Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Over It: The Mainstream Media's Preoccupation with Black Women and Marriage

A month ago, my grandmother, the woman who raised me, passed away on Mother's Day. She was a woman who was so very loved in her community, a woman who'd worn her husband's wedding ring, a husband who'd died thirty-seven years prior, until days before she made her transition. She was from an era when more often women, irrespective of race, were married than not; but she lived during a time when that expectation shifted, especially for black women. I count myself as lucky that I had a grandmother who impressed independence, success, and being the best "Me" I could be instead of one who bothered me about when was I going to give her great-grandbabies. In fact, she impressed upon my sister and I caution and good choices—be very careful when and with whom you build a family. Somehow, I don't think she was the only grandmother/mother/aunt/godmama/sister/cousin who has been telling women of my generation that same bit of advice.

However, it seems it's hurricane season, and black women are the mighty rocks in the middle of an ocean bracing against the punishing waves of mainstream media and “experts” who are only so-called because said mainstream media (MSM) stuck a microphone in his face regarding black women and (the lack of) marriage. Yes, his. Very few women, and even fewer black women, seem to be part of the discussion. Instead, we’re called upon to react, not to propose a hypothesis, because maybe we’ll tell it like it is, which many of these “experts” don’t want to hear. It’s much easier to tell us what we’re doing wrong; what we should be doing, instead of acknowledging that we’re doing many things right—and even many things MSM tell other women (read: nonblack women) to do in order to “get a man”. No, let’s just bypass strong, committed relationship, but “a man”. Not necessarily “a good black man”, because those are unicorns who don’t want black women no kind of way. Our standards are astronomical, some of these “experts” say, because the majority of us demand a partner who is on our level (not solely status/material level) or who is working to get there, and vice versa. Of course, you have the outliers in every race of women who want someone to do everything and give them everything for nothing in return; but as normal when people of color are in the media, those outliers, the negatively stereotypical ones especially, are used as the boilerplate for all of those people of color; in this case, black women.

When we’re growing up, we’re told to reach for the sky with our goals in terms of a career & life aspirations; that we can do anything and be anything as long as we set our minds to it. Why then, should I and other black women expect/settle for the anthill when it comes to our mates—irrespective of color or gender? The black women discussed in these articles are accomplished, educated, intelligent, well-traveled, financially secure, and overall attractive. Why is it, then, their fault they don’t “have a man”/partner? More, why is it there are no articles about slack, noneducated, little-traveled, and broke women having problems getting “a man”? Or is the case of “of course those women don’t have life partners” w/ a subtle insinuation of it doesn’t matter how high you (black women) climb, you still aren’t worthy? Or even more damning, “the ‘sadiddier’ you get, the less likely you’ll find a man (of any race) who wants you.”? Naturally, this is not only counterintuitive, but also nonsensical. I’m of the firm belief you get what you put out, and if I put out “I want half-assed men/partners”, that’s all I’m going to get, which will inevitably leave me unhappy. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be unhappy; and there’s a reason an anthem in the black community among women especially is “I can do bad all by myself.”

Which may be why black women aren’t getting married in the first place. The divorce rate, particularly, apparently, for black women in this country, is ridiculous, and it would be ridiculous for anybody to marry just to avoid being a negative statistic. I think I and a lot of other black women would rather put off marriage or not get married at all than to marry someone not worth the effort. Some are even willing to “man share”, especially when one considers the apparent “dearth” of “available (i.e., worthwhile) black men”, but even many articles admit most women don’t even know they’re sharing men. Then folks seem to be operating under the assumption these women even want to get married at all; like Tina said, “What’s love got to do with it?” Marriage is a sacrifice that, until recently, didn’t really work in an independent woman’s favor. You’re giving up your name, your identity to “cleave” unto a whole new one. If you are established as one person, it’s a pain to have to change your name, and all the things that are in it, because you married the love of your next five-to-ten (even though the societal time frame should be until death). And did I mention divorce is expensive? Being single is definitely more fiscally sound than getting married to your first ex-husband. But this recent deluge of articles about black women and why are they single and why no one wants to marry them seems to be trying to induce a state of panic among the targeted group of black women, in which I include myself: educated, intelligent, well-traveled, possessing of good home training, and attractive. And single. But I also have standards, standards that are actually more flexible than many would assume given these articles. They’re so flexible, high melanin content is actually not a requirement in my dating choices.

