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Russell Wilson, Ciara Harris
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, right, looks on as his girlfriend, entertainer Ciara Harris, walks with her son, Future Harris, 14 months, after an NFL football training camp Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, in Renton, Wash. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Russell Wilson, Ciara and Future’s bumpy love narrative

And why it’s about black blended families, intraracial class and color trauma — and the eternal battle between between corny and cool

Russell Wilson reminds me of Jerry from Liar Liar.

Liar Liar, the 1997 flick starring Jim Carrey, was one of my favorite movies as a kid. Carrey plays a lawyer so consumed with his job that his wife divorces him. His ex-wife becomes involved with a man named Jerry (portrayed by Cary Elwes) who tries to bond with Carrey’s son, Max. He tries to play similar games, including “The Claw.” But Jerry is portrayed as a corny outsider who doesn’t fit the family dynamic — simply because he’s a potential stepparent.

The message here, of course, is that nobody can replace dad, which, on the surface, is a fine sentiment to share with kids. Unfortunately, though, too many pop-culture depictions of stepparents treat them as invaders, as poisoners of once-perfect family units. As if, in fact, they are complicit in familial destruction. This is part of the reason Wilson’s role as the new stepparent to Ciara and Future’s son, Future Zahir Wilburn, has been such a hot-button topic.

You’ve probably read at least one story about the tabloid supernova that is the Ciara-Russell Wilson-Future love “triangle.” More like a scripted bit from HBO’s Ballers than an actual series of events with real-life consequences, the relationship between the three stars is gossip magic. Future — an Atlanta-based rapper who is currently on tour with Drake, and who has a massive and deeply passionate following known as the #FutureHive creates cultish, classic mixtapes and singles that dominate radio stations and clubs across the country. He’s the former fiancé of Ciara, and they share a son. The toddler is affectionately known as “Baby Future.”

Ciara, of course, is Ciara Princess Harris Wilson, the singer whose early-2000s hits — Goodies and 1,2 Step — were chart-topping successes. “Body Party,” co-written with Future, was a top 10 pop hit in 2013. Her romantic involvements have kept her on the internet’s front pages. And then there’s Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback whose story of going from a 2012 third-round draft pick to a Super Bowl champion just two years later is as remarkable as his ability to find the most precisely canned answer to almost every question asked of him.

Russell Wilson vs. Future represents an intraracial fight across class lines.

To put it bluntly, Wilson is corny. The anti-Future. He sounds more like a buttoned-up Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air than anyone who should be challenging rappers for an R&B diva. And yet, Ciara started dating Wilson in 2015. Soon afterward, Future made it clear that he didn’t like photos he saw of Wilson pushing the toddler’s stroller. As he told the New York’s nationally syndicated Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club: “Of course, I wouldn’t want somebody pushing my son,” he told the radio hosts. “That’s the No. 1 rule. If I was a kid, and my mama had a dude pushing me, I would’ve jumped out the stroller and slapped the s— out of him. You never do that in our community. You don’t ever bring a man around your son. How you know this dude for a few months and you bring him around your kid? Who does that? Nobody does that.”

A few weeks later, Ciara showed up at Wilson’s training camp with Baby Future wearing a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt with a No. 3 on the sleeve — Wilson’s number.

There seems to be a lot of love and happiness in that photo. And yet those pictures sparked social media debates about the proper and improper ways to handle new relationships and children. Whole days on Twitter seem to be dedicated to Wilson, Ciara, Future and what is or isn’t the appropriate way for a woman’s boyfriend to treat her child. Even rapper T.I. chimed in, commenting on Instagram that he’d “go the f— off, bro. S—’s out of line to me. That’s just me.” Ciara was criticized for being manipulative by having her son appear with Wilson in such a public space so soon after Future’s Breakfast Club interview. Future was criticized for his comments about the acceptability of pushing strollers. Everyone’s parenting was called into question.

Ciara, for the most part, has been silent about the issues between her and Future, opting to instead file a $15 million slander and libel suit in February. The suit is widely criticized for being “petty.” It’s not petty. By publicly encouraging his son to reject Wilson as a stepfather and calling the child’s mother a gold digger and other disparaging names, Future runs the risk of damaging his son and his son’s potential relationship with his blended family and, just as importantly, his son’s perception of his own mother. And if going to court is the way to stop Future from continuing Twitter sprees, such as the one he went on (right before his mixtape, Purple Reign, dropped) claiming Ciara wanted $15,000 a month in child support and calling her a b—-, then that’s just what she has to do. When Ciara made a rare response on CBS This Morning in August 2015, she was measured:

“And to the guys who have such an opinion, know your facts. I did reach out to my son’s father for him and Russell to speak and he didn’t want to talk to me. You know, we didn’t get to talk, and so that was that. I don’t know what more they would expect for me to do than just live my life, and that’s what I’m doing. My son is the most important, and the person that loves me.”

Ciara hasn’t always been so even with her responses, though. In April, when she and rapper Ludacris were announcing the nominees for the 2016 Billboard Music Awards, she awkwardly refused to say Future’s name, causing Ludacris to jump in and make the announcement. It’s a sign that the hurt is still there, and that this is still a process she’s working through.

There’s no right answer about how to properly facilitate the blending of a family. As someone who tried, I can say that there are plenty of mistakes you make along the way even if your primary concern is the child’s well-being. It’s impossible to know exactly when it’s the right time for parents to introduce their significant others to their children. For my wife and I, we decided that I’d be a “family friend” without showing much affection in front of her 5-year-old daughter, before I proposed. We were wary of too much “playing family” before we actually became one, so I didn’t do sleepovers, kiss my wife-to-be in front of her daughter or act like a dad before I “put a ring on it.”

