Monday, March 27, 2006

Marriage is for White People?

Joy Jones writes to tell us “Jump on in, the water’s fine!” as the sharks circle closer and closer. How nice. In her essay “Marriage is for White People” she manages to make some terrific, if unintended, points.

First of all, let’s agree on the facts. On the whole, unmarried black women with children are tremendously economically disadvantaged. That’s irrefutable. Black children growing up in fatherless households are similarly troubled. Drug use, education, crime, it’s worse for these kids. These are just statistical facts. With sample sizes in the millions and standard deviations small in comparison to the differences between groups, only the math-challenged would argue otherwise.

Joy, however, writes a column almost completely untroubled by facts. With analysis of the quality shown in her article, she might just as well claim that unmarried black women rise from the sea at dawn, tentacles waving in the air, to menace Tokyo.

Joy’s article describes the results of interviews with unmarried black women who claim that being married is worse. In this, Joy demonstrates a complete lack of basic analytical skills. Allow me to explain.

Statistics describe trends. Interviews describe mechanisms. It is possible to be struck by lightning. We can interview the people who were hit and discover how the event occurred. However, it is not true to say that it is more common to die from a lightning strike than a heart attack.

Even if you interview four people who were hit by lightning, it is still less common than a heart attack. What Joy has done is common in journalism. Perhaps reporters are frightened by equations and hope that by ignoring them, they’ll just go away. Alas, they do not. Journalists typically substitute interviews for analysis. They carefully choose their interviews to leave you with a certain impression.

In Joy’s case, she wants us all to believe that the apple that hit Sir Isaac Newton was an anomaly, the one that managed to fall down rather than join it’s brethren that were hurling themselves at the sun. Of course, dear. How nice. Why don’t you have a cool drink and lie down for a while? You’ll feel ever so much better.

While Joy takes a much-needed rest, let’s examine her essay in detail.

She was raised in an intact family and wanted one of her own. She never married.

For years, I wondered why not. And then some 12-year-olds enlightened me.

"Marriage is for white people."
Despite their earnestness, 12 year olds have very little to teach us about marriage.

After demonstrating that she has some grasp of real numbers and statistics, she panics and runs away from them, falling into the comforting arms of the interview. Startled by the fact that antebellum blacks were more likely to be married than 21st century blacks, she confuses cause and effect.

It's hard to know "what normal looks like" when it comes to courtship, marriage and parenthood. Sex, love and childbearing have become a la carte choices rather than a package deal that comes with marriage. Moreover, in an era of brothers on the "down low," the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the decline of the stable blue-collar jobs that black men used to hold, linking one's fate to a man makes marriage a risky business for a black woman.

"A woman who takes that step is bold and brave," one young single mother told me. "Women don't want to marry because they don't want to lose their freedom."
This is totally at odds with statistics. Married black women have more than double the household income of unmarried ones and unless the single ones have become unstuck in time like Laurence Simon was this weekend, they have more to do and less time to do it in. When less time and less money equals more freedom, you know you have left Earth far behind.

Others have convincingly argued that the brothers are on the down low because they have no responsibilities other than taking care of themselves. Husbands joke about doing what they’re supposed to because the wife will get mad if they don’t, but there’s a basic truth behind it. Women civilize men. If you’re men aren’t civilized, look in the mirror. You’re only worth as much as you cost. You haven’t demanded civilized behavior.

If they were good husbands when they were starving and being whipped and they’re bad ones now, then the trouble must be you. That is, external forces were far worse before, so external forces cannot be responsible for increased failure now. She goes on.

My observation is that black women in their twenties and early thirties want to marry and commit at a time when black men their age are more likely to enjoy playing the field.
And that field consists of what? The field is you and your friends. When your culture lionizes pimps, don’t be surprised that you’ve got a lot of pimps on your hands. Pimps are of limited social value. Only a total idiot would mistake a pimp for a good husband. Who made them pimps? What other profession is required for a pimp to operate?

