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Marriage Is for White People

 
 
Miller
 
Reply Fri 28 Nov, 2008 01:45 pm
Marriage Is for White People'

By Joy Jones
Sunday, March 26, 2006; B01

I grew up in a time when two-parent families were still the norm, in both black and white America. Then, as an adult, I saw divorce become more commonplace, then almost a rite of passage. Today it would appear that many -- particularly in the black community -- have dispensed with marriage altogether.

But as a black woman, I have witnessed the outrage of girlfriends when the ex failed to show up for his weekend with the kids, and I've seen the disappointment of children who missed having a dad around. Having enjoyed a close relationship with my own father, I made a conscious decision that I wanted a husband, not a live-in boyfriend and not a "baby's daddy," when it came my time to mate and marry.

My time never came.

For years, I wondered why not. And then some 12-year-olds enlightened me.

"Marriage is for white people."

That's what one of my students told me some years back when I taught a career exploration class for sixth-graders at an elementary school in Southeast Washington. I was pleasantly surprised when the boys in the class stated that being a good father was a very important goal to them, more meaningful than making money or having a fancy title.

"That's wonderful!" I told my class. "I think I'll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing children."

"Oh, no," objected one student. "We're not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers."

And that's when the other boy chimed in, speaking as if the words left a nasty taste in his mouth: "Marriage is for white people."

He's right. At least statistically. The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, and today, we have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent. Such statistics have caused Howard University relationship therapist Audrey Chapman to point out that African Americans are the most uncoupled people in the country.

How have we gotten here? What has shifted in African American customs, in our community, in our consciousness, that has made marriage seem unnecessary or unattainable?

Although slavery was an atrocious social system, men and women back then nonetheless often succeeded in establishing working families. In his account of slave life and culture, "Roll, Jordan, Roll," historian Eugene D. Genovese wrote: "A slave in Georgia prevailed on his master to sell him to Jamaica so that he could find his wife, despite warnings that his chances of finding her on so large an island were remote. . . . Another slave in Virginia chopped his left hand off with a hatchet to prevent being sold away from his son." I was stunned to learn that a black child was more likely to grow up living with both parents during slavery days than he or she is today, according to sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin.

Traditional notions of family, especially the extended family network, endure. But working mothers, unmarried couples living together, out-of-wedlock births, birth control, divorce and remarriage have transformed the social landscape. And no one seems to feel this more than African American women. One told me that with today's changing mores, it's hard to know "what normal looks like" when it comes to courtship, marriage and parenthood. Sex, love and childbearing have become a la carte choices rather than a package deal that comes with marriage. Moreover, in an era of brothers on the "down low," the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the decline of the stable blue-collar jobs that black men used to hold, linking one's fate to a man makes marriage a risky business for a black woman.

"A woman who takes that step is bold and brave," one young single mother told me. "Women don't want to marry because they don't want to lose their freedom."

Among African Americans, the desire for marriage seems to have a different trajectory for women and men. My observation is that black women in their twenties and early thirties want to marry and commit at a time when black men their age are more likely to enjoy playing the field. As the woman realizes that a good marriage may not be as possible or sustainable as she would like, her focus turns to having a baby, or possibly improving her job status, perhaps by returning to school or investing more energy in her career.

As men mature, and begin to recognize the benefits of having a roost and roots (and to feel the consequences of their risky bachelor behavior), they are more willing to marry and settle down. By this time, however, many of their female peers are satisfied with the lives they have constructed and are less likely to settle for marriage to a man who doesn't bring much to the table. Indeed, he may bring too much to the table: children and their mothers from previous relationships, limited earning power, and the fallout from years of drug use, poor health care, sexual promiscuity. In other words, for the circumspect black woman, marriage may not be a business deal that offers sufficient return on investment.

In the past, marriage was primarily just such a business deal. Among wealthy families, it solidified political alliances or expanded land holdings. For poorer people, it was a means of managing the farm or operating a household. Today, people have become economically self-sufficient as individuals, no longer requiring a spouse for survival. African American women have always had a high rate of labor-force participation. "Why should well-salaried women marry?" asked black feminist and author Alice Dunbar-Nelson as early as 1895. But now instead of access only to low-paying jobs, we can earn a breadwinner's wage, which has changed what we want in a husband. "Women's expectations have changed dramatically while men's have not changed much at all," said one well-paid working wife and mother. "Women now say, 'Providing is not enough. I need more partnership.' "

The turning point in my own thinking about marriage came when a longtime friend proposed about five years ago. He and I had attended college together, dated briefly, then kept in touch through the years. We built a solid friendship, which I believe is a good foundation for a successful marriage.

But -- if we had married, I would have had to relocate to the Midwest. Been there, done that, didn't like it. I would have had to become a stepmother and, although I felt an easy camaraderie with his son, stepmotherhood is usually a bumpy ride. I wanted a house and couldn't afford one alone. But I knew that if I was willing to make some changes, I eventually could.

