Am I My Sister's Keeper?
Am I my sister's keeper? Well I've always thought and
been made to believe that I am, but I guess it depends on who you ask.
While it's been made to seem as if Black men started dating White woman as
soon as legal segregation ended, Black women's dating options have been
almost exclusively within the realm of Black men. Whether that practice is
changing, or Hollywood's recent release of two romantic comedies (and
though it wasn’t a comedy, Monster's Ball wasn't that long ago
either) themed around Black women finding love with White men, coinciding
with the recent conventional wisdom that there aren't any available Black
men, is mere coincidence, we might be a little dishonest pretending that
many Black women aren't facing some tough choices.
Regardless of “race” and ethnicity, women are surpassing men in college enrollment and graduation, but Black women in particular are enrolling and graduating from college at nearly double the rate of Black men, a disparity that does not exist among any other group. Perhaps it's not as much a shortage of Black men as it is a shortage of Black, college educated, "upwardly mobile", and white-collar employed, men. It would be easy for one to say that these women should perhaps "lower their expectations" but it's not always that simple. Usually what we have in common is a huge part of our interpersonal relationships, especially romantic ones. Attending college (especially if one goes away) and beyond can often open a large gap in the experiences, aspirations, and outlook of even people with similar upbringings. Add to that the fact that those with college and higher educational degrees generally earn significantly more than those without and we have a situation where many of these Black women are earning significantly more than their available male counterparts, which might not seem like a huge deal on paper but in practice is often a problem. Despite whatever progress that may have been made against sexism in the U.S., this is still a patriarchal society, and for many men the prospect of dating a woman who significantly out-earns him, who would be the primary breadwinner, and "doesn't need him" - as we've become so accustomed to hearing Black woman say - is both intimidating and emasculating. This is especially the case when this reversal of traditional financial roles is used to reverse other traditional roles.
For the Black men who match or better their female counterparts in terms of earning power and education they're at a premium and the longer they stay single the more apparent this becomes to them. This often manifest itself as an apparent fear of commitment and refusal to settle down - a behavior exhibited in American men of every ethnicity - but it is often born of something else, being a bit jaded. Excelling educationally is often a process that begins early in ones academic career and often comes at the expense of other pursuits that get one in with the "cool" crowd when they're an adolescent, (i.e. athletics, “street life”, general antisocial behavior), but often land them in prison or in the ranks of the underemployed/unemployed as an adult. For many of these now desirable bachelors, they remember a time not that long ago when they were certainly not the ladies first choice nor did they have their pick, so what many sistas’ (I know how to spell “brother” and “sister” but herein I’ll be using colloquial spellings and meanings denoting Black women and men, deal with it) pick up on now as arrogance or conceit from such men is often just that, and a bit of revenge consciously or subconsciously.
Meanwhile many Black woman who spent their mid to late twenties and maybe even early 30's, getting better educated, economically more self-sufficient, and "climbing the corporate ladder" find themselves being visited by the pressures of the "biological clock", as the 30's are knocking at the door, if they're not already sitting on the couch with their shoes off. Seemingly, at this point these Black Woman have several factors working against them, time, a relatively small pool of "professional" (white-collar, educated, superior-salary) Black men, general difficulty in getting any man to settle down, and competition from younger Black woman and allegedly women of other “races” and ethnicities. The latter of these factors, losing Black men to White woman, along with pseudo-phenomena like "DL brothas”, I think is more perception over reality. According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2000, though Black men are more likely than Black women by a few percentage points to marry non-Black partners, Blacks marry each other at a rate of approximately 94%. Indicating the rate for both Black men and women is well over 90% - not quite an epidemic.
Whether they are willing to admit it or not, the perception that droves of Black women are losing Black husbands to White women causes considerable angst among many Black woman, especially since it appears that when White woman marry Black men they rarely marry janitors. I understand their sense of disappointment and often resentment, because in light of America's recent and current history in terms of "race" relations, seeing these Black men marry White women must feel like a slap in the face. If it makes them feel any better, my guess is that most “professional” Black men who live near areas with significant numbers of Black people who can't find a sista' to marry probably weren't looking for one to begin with. And in the rare case of Black men who date almost exclusively outside their "race" or ethnicity they more than likely have some real serious issues to work out - you wouldn't have wanted him anyway. In the final analysis the perception of losing Black men to White women is probably driven more by America's obsession with celebrities and our consequent overexposure to the private lives of entertainers, athletes, and other famous rich people - who by virtue of their status live in a somewhat different dating world - than it has to do with any actual numbers.
Also though it's not clear how reliable statistics on homosexuality are, as far as the "DL brothers" are concerned, my best guess is the “phenomena” is probably more sensationalism, hype, and myth than reality too. Men of every hue have secretly practiced homosexuality in America for some time now (i.e. being in the closet), but when Black men do it is spawns a whole market of books, media fair, and soon movies, that have done little but spread paranoia and distrust in the Black community, causing countless women to question the sexuality of their significant other without probably cause.