That isn’t to say we didn’t mess up along the way. These situations are so fragile, and fraught with so much raw emotion that they need to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis and it’s impossible to do so without intimate knowledge of the people involved. I do know, though, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with a man hugging a baby. And the idea that Wilson pushing Baby Future’s stroller is an act of grave irresponsibility is laughable. But the debates will only continue and likely intensify now that Wilson is officially Baby Future’s stepdad.

Ciara opted to file a $15 million slander and libel suit against Future in February. The suit is widely criticized for being “petty.” It’s not petty.

There are more variables at play here than the typical blended family troubles, thanks to Ciara, Future and Wilson (mostly Future) playing out the issues in public. In many ways, the storylines are an airing out of issues we have to face within ourselves in the black community. Wilson vs. Future represents an intraracial fight across class lines. Despite Wilson’s role as a black quarterback who took down Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl, he’s still perceived as white bread and privileged. There was even a Bleacher Report story claiming his own teammates were distancing themselves from him over the archaic idea he isn’t “black enough” — Wilson is simply seen as less “real” than Future. So a decision to back Wilson is playing into the notions that someone like him is “better” than a guy like Future, whose background is less privileged.

Then there’s the misogyny embedded in the whole situation.

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 12: Future; Ciara attend the Calvin Klein Collection show as a part of Milan Fashion Week Menswear Autumn/Winter 2014 on January 12, 2014 in Milan, Italy.

MILAN, ITALY – JANUARY 12: Future; Ciara attend the Calvin Klein Collection show as a part of Milan Fashion Week Menswear Autumn/Winter 2014 on January 12, 2014 in Milan, Italy.

Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho/WireImage

Since Ciara dated Future first and had his child, she’s his. He has claim to her and any other action she commits to the contrary is seen as some sort of betrayal. Ciara has been stripped of any agency to make her own decisions. By going across the tracks to date Wilson, Ciara turned her back on the men who hang on to every word Future raps. That’s why these Future fans spent countless hours on the internet posting purple umbrella emojis on Ciara’s Instagram page when he released his Purple Reign mixtape. It’s why her decision to go to court as a move to stop Future from continued disparaging comments about their relationship and son was criticized as the underhanded scheming of a spiteful baby mama. The backlash is a perpetuation of the misogynist stereotype that the child’s mother only wants to suck all of the father’s money from him. All of these issues bring Ciara/Future/Wilson debates to a fever pitch. Atlanta is Future’s hometown. Ciara was born in Austin, Texas, but spent the bulk of her life in the ATL, and is considered a product of the city’s music scene. I live in Atlanta, and I’ve seen people scream at each other in public over who is being unreasonable and who’s the real victim.

The time right around the stepparent marrying into the picture is often the hardest for the blended family. There are adjustments all around as the child’s (or children’s) parental unit expands to include a new member. Everyone, kid included, struggles to find the new normal. It seems as if the stepparent has to be the one to enter the situation with a level head — and under a ton of scrutiny. Even though my wife, my stepdaughter’s father and I all only wanted what’s best for the child involved, we didn’t quite blend into a functional team at first. But we tried to keep the kid’s needs first. Five years into my marriage, we’ve settled into a cooperative unit. My stepdaughter and I have a great relationship full of love and fun. We’ve even gone out to dinner as a blended family with her dad a few times.

Right now, Ciara, Future and Wilson are in that tumultuous beginning of new three-person unit. There’s hope, however, as Future’s comments in Rolling Stone last month show a maturity that lends itself to the belief the team can come together for what’s best for Baby Future. “It’s something that’ll take more time for me,” he said. “It ain’t even about [him] playing daddy. I don’t even want to think about it. That’s my son forever. My son is going to be able to read this. He’s going to be able to look at those pictures. He’s going to be able to have a judgment for himself, and have a conversation with me man to man. That’s my blood. He is me. I am him. We is one.”

There’s a weird fascination with what boundaries Wilson needs to maintain with Baby Future, dating to that fateful training camp picture. It’s gotten to the point that Wilson kissing the toddler is seen as “disturbing.” I’m sure some of it stems from Wilson’s overall perceived corniness that makes him unlikable by some and Future’s polar opposite. But that doesn’t excuse people being so quick to find something bizarre about him helping to raise a child.

For Future fans — and maybe Future himself — Wilson is just like Jerry from Liar Liar. He’s invading Future’s family and hurting their favorite rapper. So somehow his affection toward a child is a direct affront to that child’s father. Reminder: Baby Future is barely more than 2 years old. It’s insane to tell someone not to show a 2-year-old affection. It’s insane to ask Wilson not to take on the role of a parental figure in a child’s life — he’s around the child a lot of the time. So the idea of his affection and caretaking being something that’s considered “weird” is backward. If anything, Future should rest easy knowing that his child is living with someone who loves him and, by all optics, only has his best interests at heart.

It seems harder and harder to hold onto love and positivity. Our news cycles are full of black suffering and pain. When I come home from a day of consuming news reports of how much trauma we’re exposed to as a community, all I want to do is love and be loved by my family. And my stepdaughter needs that love too as she goes out and lives her life as a black girl in America. Denying her any amount of love because of societal ideals of my role as a stepfather — or perceived barriers because we’re a blended family — is robbing her of positivity and love she needs and deserves. Baby Future needs as much love as possible and there’s nothing wrong with Wilson being an integral part of that love he’s receiving. The “it takes a village” thing has stuck around all these years for a reason.

David Dennis Jr. is a senior writer at Andscape and an American Mosaic Journalism Prize recipient. His book, The Movement Made Us, will be released in 2022. David is a graduate of Davidson College.