As I reviewed the situation, I realized that all the things I expected marriage to confer -- male companionship, close family ties, a house -- I already had, or were within reach, and with exponentially less drama. I can do bad by myself, I used to say as I exited a relationship. But the truth is, I can do pretty good by myself, too.

Most single black women over the age of 30 whom I know would not mind getting married, but acknowledge that the kind of man and the quality of marriage they would like to have may not be likely, and they are not desperate enough to simply accept any situation just to have a man. A number of my married friends complain that taking care of their husbands feels like having an additional child to raise. Then there's the fact that marriage apparently can be hazardous to the health of black women. A recent study by the Institute for American Values, a nonpartisan think tank in New York City, indicates that married African American women are less healthy than their single sisters.

By design or by default, black women cultivate those skills that allow them to maintain themselves (or sometimes even to prosper) without a mate.

"If Jesus Christ bought me an engagement ring, I wouldn't take it," a separated thirty-something friend told me. "I'd tell Jesus we could date, but we couldn't marry."

And here's the new twist. African American women aren't the only ones deciding that they can make do alone. Often what happens in black America is a sign of what the rest of America can eventually expect. In his 2003 book, "Mismatch: The Growing Gulf between Women and Men," Andrew Hacker noted that the structure of white families is evolving in the direction of that of black families of the 1960s. In 1960, 67 percent of black families were headed by a husband and wife, compared to 90.9 percent for whites. By 2000, the figure for white families had dropped to 79.8 percent. Births to unwed white mothers were 22.5 percent in 2001, compared to 2.3 percent in 1960. So my student who thought marriage is for white people may have to rethink that in the future.

Still, does this mean that marriage is going the way of the phonograph and the typewriter ribbon?

"I hope it isn't," said one friend who's been married for seven years. "The divorce rate is 50 percent, but people remarry. People want to be married. I don't think it's going out of style."

A black male acquaintance had a different prediction. "I don't believe marriage is going to be extinct, but I think you'll see fewer people married," he said. "It's a bad thing. I believe it takes the traditional family -- a man and a woman -- to raise kids." He has worked with troubled adolescents, and has observed that "the girls who are in the most trouble and who are abused the most -- the father is absent. And the same is true for the boys, too." He believes that his presence and example in the home is why both his sons decided to marry when their girlfriends became pregnant.

But human nature being what it is, if marriage is to flourish -- in black or white America -- it will have to offer an individual woman something more than a business alliance, a panacea for what ails the community, or an incubator for rearing children. As one woman said, "If it weren't for the intangibles, the allure of the lovey-dovey stuff, I wouldn't have gotten married. The benefits of marriage are his character and his caring. If not for that, why bother?"

[email protected]

Joy Jones, a Washington writer, is the author of "Between Black Women: Listening With the Third Ear" (African American Images).

Washington Post
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Type: Discussion • Score: 11 • Views: 3,548 • Replies: 50
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gustavratzenhofer
 
  1  
Reply Fri 28 Nov, 2008 03:12 pm
I am not going to read this, Miller, due to time constraints, but I was always under the impression that you were white.

Who knew?
0 Replies
 
gustavratzenhofer
 
  1  
Reply Fri 28 Nov, 2008 03:13 pm
But, I will come back and read this later. When I have more time.
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 28 Nov, 2008 05:32 pm
@gustavratzenhofer,
I dont know that Ill read it. CAn you summarize it forme and Gus?
0 Replies
 
hawkeye10
 
  0  
Reply Fri 28 Nov, 2008 05:40 pm
Black women make it very clear that they don't need men, they are all about being strong and in many ways masculine. the natural consequence is for black men to have no desire to stick around, and they don't.

Black women bitching and moaning about black men is a pet peeve of mine, as the problem is largely created by black women.
Slappy Doo Hoo
 
  1  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 08:31 am
@hawkeye10,
Problem with women & marriage:

"decline of the stable blue-collar jobs that black men used to hold, linking one's fate to a man makes marriage a risky business for a black woman."

"Why should well-salaried women marry?" asked black feminist and author Alice Dunbar-Nelson as early as 1895. But now instead of access only to low-paying jobs, we can earn a breadwinner's wage, which has changed what we want in a husband."

"I wanted a house and couldn't afford one alone."




Seed
 
  1  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 08:40 am
@Slappy Doo Hoo,
What ever happened to marrying for love?
Foofie
 
  1  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 07:37 pm
This thread's lead article talked of marriage, be it for Blacks or Whites, as throughout the U.S., regardless of region. I believe that there are regional differences, and differences between rural and urban. In rural America, I believe, more women are willing to marry a man years older than herself. Not necessarily so, I believe, in urban America. Also, in the Southern culture there is more status amongst women to have a husband, I believe.

In my own opinion, Northern urban women prefer to marry men close to their respective ages. And, since Northern urban women have more job opportunities, and opportunities for education, they just might wind up being more independent, since they can support themselves, and choose not to marry a man more than a certain number of years older than themselves.

Also, women have biological clocks, so their getting married, in the childbearing years, is a race against time, and a race against the competition of the next younger group of women entering the marriage market.

