themselves so that they are not dependent on the good will of one baby father. Patrick despises such women: "They want one man to fix the house, another for sex, one to take them partying. They use children as weapons and I have seen men crying over the way they are treated."
He has started a pressure group for men struggling against women who are becoming a little too much like baby fathers themselves. White baby mothers are, I think, less trouble. I spent an evening with a group of them recently and they were indeed desperate to be understanding. They talked about the effects of slavery on black men, and explained how it was possible to live with betrayal and double-standards. Lust was high on the list.
As Susie, 20, put it: "White men are boring and safe. A lot of white girls think black men have great bodies, like D'Angelo, and we want to have their babies because they are so beautiful. I like a cool, tough guy, you know."
Yet, according to research in progress by sociologist Ravinder Barn, these beautiful babies of white mothers are increasingly ending up in care mainly because the women find it so hard to cope. These women are isolated, disapproved of by both black and white communities, often abused. If they find a white partner, new problems can arise with the child and the baby father. Many do not want their children to go, but feel they have no option.
There may still be some women willing to oblige, but even Patrick now accepts that the good old days seem to be coming to an end for the baby father. He is worried, though, that his fame and fortune will make him a victim of an ambitious baby mother instead.