That being said, many educated and "professional" Black woman are faced with some tough choices finding a mate, particularly if they are looking for that "fine", educated, white-collar, "professional", brotha’. So, what is an educated and "professional" sister to do? Should she "settle" for a Black man with less education and earning power than her for the sake of being with a brotha' and deal with the problems often generated in relationships when men are significantly out-earned by their mates? Should they risk waiting too long for "Mr. Absolutely Perfect", her "IBM" or Ideal Black Man, and possibly end up without a husband and/or children? Should they expand their playing field and start dating men of other "races" and ethnicities, particularly White men, as the media seems to subtly be telling Black woman with increasing frequency?
Honestly, I can't give one answer that applies to every individual but I would say by my best estimation, marriage across significant "racial" and ethnic lines (namely Black and White) in present day America, is probably not as viable an option as many people would like to pretend it is. If you're main concern is simple bettering the current financial prospects of your future husband, then maybe a White one will work for you, though I'm not quite sure how many White men are lining up to marry Black woman. However, if you’re trying to avoid other issues often encountered dealing with men, take advice from one, Black, White, or other - guys are GUYS!
This is by no means to say that marriage across “interracial” lines isn't on the table for some people or must be taken off the table for others, since people are far more than hair texture, facial features, and skin color, as are relationships. Personal beliefs, experiences, background, and upbringing are also very important and are related to a number of factors such as, culture, class (income), and the demographics of the area where one grows up. It is quite possible that as a Black man or woman that outside of skin color, you may have more in common with many Caucasians than you do with a person of the same ethnicity. Or maybe you were raised in the kind of environment or area where "interracial" dating between Black and White was not that uncommon. Particularly in such situations, who am I to advise you about who you should and shouldn't marry?
Personally I know any number of married or seriously dating couples whose relationships can be classified as crossing "racial" or ethnic lines, and although most of their unions are between non-Whites and other non-Whites, they don't trouble me in the least. Even in my not so distant past when Black and White couples used to at least get my attention, I usually reserved judgment unless I knew a little something about the parties involved. Perhaps I find the "race" or ethnicity of the couple far less interesting since as friends and acquaintances I am much more interested in the character, experiences, and world outlook of the people involved. Perhaps this is also because their unions don't feature the same historical undertones as those between Blacks and Whites in America.
Although America is no longer legally segregated, in practice it still is in many ways. Sure Blacks and Whites play together, work together, occasionally live in the same neighborhoods (until the Whites move away when that second Black family moves in), and sometimes attend the same schools, but there is often a chasm in their experiences and outlooks along the lines of color. Black men and women want and need spouses who can support, understand, and relate to their struggles against everyday issues of racism and White supremacy, both real and imagined, not someone who knows nothing of this experience and is probably going to try and convince them that they're being paranoid or overly sensitive.
We still live in a country where most Whites believe "racism" ended with Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream Speech", while people of color point to clear and documented discrimination from the Federal government to the private sector. Unless one spouse is an extremely understanding, open-minding, and probably progressive Caucasian or a Condoleezza Rice type Negro who believes they pulled themselves "up by their bootstraps" and Black folks need to stop complaining, or they both are just very "apolitical" (which in itself is a political decision), it's hard to see how this fault line in world views can be reconciled in a marriage. Will you avoid talking about politics or social issues, or get married hoping to change you spouse's views, or just agree to disagree on many issues of possibly great importance? Then of course there is always the issue of family. Too often people look at marriage as just the joining of two individuals, and if you're somewhat estranged from your family it very well may be, but for many people it's also at least a partial joining of two families. A relationship where one or both families doesn't approve of the spouse their child or loved one has chosen, can be a recipe for bad stew, and adding the ingredient of "race" probably won't make it taste any better.
But at the end of the day a lot comes down to the simple truth, that companionship is more than a want or desire, I would say it's a basic human need and I won't demand or suggest anyone be alone rather than date across "racial" lines, if that is truly the choice with which one feels they are faced. Though current realities demand that it be treated as something concrete and real, “race” in itself is really a social construct, not science, anyway. Ultimately people have to make whatever decision they feel comfortable with and hopefully they will make it for the right reasons – scare tactics not being one of them. Recently I’ve been hearing the statistic that approximately 42% of Black women have never been married, and on it's face it's pretty frightening, but numbers like these hardly tell the whole truth. For instance, for Black men that number is 46%. Legal marriages are happening later, and in general, on the decline in numbers. As social norms change more people are choosing to live together while remaining technically unmarried and "shotgun weddings" caused by pregnancy or other complications are not nearly as common as they were several decades ago. Furthermore, statistically speaking there is a strong correlation between marriage and economic resources. Simply put, poor people of any color get married at a much lower rate than people of better economic means, and Black people make up a disproportionate percentage of America's poor.