For whatever the situation is for Black women in the U.S. today, I do not think White women all have a Cinderella existence. The U.S. is filled with single, White women that discover, I believe, at 35 or thereabouts, that they may never get married, and then the chore is how to reframe the childhood dream of marriage and family?


hawkeye10
 
  0  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 09:01 pm
@Foofie,
Quote:
This thread's lead article talked of marriage, be it for Blacks or Whites, as throughout the U.S., regardless of region


Where did you think you saw that? It was not in the words that I read.
0 Replies
 
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 09:08 pm
@Foofie,
There are also men in their thirties and forties who are single and will remain single.
hawkeye10
 
  -1  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 09:11 pm
@Slappy Doo Hoo,
Ya, the lack of jobs for black men is a problem, Pullman jobs are gone and so are most factory jobs....is that what you are getting at???

Black boys have access to education, they have means to better themselves such as military service, the black men's victimization wailing is pitiful. Getting wrapped up the hip hop sub culture does them in though, as does the fact that so many black women are fine with trying to raise their kids with no men around, thus the kids are on their own way to much, and don't have good male role models. See how it comes back to the choices that black women make...again?

Rationalizing doing without men perpetuates the problem. Black men and black women need to agree the little black kids need both men and women in their daily lives, until the adults get their act together and come to some agreement that both sides can live with the black community will remain broken. It all starts with the family, the blacks are a warning of what happens when the family unit is allowed to break down.
0 Replies
 
hawkeye10
 
  0  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 09:21 pm
Quote:
Why Our Black Families Are Failing

By William Raspberry

Monday, July 25, 2005; Page A19

"There is a crisis of unprecedented magnitude in the black community, one that goes to the very heart of its survival. The black family is failing."

Quibble if you will about the "unprecedented magnitude" -- slavery wasn't exactly a high point of African American well-being. But there's no quarreling with the essence of the alarm sounded here last week by a gathering of Pentecostal clergy and the Seymour Institute for Advanced Christian Studies. What is happening to the black family in America is the sociological equivalent of global warming: easier to document than to reverse, inconsistent in its near-term effect -- and disastrous in the long run.


Father absence is the bane of the black community, predisposing its children (boys especially, but increasingly girls as well) to school failure, criminal behavior and economic hardship, and to an intergenerational repetition of the grim cycle. The culprit, the ministers (led by the Rev. Eugene Rivers III of Boston, president of the Seymour Institute) agreed, is the decline of marriage.

Kenneth B. Johnson, a Seymour senior fellow who has worked in youth programs, says he often sees teenagers "who've never seen a wedding."

The concern is not new. As Rivers noted at last week's National Press Club news conference, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan sounded the alarm 40 years ago, only to be "condemned and pilloried as misinformed, malevolent and even racist."....


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/24/AR2005072401115.html
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  2  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 10:07 pm
I'm afraid I take this thread as one more accumulation point on a racist agenda --- but, no, I can't defend that opinion. Perhaps the numbers of threads by Miller about troubles for and with blacks in the US will back me up - but I'm not a statistics hunter.
hawkeye10
 
  0  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 10:18 pm
@ossobuco,
it does not matter what Miller's agenda is, the problem with black families is clear, has been around for a long time, and is subject to debate. Blacks often claim that whites can't talk about problems in the black community, that it is none of white people business, but they are clearly wrong. All too often a2kers get sidetracked by trying to guess at the motives of the posters, rather than dealing with the posts.....we should knock this off, it is not a productive use of energy.
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 10:29 pm
@hawkeye10,
I'm not guessing.

Wilso
 
  2  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 10:31 pm
@hawkeye10,
hawkeye10 wrote:

Blacks often claim that whites can't talk about problems in the black community, that it is none of white people business, but they are clearly wrong.


The biggest thing society needs is not to have a distinction between a black community and a white community. Should just be a community of people!
hawkeye10
 
  1  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 10:35 pm
@Wilso,
I agree, but I try to live in the real world.
0 Replies
 
hawkeye10
 
  -1  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 10:37 pm
@ossobuco,
Quote:
I'm not guessing.


Ya, but you did put the idea into play.....you did attempt to posion the well.
0 Replies
 
gungasnake
 
  1  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 11:14 pm
@Foofie,
Quote:
Also, women have biological clocks, so their getting married, in the childbearing years, is a race against time, and a race against the competition of the next younger group of women entering the marriage market...


The whole country is looking at that one the wrong way and if we don't come up with an answer to it, we're in for a world of trouble.

The problem to my thinking is simple: humans are biologically programmed and constructed to start having children and familes at 16 - 20 and not at 35 - 40. For America to ever prosper again as I see it, it has to again become respectable and normal for Americans to marry at 16 - 20. If that involves some form of welfare, all I can say is I'd rather have that than 20,000,000 illegal aliens walking around taking up the slack.


hawkeye10
 
  0  
Reply Sat 29 Nov, 2008 11:23 pm
@gungasnake,
jobs that pay enough to support a family and/or subsidized childcare and/or a return to the extended family unit will be required, a reality that conservatives never seem to want to deal with.
0 Replies
 
 

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