Are Black Women Being Used As Scapegoats?

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.

Join the Conversation

  • cattrack2

    Thank Obama. Or to be precise, Michelle Obama. The elevation of a black woman to First Lady has elevated issues affecting black women, esp educated, black professional women. Its a big, frustrating issue for many black women. As one such friend of mine wrote on her FB wall:
    “Am I the only one who is tired of hearing about the problems that successful sistas have finding a good black man? I get it and don’t need to constant reminder, Nightline!”
    So, tiresome, yes, scapegoating, no.
    And for the record, Steve Harvey rocks on social commentary! He’a a black Jon Stewart!

  • Athenia

    re: Okcupid debunking
    OMG! Why didn’t I think that?!

  • Dawn.

    I disagree. Steve Harvey is definitely not the black Jon Stewart. He traffics in sexist generalizations and sensational, sound-byte ready commentary that is devoid of true substance.
    Samhita – I completely agree with your frustrations. The depiction of the “lonely professional black woman” is the 21st century reincarnation of the “welfare queen.” It is a sweeping generalization that refuses to take a variety of factors into account and pushes the same tired sexist stereotype that all women are doomed to loneliness without some magical little piece of paper (marriage license). I wouldn’t call it “scapegoating,” per se, but it’s definitely effed up.

  • Tracey T

    Telling women that we need to be “shiny and new” to keep a man is not helpful and it certainly isn’t rocking (yeah, yeah rocking is subjective). This is a man that is going about telling women that they need to maintain themselves in a superficial manner at all times, regardless of wether they want to or not, in order to have a successful relationship. He is also telling them instead of demanding egalitarianism in a relationship if they want it, they should let the man be in charge and feel financially needed and dominant. He is telling women that we should make our men feel “needed” in a finacial sense especially, as oppose to telling men that it should be enough that they are wanted and not go around bohooing that not all marriages are little more than economic slavery where the women can’t leave b/c of lack of economic support and oppurtunity.
    And what he said about atheists is beyond, just so beyond. Calling him the “black Jon Stewart” is also problematic. If he was that great then no such qualifier and comparison should be necessary, instead “great social commentator on black issues/community” would suffice. It also insults the intelligence of Jon Stewart and, I feel, black people. We have a whole lot better than Steve Harvey, and they don’t tell women to be walking barbies and pretend to be dependant on anyone for money, safety, shelter,etc.

  • supremepizza

    I have to respectfully disagree. Jon Stewart doesn’t traffic in generalizations and sound bytes??? If he didn’t he wouldn’t be employed as a comic. Generalizations & sound bytes are his–and every other comedians–stock in trade.
    And the “single lonely women” narrative is nowhere near the same as “welfare queens”. The welfare queen trope defined nearly 20yrs of US domestic policy. It was one of the things that led to Newt Gingrich & the “Contract with America” & ultimately led to a lifetime limit on welfare recipients. SLW will not determine the federal budget in any way, shape, or form.

  • cattrack2

    Sorry, I have to defer to the persons with a column in Essence magazine.
    I think Essence has its finger on the pulse of black women a lot more than does Feministing.

  • supremepizza

    I think the Jon Stewart comparison was apt. And on this blog I think you have to call him the “black Jon Stewart”. Feministing generally, and Samhita specifically, makes an admirable attempt to bring up multi-culti issues, but I don’t think multi-culti issues are widely understood on this blog.
    You know there was a time when they said the same thing about Richard Pryor–provocative, generalizing, etc. But I guarantee you that white people learned more about black people from Richard Pryor than they ever did from Henry Louis Gates (no disrespect to HLG who I really love).
    That didn’t make Pryor always right, not does it make Harvey always right. The job of a politician is to get you to agree. The job of a social commentator is to get you to question. The editors of this blog can be every bit as provocative in their framing of issues as Steve Harvey. And seeing how rapidly its readers are growing, it seems like a good strategy.


    Steve Harvey is wack!
    His book promotes 1950’s style relationships (classic example – he praises his third wife for giving up her beloved scuba diving hobby because Steve can’t swim and thus can’t “protect” her from the fish underwater)
    Harvey also tells women that men should always pay for every date, men should always open doors for women (and if he doesn’t open the door for you, just stand there until he opens it – do not open the door yourself!) and women should put men on 90 day probation at the beginning of a relationship (that is, don’t have sex with them for 90 days before they get the benefits – he cites Ford Motor Co personnel policies as the basis for this idea)
    Of course, we don’t live in the 1950’s, and, honestly, do we want to?
    Remember, that was the Jim Crow era – hardly a positive time for our race.
    As far as I’m concerned, Steve Harvey is a great comedian and a very sharp dresser (I love his suits and I try and dress like him) – but as far as relationships are concerned, he’s stuck in the past.


    I’m sorry, but Richard Prior > Steve Harvey!
    Steve Harvey on his best day simply cannot measure up to even the worst of Richard Prior’s work.
    Richard Prior was a legend – not just for African American comedy, but for entertainment as a whole.
    Steve Harvey is just another funny guy (the comedy clubs of this country are filled with folks as funny or even funnier than he is).
    Oh yeah, Prior also was honest enough with himself and his repeated failings as a husband and father that he would never have put himself forth as a “relationship expert”.
    Steve needs to get back to middlebrow comedy – and leave the social commentary and dating advice to folks who actually know what they are talking about.