Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Well, This Might Be a New Angle

Did you know black women are in a crisis? A marriage crisis? Forty-two percent of us have never been married and that spells OMG!!! DOOM!!!

Seriously, how could you not have heard about it? It's been a hot topic for the past few years now (And here's a timeline from just the last few months!). Media outlets have been all over it. Scholars at Yale even did a study and Oprah got in on the hype.

Yesterday, Liss sent me an article that captured an argument that was new to me. It poses the question: Does the black church keep black women single? "A-ha," I thought (after I picked up my jaw) "yet another way to keep this largely manufactured crisis going."

Why am I so aggravated, you might ask, if all these articles are simply stating a true fact? I'm not bothered by someone saying 42% of black women have never been married. I am bothered by how the tone and content of these articles often play into old tropes of black women as undesirable and of black communities on the verge of collapse.

They're also plain old sexist for a number of reasons. For one thing, this is always a crisis for black women. As one of my colleagues pointed out when we did a presentation on this, the percentage of black men who have never been married is quite similar (43% maybe--I need to find the number she unearthed) but we never hear about the black man's marriage crisis. The "problem" is quite often cast as black women having the nerve to get educated/be successful. This crisis also presumes that women are incomplete without men and marriage, that nothing we've accomplished matters, that contentment and happiness cannot exist for single women.

The "marriage crisis" is also used to obscure systemic/institutional causes of larger problems like poverty and lack of equal access. As I wrote in my half-hearted review of CNN's "Black In America"
After watching parts and pieces of CNN's Black in America: What's Wrong With The Black Woman and Family last night, I was worried.

I mean, I'm single, educated, and a mother. I felt practically doomed.

But! CNN has the solution for the problem I didn't even know I was: marriage. Yep.

See, marrying would mean that I wouldn't be a single mom anymore. And, it would magically mean no more poverty for single moms! Never mind that

1) Many single moms (like me) have arrangements that work for us and our children. I am single because I'm not married, but I'm not raising my child alone.

2) We refuse to adequately address pay equity and the devaluation of women's work which contribute to the impoverishment of women and children.

3) We've stigmatized and rendered thoroughly inadequate any system of social provision.

4) Marrying a guy who does not work or who works in low-wage labor won't solve much of anything.

5) What about single moms who don't want to marry? Is that not a valid option when you're poor?

6) What about single moms who don't want a heterosexual marriage because they're lesbian or bisexual?
I'm also irritated because no matter how much we analyze, challenge, and try to debunk the crisis, the news organizations proceed willfully unaware with these stories.

The other major source of my irritation/aggravation? So often the solution to the marriage crisis is presented as black women's need to settle/compromise. Our standards are too high, apparently. In that sense, the argument that "the" black church "keeps black women single" is not new. From Debborah Cooper (the article is based on a discussion she began):
"Black women are interpreting the scriptures too literally. They want a man to which they are 'equally yoked' -- a man that goes to church five times a week and every Sunday just like they do," Cooper said in a recent interview.

"If they meet a black man that is not in church, they are automatically eliminated as a potential suitor. This is just limiting their dating pool."
Now, I can understand Cooper's critique on some other points--she writes, for example, about how black churches are structured around "traditional gender roles which make women submissive to and inferior to men." But if a woman has made up her mind that it is important to marry a man who shares her beliefs and values, why all the demands that she compromise? Is that unreasonable? Don't women other than black women have similar desires?

My jaw dropped again when Cooper suggested that church-going black women should give up their Sunday morning habits to "leave-and go where the boys go: tailgates, bars and clubs."

Cooper says she is trying to empower black women. But what is empowering about giving up something to which you are dedicated to linger around places you might find questionable or unpleasant in effort to "get" a man?

To me, this sounds like more of the blame-the-black-woman-for-this-imaginary-crisis. What do you think?
I should really, really do another post on one magical solution that's been posited as the "crisis" has grown--interracial marriage. Of course, the issue is not interracial marriage itself, but the portrayal of it as an easy cure-all.

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