Marriage is for White People - 3/06
smartmarriages at lists101.his.com
Sun Mar 26 19:25:25 EST 2006
Happy Black Marriage Day. Today is Black Marriage Day all across American.
The third annual Black Marriage Day. Congratulations to Nisa Muhammad and
ALL OF YOU that are working so hard and with so much optimism and enthusiasm
to grow this effort. Here's an article from today's Washington Post that
lays out in sobering detail why your work is so sorely needed. It was given
more than a half page - top of the fold with a huge photo spread of a
wedding dress. Do not let this get you down. It just shows the desperate
need out there for what we've got to offer - amazing ways to turn things
around and to infuse hope and optimism. Though amazing that THIS was how the
Washington Post chose to do it up on Black Marriage Day.
In case you don't read all the way through, here's the closing paragraph.
> 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
Character. And, Caring. We'll be honing in on this like a laser in
Atlanta, most pointedly in the keynotes: "Message to Our Sons" and "Message
to Our Daughters"; "Couplehood as a Spiritual Path"; "Breaking the Cycle of
Divorce" and "How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk"; and "Love and Respect". But
what you probably don't realize is how much Scott Stanley's Friday night
banquet, "Skating to Where the Puck Is Going to Be" is taking up this theme.
He'll be helping us set our course towards the marriage "intangibles" -
caring, commitment, character, values, trust - the real glue of marriage,
and talking about how you anchor/teach these as skills. And he'll review all
the reasons to hold onto our optimism in spite of so much heavy pessimism.
I hope you plan to attend and to join the discussion. It promises to be
quite an evening - a chance to gather, swap energy and recharge our
batteries. - diane
- Marriage Is for White People
The Washington Post
By Joy Jones
Sunday, March 26, 2006
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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?"
Joy Jones, a Washington writer, is the author of "Between Black Women:
Listening With the Third Ear" (African American Images).
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