Perhaps Joy really is unstuck in time. Dig this:

In the past, marriage was primarily just such a business deal. Among wealthy families, it solidified political alliances or expanded land holdings. For poorer people, it was a means of managing the farm or operating a household.
In what past? The 1700s? Do any of you know anyone who arranged political marriages for their children?

She finally gets to the real heart of the article. The article is all about her peers: educated, successful, career-minded black women.

Most single black women over the age of 30 whom I know would not mind getting married, but acknowledge … they are not desperate enough to simply accept any situation just to have a man.
Joy’s article simply dissolves at this point. She uses group statistics and then argues from the point of view of a subgroup that is completely anomalous in her overall statistics. She’s examining mortality causes at a lightning victims’ convention.

Near the end, she finally talks to a man who can tell her what it’s like to pick up the pieces left by the destruction of marriage.

He has worked with troubled adolescents, and has observed that "the girls who are in the most trouble and who are abused the most -- the father is absent. And the same is true for the boys, too."
For Joy and her friends, society is everyone else. She hears this and clucks her tongue at the sadness of it all and then looks out for number one while wrapping up her dreadful statistical analysis and a rationale for marriage from the Renaissance.

Her conclusion? All the single guys she knows suck.
…if marriage is to flourish…it will have to offer an individual woman something more than a business alliance…As one woman said, "If it weren't for the intangibles, the allure of the lovey-dovey stuff, I wouldn't have gotten married. The benefits of marriage are his character and his caring."


Paula said...

Good points!

There's nothing wrong with being single. But this article seems to glorify it for all the wrong reasons. The old "what's love gotta do with it" philosophy.

Whatever happened to being single b/c you want to be single? Why go back to the old "there are NO, absolutely NO good black men." That argument is so 1990!

And for the type of man these women are looking for, has it ever crossed their mind that when he looks at them they may not meet HIS standards - professionally or b/c of their baggage?

plez... said...

I don't think it takes a rocket scientist and the Washington Post to make the LEAP... Marriage is for White People! It appears that marriage isn't very good for most people (with a 50% divorce rate). I would opine that lack of marriage in the Black community has a more devastating because it removes one more stabalizing entity in the community.

Frank Warner said...


You’re right that Joy Jones’ analysis isn’t exact, but I’ll giver her a break and assume she was trying to use both statistics and her personal impressions about the reasons for black fatherlessness.

On Jones’ quoting the woman who said black women avoid marriage to avoid the loss of freedom, your point is a good one. Marriage gives a woman more freedom to do certain things. On the other hand, it also limits other freedoms. Partners do have to report to each other, agree on schedules, and not do certain things. Jones notes that young black women do want marriage, so I guess they agree with you. But she says young black women are interested in marriage at a time when young black men are not, and older black women are less interested in marriage because older black men bring fewer benefits and, often, more burdens.

I’m not sure of the statistics behind your statement that "If your men aren’t civilized, look in the mirror. You [women] haven’t demanded civilized behavior." There may be some truth in what you say, but my guess is, a lot more factors are involved. Black women didn’t just decide in 1960 to stop "demanding civilized behavior" of black men. A swarm of economic, social and political changes had their effects. And racism didn’t go away. Self-destructive reactions to racism didn’t disappeared either, and many anti-social behaviors appear as the result of conditions so subtle that no social scientist even tries to quantify them.

You’re right about wealthy families and arranged political marriages. Doesn’t happen that way. But maybe it happens intentionally unintentionally. There’s the old saying, "Don’t marry for money, but hang around the rich and marry for love." Certainly the rich try to keep their rich and cultured children around other rich and cultured children, and, voila, many marry within the strata.

It’s true, as you point out, that Jones is not writing from the perspective of most black women. She’s writing from the perspective of the black women she knows: educated, successful, career-minded black women. But OK, she pretty much says that. My guess is, some of the reasons that successful black women aren’t finding men to marry are similar to the reasons that poor black women aren’t finding men to marry.