Yes, folks, that means I’m open to interracial dating.

But when you read those articles about “interracial dating at all time high”, there is the continuous sidebar of “except for black women and Asian men”, but very little analysis of how the intersection of race and gender pan out into those baleful statistics. How the masculinization of black women and the emasculation of Asian men in Western society in particular play a role in their “suffering” marriage rates to people in other ethnicities. There’s even little acknowledgment of the racialization of marriage to begin with, that “interracial” marriage only counts if there is a white person involved. But as the rhetoric pertains to black women in general, the either/or of it all is, quite frankly, frustrating. The articles are usually framed as “black women are the least likely to outmarry of all races” which means “the pool of available black men is shrinking because a ‘great’ number of them outmarry”, thus “black women need to look elsewhere, or else they’ll be alone” except “Well, black women aren’t at the top of the list for chosen mates, even for black men”. Of course, this rhetoric breeds contempt between the sexes intra-racially, which is counterproductive on so many levels. Some vocal black men claim black women aren’t loyal, aren’t “down”, are greedy and whatever other negative stereotypes they’ve absorbed from society, and vice versa. And as someone who writes many love stories featuring black women with nonblack men, this previous tack of “excuses” why to outmarry is annoying, myopic, and just as racist as a KKK member saying black people are lower than dirt. As a black woman born of a black man and a black woman, and a woman who has seen many Barack & Michelle Obamas in her family before she even knew a Barack & Michelle Obama existed, I take great exception to the “grass is greener” school of thought for interracial marriages. The funny thing about pedestals, folks can fall off once you put them up there.

I’m not looking for a pedestal. I’m not looking to be worshipped or to worship someone other than my God. I don’t need to put down black men to “justify” why I like Bob or Juan or Yoshi or Mohammed or Hakan, and black men need to stop doing that to justify their nonblack partner. It 1.) cheapens why you’re in the relationship in the first place and/or 2.) reveals you don’t like yourself or who your people are. Having sex and having children with someone of a different race doesn’t make it love/nonracist. Ask Sally Hemmings or the countless other black women who’ve had to submit to white men’s sexual force. “We’re all the same color when the lights go out” people like to say to “prove” they aren’t racist, but how you treat me when the lights are on matters far more to me than how you do when they’re off. And contrary to popular belief, I’m not going to let you treat me any kind of way. Respectful or loving, or you can keep stepping, which would be your loss, because I have a lot of love to give. But I love myself and respect myself too much to just give myself willy nilly.

I’m over it. Over it. I’m over the MSM telling me I think I’m too good for the right love; that I should just accept anything because he’s “all right” and has high melanin content or because he’s white (there’s very little talk about other ethnicities of men/partners for us, curiously). I’m tired of these articles focusing on material criteria/status markers when, for me anyway, those are not the top five qualities I look for in a mate. Can we talk? Can we make each other laugh? Can we create those butterflies in each other’s bellies with just a glance or a smile? Do our faces split into an automatic grin whenever someone just mentions your/my name? Do we have the same values; and if not, do we still respect and listen to each other when we differ? Why are folk so concerned about not only who I let in my bed, but who I let put a ring on it? And yes, BeyoncĂ© got it wrong—I’m not letting anyone who merely likes me put a ring on it, either. You gotta love me and vice versa. Two-way street. Until then, I and many other black women will live our successful independent lives until Mr./Mrs. Right is ready to enter a partnership with us instead of settling for Mr./Mrs. Right Now; and for my part, I’ll continue to write about black women falling in love with their The Ones no matter the color. I always tell my readers I may put my black heroines through some mess, but she will always have her happy ending. That’s why I write the books and that’s why you read them.

I have the right and even the responsibility to demand that for myself in real life too. Don’t be mad you can’t make the cut. Step up your game, son!

No comments: