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.”
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.
The Bible says, “A man who finds a wife finds a good thing!” So, my single ladies, are you a “good thing” or used goods? How many more men will you let into your life that simply want to USE you … physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually? Hopefully your answer is “no more,” and you’re ready to give God full control of your love life.
My single ladies, I want to speak restoration, wisdom, and strength into your life right now … so you can walk down a path toward becoming the “good thing” God wants you to be — and perhaps find your own “good thing” in the process.
Another blast of Scripture for you: “A prudent wife is a gift from the Lord ” (Prov.19:14). Well, ladies, if you are a GIFT, keep it wrapped tight. Don’t let the bow slip off until it’s time for the big reveal! Don’t let just anyone unwrap you! You are a beautifully wrapped gift and will be presented to your husband-to-be by God in God’s time.
Listen, sisters, if you’re a single woman of God waiting for marriage, this message is for you. Are you ready?
Y’all better go wake up your girlfriends, and send them this link, because Cee Cee is ’bout to give you some truth for your life right now! If you’re feeling lonely, inferior, desperate, or depressed … this one’s for you. Listen up and check out these 20 nuggets of real-life relationship wisdom, because something here is a message from the Lord to you.
1. No Begging Allowed. If you are feeling rejected by your current boyfriend as we speak … he is not for you. No one should have to beg for affection and compliments. You should never have to ask a man, “Baby, do you think I am beautiful?”
2. Follow Their Example. No women in the Bible put their lives on hold to find a husband. Not Mary, Not Rebekah, Not Ruth, Not Rachel, Not Esther, certainly Not Eve! These women all were busy working and serving when their husbands found them.
3. Pursue Self-Improvement. Work on yourself, ladies. What’s God tellin’ ya? Get an advanced degree, launch a business, redecorate your rooms, learn to create a loving atmosphere for your home, plant a garden, make a scrapbook, write a novel, sew, knit, take cooking classes, take a ballroom dance class, learn how to put up drywall. Then get involved at your church — volunteer to sing in the choir, teach Sunday school, or work with the youth. GOD LOVES WHEN YOU SERVE HIM, and it’s a must to explore your various spiritual gifts while you’re still single!
4. Wait for It. Ladies, this is an obvious one but oh so easy to forget: Please do not have sex with a guy before marriage! This so clouds everything, and you know this! Emotions get attached, or you become physically attached and then may manipulate the guy into marrying you when neither of you are truly ready. Uggh! Not good! Not God!
5. Only God Makes You Whole. Ladies: Please know that you are okay and you are excellent and you are whole without a husband. You must be whole before marriage. Two halves do not make a whole concerning marriage! Marital Math is: Whole + Whole = a Wholesome Marriage. Never say, “I just am not complete without him. He makes me complete! He is the air I breathe!” WHAT?! Girl, JESUS is the air you breathe. Don’t confuse a man with the Son of Man. Keep your priorities straight.
6. Is He Serious About God? If your man does not know the Word, apply the Word, live the Word, speak the Word, pray the Word, and meditate on it, then he does not have his sword — which means he’s not gonna be able to fight for you or your marriage! WAKE UP, somebody! A true soldier straps on his sword every day, baby!
7. Beware of the Bling. “Put a Ring On It?” Not so fast! Do not fall for every ring that comes your way. Anyone can flash a ring at you. Some brothers even recycle rings from the last girl that said no!!!! Whew Jesus! Ya betta go tell yo friends this stuff!
8. Do Your Homework. Before you get too far in a relationship, be sure to ASK if he has ever had a drinking problem, abuse problem, drug problem, if he was abused or molested in any way, if he’s been to jail, got warrants, pays child support, even sees his children, has current pictures of his children, been tested recently for HIV and other STDS. Will he even go take an HIV test for you? And if not, why?
9. Yeah, I’m Going There. If he even seems gay … please just let it go, ladies. My God! Stop the madness for real. Who are his friends? Is he extra effeminate? Does he wax his brows? Can’t live without his guy friends and boy trips? Wake up, woman! You are a COVER GIRL!
