Congratulations to Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks, author of the new book Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone, which was released earlier this month. With a sensational title like that, Banks is sure to sell a ton of books. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the author doesn’t have something important to tell us.
Personally, I’ve decided I won’t be reading Dr. Banks’ book. I’ve also been trying to avoid reading articles related to it. Why am I treating his book like Kryptonite? After all, I am a 38-year-old single, professional black woman — presumably smack dab in the heart of his target audience. Why wouldn’t I want to read a book about how miserable my life is?
What? Do I sound bitter? Well, I’m really not. I will admit, however, that I am annoyed. But I was annoyed way before Dr. Banks became the latest purveyor of solutions for the single black female.
In December 2009, ABC’s Nightline came to Atlanta, where I live, to interview several single professional black women and ask them why, in spite of their beauty, great personalities, and accomplishments, they just couldn’t find a good man. Cue Beyoncé’s infectious “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” in the background. Comedian Steve Harvey was to the go-to expert for the segment and demonstrated with his streetwise insight why single black women made his first book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, a New York Times bestseller. The segment “went viral,” facilitating the need for Nightline to follow up in April 2010 with a full-fledged and star-powered forum called “Why Can’t a Successful Black Woman Find a Man?” It also was held here in Atlanta. A few months later, dating expert, Deborrah Cooper, through her Surviving Dating website, blamed the black church for keeping black women single and lonely. And in May of this year, VH1 debuted its first scripted show, Single Ladies, which is about an interracial group of single women based in … yep, none other than Atlanta. So excuse me while I get from under society’s microscope …
All that being said, what do I actually think of Dr. Banks’ book? First of all, for those who may not have yet to hear about the book, Banks ponders why “nearly 70 percent of black women are unmarried” no matter their socioeconomic status and offers solutions based on about 100 interviews with African Americans. In a Wall Street Journal article adapted from his book, Banks wrote, “I came away convinced of two facts: Black women confront the worst relationship market of any group because of economic and cultural forces that are not of their own making; and they have needlessly worsened their situation by limiting themselves to black men. I also arrived at a startling conclusion: Black women can best promote black marriage by opening themselves to relationships with men of other races.”
In his article, Banks cited the high incarceration of black men as one source of the problem. “More than two million men are now imprisoned in the U.S., and roughly 40 percent of them are African American. At any given time, more than 10 percent of black men in their 20s or 30s — prime marrying ages — are in jail or prison.” Banks also pointed to the inequity of education between some black women and black men as another root of the problem. “There are roughly 1.4 million black women now in college, compared to just 900,000 black men.”
As a result, according to Banks, many black women have opted to “marry down” (i.e. marrying “blue collar” black men) instead of “out” (i.e. professional white men). This, he asserts, may contribute to the alarmingly high divorce rate, as these “white collar” black wives are often incompatible with their “blue collar” black husbands. “Even as divorce rates have declined for most groups during the past few decades, more than half of black marriages dissolve.”
His solution, according to the article: “By opening themselves to relationships with men of other races, black women would … lessen the power disparity that depresses the African American marriage rate. As more black women expanded their options, black women as a group would have more leverage with black men. Even black women who remained unwilling to love across the color line would benefit from other black women’s willingness to do so.”
It would appear many black women have already taken his message to heart. According to the latest U.S. Census data, black and white Americans are now getting married to each other in record numbers. In 2008, 14 percent of black men and 6 percent of black women tied the knot with a white partner; that’s up from 5 percent and 1 percent in 1980.
CONVERSATION STARTER: Author Ralph Richard Banks wants black women to expand their territory.
But back to what I actually think of Banks’ book. First, in all fairness to Dr. Banks, anyone who wants the full picture of what he’s arguing should read the book for herself. I’m sticking with my decision not to read it. I’m simply weary of sifting through this type of information and being assailed by the grim reminder that my chances of finding an eligible black man who meets my standards are severely limited.
Based on my experiences and the experiences of my friends, I think black women should expand their options. But that doesn’t mean they have to give up on being with a black man — educated or otherwise. I have friends who have married black men with a college degree, black men without a college degree, and white men. And I am happy to report all the friends that I’m speaking of are still married. So I believe marriage is for all people, not just white people. But I suspect Dr. Banks knows that already and is simply trying to grab our attention with his provocative title. (Note to Dr. Banks: From one writer to another, you hit it out the park with that title, sir. Cha-ching!)
As for me, my approach to dealing with this “where are all the good men?” dilemma, as well as other quandaries I find myself in, is to trust God and allow Him to speak through the challenges He allows in my life. I thoroughly believe what one of my favorite authors, Zora Neale Hurston, said in her book Their Eyes Were Watching God: “Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”
My God has promised me that if I delight myself in the Lord, He will give me the desires of my heart. And to quote another Southern sage, Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
As if chemical relaxer burns, alopecia, and unnecessary poverty from the staggering cost of sew-ins and lace fronts wasn’t enough, our hair has found another way to potentially kill us.
U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, who is black and no stranger to black women’s hair concerns, issued a warning last month against the common excuse of skipping exercise to preserve a hairstyle. According to the New York Times, Dr. Benjamin’s remarks to Bronner Bros. International Hair Show attendees aligned with a 2008 study where a third of the women cited their hair as a reason they exercised less often.
“For shame,” I’d like to say, but I’m just as guilty — maybe even more so because my hair is chemically relaxed. I’m in no danger of the regression from straight to curly to kinky that happens when moisture strikes pressed natural hair. I can identify, however, with the sinking feeling brought on by rain when I’ve just dropped $50, $75 or $100 (or more) to get my hair done. And, in case you didn’t know, weaves and wigs aren’t exactly waterproof nor are they cheap. Given the investment, I absolutely think twice before willfully dismantling a style through sweat from a vigorous workout.
Biblically, our hair is our glory, our individual object of pride. When Mary anoints the feet of Jesus and then washes them with her hair, the symbolism of the act of sacrifice is as much about the cost of the oil as the fact that she willingly sullied her hair to honor the Lord. Then and now, regardless of whether we grow ’em or buy ’em, we hold our tresses in high regard. We capitalize on our locks’ ability to influence the jobs we’re offered, determine how we’re treated and even how we’re admired. Ignoring the historical and social context of black women’s hair makes it easy to ridicule the expense of it all and downplay its significance.
But our hair is not as significant as we make it, particularly if we allow it to compromise our bodies so dramatically. Our hair was meant as a covering, not a cross to bear.
Exercise isn’t just for overweight people, and those who don’t engage risk more than obesity but also hypertension, higher levels of bad cholesterol, poor sleep, and increased fatigue. Beyond that, if it’s our desire to positively participate in a movement of God with a broad impact on the world around us, physical health must trump physical beauty, even as the two coexist.
Whether well coiffed or not, we still exist for a greater purpose that we can’t be ready to fulfill if we’re falling apart. We can’t be spiritually strong if we’re physically worn down.
As good stewards of the bodies God gave us — that still belong to Him — we have a responsibility to maintain ourselves as much as possible to fulfill our individual callings. And if that means exercise at the price of a few bad hair days, then so be it. Just keep the flat iron ready for after the workout.
PLAYING LOOSE IN ATLANTA: "Single Ladies" cast members Charity Shea, Stacey Dash, and LisaRaye McCoy portray a group of friends whose judgment is often questionable.
If you sit around a group of black women long enough, you’ll quickly see that honesty is the hallmark of relationship in African American culture. A black woman won’t just tell her friend whether or not a new pair of jeans is flattering—she’ll give unsolicited commentary on the shoes, top, and earrings too. And while she’s at it, she’ll tell you exactly why she thinks you should drop that new guy you’re seeing and which ingredient was missing from your chili at the church potluck. It’s just the way things are. Black women are the originators of “keepin’ it real.”
Which is why I’m so confused and disappointed by the depiction of black women on the new scripted drama Single Ladies on VH1. Since when did black women become so … well, fake?
I first caught Single Ladies a couple of weekends back with my fiancé during a replay of the show’s two-hour premiere. At the time we weren’t hip to the fact that the show was originally produced by Queen Latifah as a film, but promptly snatched up by VH1 as a 10-episode series. So we sat there every 30 minutes of those two hours waiting for the credits to roll, rejoicing that one of our favorite actresses, Stacey Dash, was getting work again, yet wondering why she was playing a character nearly half her age and definitely half her intelligence on TV.
If you haven’t seen Single Ladies, the title no doubt a nod to Beyoncé, the show is like an old school CW-network hybrid of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Sex and the City—except it’s on VH1, the network that brought us Flavor of Love starring Flavor Flav. The Washington Post called the series “embarrassing” and meant “for people who found Sex and the City too quick-witted and The Wendy Williams Show too intellectually stimulating” while The Root criticized the show for its lack of drama, calling it “knock-you-over-the-head obvious.” And while I agree with their critiques, my uneasiness with the show stems mainly from the Grand Canyon-sized hole in its moral center.
Like the pervasive urban pseudo-reality shows on TV today, and as with the show’s older mainstream sister Sex and the City, this new drama has the same inexcusable moral confusion that allows poor decision-making to be applauded as female independence. And while the show should be commended for giving work to black actresses like Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy, who are often lost in the tiny creative crevice between our staple powerhouses like Angela Bassett and bombshell newcomers like Meagan Good, this urban soap does no favors for black culture by ignoring the very basic nature of what black female friendship involves—namely honesty and accountability. And beyond the cultural misrepresentation, the plotlines propagate an unhealthy example of what it means to be a loyal friend.
From the first episode of Single Ladies we see April (Charity Shea) cheat on her husband with the mayor, while Val (Dash) sleeps with two men within a short window leading to an almost-pregnancy, and Keisha (McCoy) dances in a rap video while stealing jewelry from the set. In each circumstance, the ladies cheer one another on in their bad behavior, covering, supporting, and empathizing with the consequences of their friends’ actions, but not holding them accountable to the role they played in bringing about their negative circumstances.
Maybe it’s a stereotype, but where is the tell-it-like-it-is and oh-no-she-didn’t we have come to expect as a basic tenet of how black women interact? For a group of supposedly best friends, how is it that no one is speaking the truth?
To the Galatians, Paul taught that tender rebuke is an appropriate response to sinful behavior in those we love. He wrote, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. … Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” So it would seem that both culturally and spiritually, authentic friendship is filled with a healthy level of moral accountability.
VH1’s Single Ladies shows women co-signing on the bad behavior of those they love for the sake of being “ride or die” friends, but it doesn’t ring true. In a time when people are obsessed with reality TV, these fake friendships likely won’t make the ratings to stay on the air.
CLOUD OF SPECULATION: Bishop Eddie Long addresses his congregation at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta. (Newscom photo)
After Bishop Eddie Long’s decision to settle lawsuits against him out of court, questions have emerged about his motivations, namely: did he settle because the allegations of sexual misconduct with four young male parishioners of his church were true?
But rather than offering answers to his congregation, Long has announced plans to expand his ministry. The Christian Post reported that Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church is starting a new church in Birmingham, Ala., in addition to other locations in Lithonia, Ga., Charlotte, N.C., Oakland, Calif. and soon Denver. Long asked congregants for $500 to $1,000 donations.
Since the settlement, many Christians around the web have shared their thoughts and feelings. While refraining from calling him guilty or innocent, most denounced Long’s failure to be transparent. Some of the commentators used to attend New Birth. Here’s a sampling of the discussion.
Roland S. Martin, a journalist who used to attend New Birth, wrote an editorial for CNN on Saturday declaring that Long could not be let off so easily.
In it, Martin said he was “one of the committed Christians who poured a seed into [Long’s] ministry.” Martin attended New Birth Missionary Baptist Church for three months in 2000 and continued to support Long’s ministry afterward. He said he has quoted Long’s sermons, donated to his church, bought and read his books and sermon tapes, and written about his outreach to black men in his book.
Martin argued that people who supported Long’s ministry over the years deserve an explanation.
“After his refusal to address the issue publicly, openly and truthfully, I don’t see how any pastor could participate in a conference with Long on the rostrum,” Martin wrote. “I don’t see how any gospel musician could go to his church and stand in the pulpit with him to sell their CDs. As a churchgoing man, there is no way I could sit under the spiritual leadership of any pastor who was unwilling to stand before his congregation and address the issue head on.”
Another former attendee of New Birth, licensed attorney John Richards, shared both legal and spiritual perspectives on Long’s settlement on his Brother Preacher blog.
Richards said he went to New Birth in college more than 10 years ago, writing that the ministry and people there “were very instrumental in my formative years as a young man who had re-dedicated himself to Christ.” Although Richards wrote that he appreciated his experience at New Birth, he said the recent controversy had saddened him.
In his legal analysis, Richards discussed the different reasons why Long might choose to settle out of court, from avoiding negative media attention to protecting the other defendants (New Birth and LongFellows Youth Academy) from liability.
In his spiritual analysis, Richards offered a more personal take.
“I believe there were some very bad decisions made and, to some degree, there was a lack of accountability,” Richards wrote. “This is a sad, sad situation. I’m continuing to pray for all parties involved. In the end, this may have been a blessings (sic), because the trial would have been quite ugly and may have done more harm than good.”
Religion writer the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds told the AFRO the settlement looks like a cover-up to her, although she said there’s no way to know the truth.
“It looks like he did what the Catholic Church has been doing for decades,” she told the AFRO. “I thought that [Long’s initial statements] meant he would go to court and fight in court.”
The writer of The Church Lady Blogs also argued that Long did not keep his promise to fight the allegations.
“He did not act in the same manner by which David did when he was faced with Goliath, not only did he not throw five stones, he did not even pick up and throw one stone!” she wrote.
Scholar Boyce Watkins also criticized Long’s failure to keep his promise on ThyBlackMan.com, a blog that seeks to bring black men together as brothers in Christ.
“Let’s be clear: Settling a case does not imply guilt,” Watkins wrote. “But Bishop Long’s promise to his congregation that the truth would eventually be exposed is contradicted heavily by the fact that he has shared almost nothing.”
In the Florida Courier, guest columnist Morris W. O’Kelly cited Scripture while asking Long a series of questions.
“How will I know when to stop mentally subtitling all of your sermons as ‘Do as God Says … Not as I Do and Have Done?’ ” Mo’Kelly wrote.
Mo’Kelly had previously warned of the consequences a private settlement would have in March: “Being able to ask your spiritual leader about the mysteries of the Bible but not about the realities of the allegations can and will prove problematic for some members.”
Will Long’s lack of transparency hurt his congregation? Can his new churches in Birmingham and Denver succeed in spite of the recent controversy? Share your comments and opinions below.
BEFORE THE STORM: Bishop Eddie Long and Rev. Bernice King. (Newscom)
This week’s news that Reverend Bernice King would leave her leadership post at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta led to immediate speculation about the nature of her departure. But both King and Bishop Eddie Long, New Birth’s senior pastor, denied this week that she resigned as an elder because of the controversy surrounding Long’s and New Birth’s financial settlement with four men who accused Long of sexual coercion. Both said King left because she sensed a calling to start her own ministry.
In a statement published on New Birth’s website, Long said he and King had been in “discussion and prayer” for some time about her decision and that “New Birth is planning a wonderful and fitting farewell tribute in honor of Reverend King.”
The announcement was delayed until after Memorial Day “because we felt it was appropriate to first honor the service men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service of our great Nation,” said Long.
“I heard I resigned. I was a little confused about that, because I’ve never been on staff. I’ve never been an employee of New Birth. I didn’t step down because I didn’t step up,” King told Rhodell Lewis of Atlanta’s Praise 102.5.
“Elder is a title they use in their church as Ebenezer [Baptist Church] would use Reverend. They’re the same, so if you leave a Baptist church, they don’t say you stepped down as reverend,” said King. “I’m just no longer a member of New Birth.”
King, the youngest child of Martin Luther King Jr., said her sole function was to occasionally preach, but she also described herself as a leader in the church and said there is an appropriate way for leaders to leave. She wrestled with the decision for two years, she said, and met with Long in early April to tell him that May 29 would be her last Sunday worshiping at New Birth.
King was “tremendously blessed” by the ministry of Long in the eight years, eight months she attended the church, she said, and thanked him and the congregation for its love and support through several difficult situations she endured.
Those trials included the illness and then death of her mother, Coretta Scott King, the death of her sister Yolanda King, a legal conflict with her brother Dexter King over their parents’ estate, and another with the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, from which she resigned as president in January.
“I know that I have a pastoral calling on my life and I have to accept it,” said King.
“I’m going to launch a ministry. I’m not calling it a church right now because I believe that Christ builds his church. …What God is showing me doesn’t look like what people are accustomed to,” she said. “We must raise up true disciples of the kingdom of God so the kingdoms of this world came become the kingdoms of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. That is my mandate as I go forward.”
Though King has refused to comment on the controversy that has engulfed Bishop Long and New Birth since last fall, others are projecting that her departure will lead to a further implosion at the church.