Not being married doesn't mean a women will never experience meaningful and committed male companionship or have children, it just means she won't have signed any legal paperwork - though let me be clear - by no means am I encouraging doing the whole "baby mama" thing. However, too often women especially, tend to romanticize marriage and seemingly do it out of understandable pressures placed on them, by themselves and society eventually ending up in relationships that were doomed or in need of some serious counseling from inception. In this fantasy about marriage and a big, beautiful, expensive wedding, that many women have been having drilled into their skulls since childhood, we forget that overall about half of American marriages end in divorce. If Black men aren't marrying Black women, as is often suggested, then they're probably not the ones getting divorced either.
Most us think back to out parents or grandparents marriages, some of which lasted 30-40-50-years and seemed so perfect. However, I would venture to say that the reason many of those old time marriages lasted so long was because we lived in a society where WOMEN didn't have any options! The high divorce rate is not just a product of the weakness of many of these relationships but of a changing society. Whether a woman's husband was verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive, or unfaithful most women of any race didn't have the option to leave being they couldn't adequately provide for themselves or their families for a variety of reasons beyond their control. In many cases women reached a certain age and had made such an investment of time in a relationship that exiting was pointless even if the opportunity arose. Even if you've never seen dad abuse mom or grandpa abuse grandma more than a few of us have some brothers and/or sisters, or aunts and/or uncles that your mother or grandmother didn't give birth to, who were born after you're never-divorce parents or grandparents were married (someone had a mistress).
Nobody is saying that it's easy out there for Black women, particularly those with college degrees and above. In my own experience I know significantly more Black women who have themselves "together" (at least credential-wise) and are looking for a Black man to settle down with, than I have available Black male friends (with similar backgrounds) who I can recommend to them, but sometimes these same women are their own worst enemies. Some of their desires and expectations are simply unrealistic, or petty, and seemingly come from a time in America that doesn't exist any more. When they're in their dating primes (mid twenties) most, strictly want a college-educated man with a "professional" (White-collar, high-paying) job, city workers, bus drivers, police, and the like head to the back of the line. These are the types of women you here say things like, " I don't date men who wear uniforms to work". The trappings of "success", i.e., a nice car, nice clothes, the appearance of sound finances, etc seem far too attractive to them even if the guy is an asshole who is simultaneously dating numerous women. The fantasy I suppose is that he, or maybe they both, will work, have 2.5 kids, a nice big house, and vacation in some part of Martha's Vineyard or whatever it's Black bourgeoisie West Coast or Midwest equivalent may be - a brown version of the "American Dream" I suppose. We’re all conditioned to want these things, so such desires are understandable to a degree, and I don't want to sound like I'm telling all these women to "settle" when it comes to men but so much of the definition of "settling" for these women involves finance, pretense, status and not the things that truly make a relationship work. Indeed, money matters, it is still one of the leading reasons cited for divorce, but there are a variety of flavors to that equation; it's not like people just divorce because one or both partners don't earn enough. Too many people apparently didn't get the memo that not even America, believes in the "American Dream" any more. The reality it that by their 30's many of these same women will have significantly revised their "must-have lists" to far more attainable standards though by this point many will no longer be in position to dictate the terms of their agreement.
We live in a country that in its’ attempt to maintain an unsustainable economic system and never-ending quest for ever larger profits for the wealthy, is cannibalizing itself economically and socially. The nation is seemingly more interested in incarcerating its working class population than they are in employing them. At the rate it's going soon there will hardly be a manufacturing sector in the U.S. as large sections of the of working class are being rendered obsolete or seeing their jobs moved oversees to cheaper labor markets, and more and more this is beginning to apply to some White collar workers too. The fact is that what we view as great jobs or a "profession" is subject to change and the economy. The corporate drive for ever increasing profits has made the jobs and life circumstances of all of us who need to work for a living less certain, as most of us are far closer to the unemployment line and/or shaky financial times than we care to admit. Higher-education (college, graduate school, etc) is increasingly being made less affordable and saddling those who attend with obscene amounts of educational debt. It's not a good time to be planning a future whose happiness is based as much around the things in it, as the people in it.
Even if the statistics were more to Black "professional” employed
Black women's liking or Black women start dating White men in droves, that
hardly guarantees that she will find the relationship of her dreams,
because no thing or person can assure that. For those Sistas' still
looking primarily for Black men, as a member of this group, I can offer a
little advice; the first point being by far the most important, and that
is trash the checklist of non-essential things, and silly pet peeves, and
get down to your deal-breakers and “non-negotiables”. If you really
MUST have a man who is deeply involved in and regularly attends church,
and shares your faith then why waste your time with men who don't, never
did, and probably never will (though I wouldn’t be surprised if you may
be a little too wrapped up in that church)?
- Don’t lose “you” looking for “him”. You
need to be happy regardless of the existence/non-existence of a man in
your life, otherwise, you’ll be a slave to every “him” that comes
As a Black man I can't promise any Black women she'll find her dream husband (well maybe one of you), but I can assure them that through it all, I am still my Sistas' keeper. In our search for a mate, hopefully each of us will find what we are looking for and more importantly what we need, wherever that search leads.
Released: February 7th, 2005
The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of Playahata.com.