Why, you wonder, why Samhita do you ask these rhetorical questions? But, I haven’t had much of substance to say about the new mainstream media obsession with black women’s marriage options since it is so frustrating and as you may know I am writing a book on dating, marriage and romance, so I don’t really feel like blogging about the topic. I mean there was the OKCupid study that Ta-Nehisi debunked quite effectively, but everyone from Nightline to the Economist has something to say about it. And all of a sudden Steve Harvey is a relationship expert? Give me a break. Of all the issues affecting black women today, marriage rates are what we are going to use our resources to spotlight?
As I scoured the internet for some sense, I stumbled upon this piece by Farai Chideya where she asks the bigger question, is this about the economy and maybe about status?
Black women also get oddly, back-handedly criticized for being too functional — for being the majority of black college graduates and growing old alone. In reality, black women with college degrees are more likely to have married by age 40 than those with high school degrees (70 to 60 percent). For white women, high school educated women are slightly more likely to have married than college-educated ones (88 to 86 percent).
There is some serious head-tripping going on here, and I have a feeling it doesn’t just have to do with black women. It has to do with a deep re-appraisal of relative social value during this time of economic insecurity. Women have been able to hold onto their jobs in this economy better than men have. On a racial level, sociologist William Julius Wilson noted during a recent speech at Harvard’s Black Policy Conference that for the first time in more than a decade, the relative black unemployment rate is less than a 2-to-1 ratio to the white rate. The white unemployment rate is still far lower, but the relative income insecurity of white workers is rising faster.
We see that anxiety over lost status manifesting publicly in political rallies. And some people are looking for comfort in the perceived misfortune of others. (Is that hard-wired? A 2007 brain scan study from the University of Bonn that showed that relative wealth seems to tickle our pleasure centers more than absolute wealth. In other words, we want to be better-than even more than we want to be better off.) Right now, it’s the black woman’s turn to play the black sheep. Or as one person who wrote into my blog put it, “The `sad lonely career woman’ is the `welfare queen’ of the 2000s.”
So, essentially black women are being constructed as a crisis when they are, as Amanda Marcotte put it when we were talking about this over the weekend, “ahead of the curve,” when it comes to relationships, career and personal advancement.
I think what frustrates me more is that these sweeping statements about dating and marriage are very hard to measure. Sure you can tell me this many people are married, this many are divorced, but that tells you nothing about how people are actually interacting romantically. By single do they just mean unmarried? Because then most of us are single and unsuccessful at finding “love”, including those of us that are not single. Also, like many communities, alternative relationship structures prevail, so this doesn’t account for same sex-relationships, queer relationships, casual sexual friendship relationships (yes I made that up, but you know what I am talking about), open relationships, live-in and unmarried partnerships. Perhaps the real problem isn’t that black women are single, but they are doing what women from all races, cultures, sexualities, class backgrounds and ethnicities are doing–living by a different set of rules.
I am not denying there are many black women that want to get married, I am just saying we should take a more holistic view of the situation and factor in economics, education, family structure and other types of relationships. I mean at least before we start taking Steve Harvey’s advice. And can we please stop shaming women that aren’t married? It is not a measure of success, I thought we figured that out already.