10. A Word to the Brothers. The Down Low is on the rise. Pay attention, ladies. (And men, get yourself together. STOP ruining women’s lives just to make yourself look straight on the outside. The truth is gonna come out. Some of ya’ll should get an Emmy for the act you put on. Just get truthful with God. How dare you use a woman and then bring up children in that deception and confusion!)
11. No Shackin’ Up. If you are living with your current boyfriend, consider moving out right now! Pack yo’ bag and go to the nearest sistah friend house, or back to your mama, or get a nice li’l 2 bedroom with a girlfriend and split the rent. Come on, now … there has got to be away that you can be self-sufficient. And if YOU took him in cuz he had nowhere to go, umm … where exactly is that going? Honestly!
12. I Repeat, You Need to Wait. Even if you are engaged, please do not live together to save money … Just have him live with a relative until the BIG DAY! There are options, ladies. DO NOT CHEAT! It is so worth it to move in on that big day! Get prepared, but do not cut corners like that.
13. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Ask him now if he likes PORN. People, this junk will ruin — did you hear me? — RUIN a marriage! And if you are hooked on porn, hit my inbox and let me pray with you right now. ‘Cause U got to come up off of that! It’s fake, scripted, perverse, and passionless. They want you to think it’s what sex is, but IT’S NOT. It is godless and destructive! And it has no place in a marriage. LET GOD direct your marital sex life, not X-rated videos!
14. Get Over Yourself. If you are spoiled and selfish — and you know it — DO NOT GET MARRIED … just keep loving your doggone self. You are a Last Days person … the Lord said there would be many … so just keep being a lover of yourself! Just admit it! Maybe if you face it, God will Heal you from it and you will actually be able to LOVE someone else!
15. Is He Trippin’ on the Past? He got the nerve to hold your past against you? What! OMG! Let it go! If he cannot see the God in you now because he’s too distracted by what you used to be, let that suckah loose! We are new in Christ! All old has passed away… and you walkin’ the narrow way too and he wanna talk about who and how you use to be? Awww nawww player … naw! Cut it loose, baby girl! The accuser type! Diggin’ up your buried past! Later!
16. Be Wise About Online Hookups. Beware of using the Internet to find a man. People ain’t always what they seem to be on here. Some ladies are on Match.com, Matchmaker.org, Hitched.com, BlackPlanet, Eharmony, Emarriage … just a searchin’. First, search the Scriptures, baby girl! Many of ya’ll have wrecked Facebook already, just plain abused it, trying to find a man. Some have ruined other women’s marriages! Sad! Beware, ladies!
17. Does He Prefer the Old You? If you meet a man and he is more attracted to the old, unsaved you than the new, saved you … RUN, FORREST, RUN!!!
18. Get the Big Picture. Check out his family and other parts of his life. Meet the parents! If his dog is scared of him, honey run! If he kicks a dog, he will kick you. If he cheats on his taxes, he might cheat on you. If he lies to his mama and his boss, he’ll lie to you. I am so serious! Ya’ll betta open you eyes!
19. What’s Comin’ Outta His Mouth? If he consistently, and in a negative or pushy tone, says you are: fat, ugly, dumb, not good enough, too much, too little, too this, too that … tell him that he’s too unlike Christ for you … See ya!! A real man will do whatever it takes to win your heart with LOVE, not criticism and abuse!
20. Pray Early and Often. Single ladies, one more thing. If God blesses you with a partner someday, one of the most important activities you will do as a wife (without fail) is PRAY FOR YOUR HUSBAND. Well, why not start praying for him now in advance? It makes for great practice. That way, it will be more of a natural part of who you are when he finally comes. Pray for his health, his thought life, his finances, his heart! Pray in advance! Can’t hurt! It certainly worked for me!
That’s my 20, ladies. I’ve got plenty more, but I’ll let you reflect on these for a minute. Here’s the bottom line: In a mutual relationship, a man will do ONLY what you let him do to you … it takes two. So, call on GOD for strength, wisdom, holiness, and self-control right now. You need the Word more than just on Sunday mornings when Pastor is preaching it. Keep your soul ready, your mind sharp, your hair right, and your muscles tight. Keep smiling and believing, single ladies. This is your day!