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.
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.”