New Book Asks, “Is Marriage For White People?”

I almost feel bad for black women. It seems like the majority of the time they’re written about in the mainstream media, it’s about one of two topics: Why aren’t any of them married? as a question or None of them are married! as a statement. How frustrating that their representation in culture is thinned down to their marital status, right? The latest example is a new book by Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks called Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone about the so-called “man shortage” among middle-class blacks. As promotion for his book, Banks also published a piece in The New York Daily News last week entitled, “Why Black Women Are Justifiably Bitter: The Bleak Relationship Picture For African-American Females,” which began with the paragraph:

Stereotypes of black women as angry or bitter are pervasive. They are also more accurate than many people would like to acknowledge: many black women have perfectly good reasons to be angry or bitter.”

Oof.In the NY Daily News piece, Banks cites well-known statistics about how two out of three black women are unmarried and college-educated black women are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be alone. He also cites stats that 1 in 10 black men in the 20s or 30s is behind bars and a black man’s likelihood of being in jail at some point in his life is 1 in 4. He also notes that college-educated black men are less likely to marry a woman who is black.

Statistics are statistics; facts are facts. But what I’m uncomfortable with are the inferences that Banks draws from them, especially since I feel he’s using them to add fuel to already-vicious stereotypes about black women. The idea that black women are “bitter” and “angry” is itself an ugly stereotype, but it’s even uglier to attribute it to them being single and even uglier still to attribute it to them because single because there are not enough black men. I’m not so ignorant as to think there aren’t black women who want to end up with black men (just like there are Asians who want to end up with other Asians, and so on and so forth, etc.). But it’s hardly an experience one can attribute to an entire demographic of people. In my own anecdotal experience, I have met a black woman who only wanted to partner with and have children with a black man. I have met many black women who have dated white men. And I have met many black men who dated white women (including a black guy who dated me and claimed that no black women wanted to date him). In other words, every single person is different. One cannot draw broad conclusions on a whole race.

Has Banks considered that it is writers like him who further the stereotype that black women are “angry” and “bitter” which contributes to the racist culture which is harming these women in the first place? I am not a black woman, so it is not my place to list what black woman may have to be angry or bitter about. Is it too much to ask other people who are not black women, either, might treat them with the same respect? Given how Banks himself is a black man, I would hope he would have a sensitivity towards racial stereotypes like that. Writes Demetria L. Lucas in on Essence.com:

“Every author is under pressure to earn their royalties and that will make you do and say outrageous things to get attention. But pseudo-confirming the stereotype of Black women as bitter is a low blow. … Even for that narrow segment of Black women who may actually be bitter, it’s disingenuous, and well, arrogant for a man to attribute all bitterness to having a man, or better, lacking one.”

Here, here.

Racial politics and sexual politics are obviously sensitive subjects. I don’t mean to slap Banks down for trying to talk about them, because I truly believe we as a culture do need to discuss these difficult topics. But can’t we do it without rehashing ugly stereotypes?

[New York Daily News]
[Essence]
[The Daily]
[Wikipedia: Ralph Richard Banks]

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