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An honest assessment of the state of black intimate unions
on October 18, 2011
At first I thought it would be difficult to write an impartial review of Ralph Richard Banks' recently published book "Is Marriage for White People?"; however, now that I've read the book, I don't see how anyone could read it and not come away agreeing with Mr. Banks conclusion: black women need to be more open to dating interracially, both for their own sakes and for the sake the black community as a whole. Notes and a bibliography constitute almost one-third of Mr. Banks book; if you disagree with any of his facts he provides you with ample opportunity to read the same books, studies, and surveys he read to double-check what he has written and to come to your own conclusions.
Here are the facts, all of which are covered in "Is Marriage for White People?": almost half of all black women have had an abortion, over twice the rate for white women; 2 black women graduate from college every year for every black male that graduates; black men out-marry (i.e., marry interracially) at over twice the rate of black women; there are two million more black women in America than black men; black women have exponentially higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases when compared against other groups of women due to the high incidence of `man-sharing' that occurs among black women; and black children that are raised by single parents have life-outcomes similar to children raised in a household with married parents--which speaks to how inadequately many married black households are performing when it comes to the task of conferring the benefits of being born within marriage onto their children.
Mr. Banks does not blame black women or black men for the sad state of affairs amongst blacks. Black women and men have, for the most part, only been able to respond to factors beyond their control--such as housing policy, welfare policy, educational policy, and the War on Drugs. Banks does not seek to place blame as much as he seeks to elucidate the factors that have brought the state of marriage and family amongst blacks to its current position.
Replete with the retelling of the experiences and thoughts of black women--and others, including black men--from across the country, Banks fleshes out his fact-filled book with the flesh-and-blood stories of those on the ground. Why do black women feel that they must take it upon themselves to rebuild the black family? Why do so many black women choose to share a black man with other women in lieu of expending their time and energy pursuing monogamous relationships with available non-black men? What are the consequences of man-sharing, not only in how black women treat men but in how black men and women treat each other? "Is Marriage for White People?" gets at the heart of these questions and provides clearly explained, even-handed responses to what's at stake here.
Before I read this book, one of the questions I had was, "Why do black women seem to express a greater desire to `rebuild' the black community than black men?" In the book, Mr. Banks answers my question by referring to the much maligned yet influential Moynihan Report of 1965 which described lower class black families as a `tangle of pathology'. When you think it about, who is most responsible for the family? For nurturing the children and making sure that they are well-behaved, attend school, and have moral fiber? While the sentiment that says the mother is the heart of the family and the father is the head may be changing, it isn't changing faster enough to mitigate the almost inevitable conclusion black women of the 60's and 70's came to that declared that if the children were dysfunctional then the mother was at fault. Black women accepted this sentiment, according to Banks, and thus took on the responsibility of righting the course of the black family by desiring to birth black babies who would grow up and prove with their behavior that blacks were no more dysfunctional than whites.
Some have declared that Banks came to an erroneous conclusion for his prescription of what ails black relationships; these detractors felt that instead of calling on black women to marry-out more and marry down less, he should have been calling on more social programs to improve the lot of black males. While improving the lot of black males is a noble and worthy cause, after reading Banks book I find it difficult to believe that one could assume that benefits to black males will trickle down to black women. After all, black males are already marrying out at twice the rate of black women--who can say that once the most impoverished of black males have been rehabilitated they won't exercise their right to marry non-black women, taking all of the benefits of those social programs with them? Why should black women spend their time and other resources investing in black men, hoping for trickle down benefits, when they can invest in themselves and have a more direct return on their investment?
But more importantly, I believe that the people who claim that black women should invest their time and energy into rehabilitating black men with the hopes that those men will then marry black women are failing to understand that this further infantilizes black men while placing black women into the role of mother to men that they did not birth. In my opinion, this prescription to `raise up the men you hope to marry' would only further distance black men and women from each other--what woman wants to marry a man she raised and what man wants to marry a woman whom he sees as a motherly figure? The `raise up your husband' paradigm seems to place black women and men at even greater odds with each other than they are now by placing them into the role of "mother" and "son" instead of "independent adult" and "independent adult."
"Is Marriage for White People?" is a tour de force; the book combines scholarship, social science, policy prescription, and the first-person narratives of black women in a format that is easy to read and digest. Ralph Richard Banks has written a book that deserves to be widely wide among those who seek to understand why so many black women marry down but not out, and do so, quite possibly, to their own detriment and to the detriment of blacks as a whole.