It’s not that all poor blacks celebrate pimps and ho’s. They don’t. And it’s not that all affluent blacks don’t know the culture of pimps and ho’s, because most Americans know something about it. But there’s much more. There is racism. There is the self-defeating mentality of entitlement. There is disillusionment. There are around 1 million black men in prison. That affects all black men and women.

How does Joy Jones get her marriage of the Renaissance when 1 million black men are in prison? It’s not that she was hanging out with many of these men before they went to prison. It’s that they didn’t get the education and habits that kept them in the pool of potential loving husbands. And that’s only part of it. For decades, the idea of marriage has been battered and neglected by all people of all colors.

Thanks for the post. Jones did get us talking.

K T Cat said...

Thanks to all for their comments. I agree with nearly everything, but let me just bring up the points I disagree with.

Black women didn’t just decide in 1960 to stop "demanding civilized behavior" of black men.

Oh yes, they did. A civlized man marries the woman who carries his child. That's what separates us from our ancestors. That's the whole problem.

As for the racism argument, I don't agree. In a previous post, I showed that marital status totally dwarfs race in terms of earnings.

Look, Rosa Parks didn't do anything on her own. It took a majority of society rising up and demanding civlized behavior between races to win the civil rights battles. Joy can't win this fight on her own, but until she recognizes it as the civil rights war of her day and demands that her advocacy groups concentrate on this fight, she and her friends are doomed.

Miz JJ said...

I think part of the problem is what you outlined 'civilized behavior'. We aren't holding black men accountable. We are constantly protecting them and letting them do wrong. Everytime you defend your brother/cousin/friend who is doing a woman wrong (not supporting his children, cheating etc) then you are saying to them it's ok to disrespect black women. We need to stand up and stop being complicit in this behavior that is detrimental to us.

WomanHonorThyself said...

What an interesting post KT! many underlying issues as well.
Truth is women want to be married..I dont believe the ones that say they never want to be with ONE man only..sorry..but when one cant get what one wants they pretend they no longer want it to save face.

MEP said...

I would venture to say that women in general need to have higher standards and demand better behavior from the men that they date. I know a HELL of a lot of women who convince themselves that a guy is "good" or "right" for them b/c they want to be married. Are they better off than the single woman?

Furthermore, I have to wonder if the married white woman is actually less likely to see infidelity. A lot of White men certainly glorify "player" status, they just don't call it "pimping (but they still see women as their whores)." What's the difference between a black man that cheats on his black girlfriend and a white man that cheats on his white woman? Or an interracial couple that cheats. It's unacceptable and disrespectful in all cases.

Sure, since the white family is "married" the father might live at the house, but he's no better of an example of how a woman should be treated. If I were a mother I would definitely rather live on my own with my child then be married to the father simply because we had a child together.

EKENYERENGOZI Michael Chima said...

All the respondents have said it all. Frank Warner's commentarey is very enlightening in many ways.

Please, see
As the family goes, so goes the nation!

I have already posted my own opinion on my blog. But, the African-American women seem to shy away from discussing the issues of the facts of life. And hypocrisy will not help matters. Infact, hypocrisy will worsen the critical state of the African-American people. And all those emotional dramatics of the African-American pastors and other minsters have not helped much. Because, most of them are more interested in seeing over-crowded pews and bulging offering sacks than knowing how their poor folks are faring in the ghettos.

Posing and posturing and trying to ape the Joneses will not help us.

When marriages fail, chaos will prevail.

Once again, let us pray for the African-American people.

K T Cat said...

I want to make sure that everyone knows that I discussed marriage in a black context only because the article focused on that. I agree with mep that the problem is colorblind.

Pax Federatica said...

Whatever happened to being single b/c you want to be single?

Trouble is, there are too many people who either can't fathom the notion that anyone would want to be single as a long-term lifestyle, or look down upon people who do. And that isn't even a race thing. Methinks Joy Jones is trying to state her case in terms that won't be dismissed out of hand by that particular crowd.