Is Marriage for White People?

The analyview returns! I got a free copy of Dr. Richard Banks’ book, Is Marriage for White People from the professor who advises the BLSA group at Orange Law. It was a good read and surprisingly easy to get through; despite my impending finals, I managed to get through in just a few hours.

Thesis 1: The “marriage crisis” is not unique to black folks.

Hallelujah! Finally somebody said it, and it was a man, so people might actually believe it (true, but *eye roll* all the same). Marriage has been on the decline for decades now, and a lot of it has to do with the “success gap”–women both white and black are surpassing their male counterparts in education and income. However, the negative effects of societal trends are exacerbated in the black community by racial baggage.

Thesis 2: Marriage is a market.

A) The Man Shortage. We see the usual suspects: high rates of black male incarceration, interracial marriage of middle class, educated black men, and the success gap. However, he points out that the men who end up in prison are overwhelmingly not the men that successful black women are looking for anyway. The interracial marriage statistics are a bit more worrisome though–black men outmarry at three times the rate of black women (more than one in five black men, vs. less than one in ten black women). Finally, traditional ideas of marriage promote a male breadwinner. But given that black women earn college degrees at more than twice the rate of black men, and a labor market in which high wage industrial jobs are disappearing, that’s increasingly implausible.

Banks opens Chapter 4 with a bit of sensationalism on “man sharing”. He includes an anecdote from a physician with a largely black female population who says “Women are not surprised by the fact that their men are cheating on them. .  .  .They’re not shocked and they aren’t mad.”  o_O Really though??? So white women never get cheated on and when they do, they go slash some tires? Moving on, a 1980s study done at the University of Chicago did find that African-Americans were the least likely of all groups to have a monogamous relationship. In one predominantly black neighborhood, almost two out of every five men had simultaneous relationships with more than one sex partner. Now, the footnotes (I’m a history major and law student, how can I not read footnotes?) do state that these conclusions were drawn from much smaller sample sizes than that of the study as a whole, and thus the inference may not lie with the greater population. I know from the experiences of myself and others that man sharing definitely does happen, but I don’t know if I want to believe that women are just meekly putting up with it. Unfortunately, the rising STD contraction rates of black women and articles like this aren’t coming from nowhere.

B) Purchasing Power and Brand Loyalty. The simple fact is that middle class, educated black women outnumber black men who are the same. So black men hold all the cards, and they exploit them. It’s nothing personal, just human nature. Banks points out that many women put up with philandering behavior because they don’t want to be alone but insist on getting something out of the deal. In exchange for their acquiescence, they want expensive trips, dinners and trinkets. However, this perpetuates a cycle of distrust and discord. Successful black men now have three major disincentives to marry: the numbers on their side, women are supposedly gold diggers, and black women will remain loyal no matter what. Meanwhile, women resent men for expecting a lack of commitment with no repercussions, given that a woman who can’t carry on with multiple men without being deemed a whore.

Thesis 3: More black female led interracial relationships will benefit black people as a whole.

The same way competition forces business to adjust their prices and practices, competition shapes human mating behavior. A man who is less attractive will try to make up for it through humor, accumulating wealth, or other such mechanisms.So it logically follows that if black women outdated and outmarried in the same numbers as black men,  black women would step their game up and adapt to the new competition.

One of the biggest problems with black women’s determination to marry within the race is the inequality. Tyler Perry movies tout the “Blue Collar Brother” as the answer but the truth is, how many bus drivers have the heart of a poet? How many mechanics have the talent, drive and ambition to open their own auto shop and thrive? Marriages are based on shared values, and a weed smoking high school dropout who lives with his mama, or even the electrician with the associate’s degree who grew up in the hood, likely have little in common with a woman who went to an Ivy League school and works for a multinational corporation. That’s not good or bad, it just is. Suburbanite that I am, I’ll be the first one to admit that I dropped a potential suitor like a hot potato because he did a little “dope boy magic” in addition to his college internship. If the choice is ride or die, I’ll just walk. Basically, compatibility in a marriage relationship goes far, far beyond race.

At the end of the day, it’s about the children. Marriage isn’t what’s good for children–healthy, functional relationships between the two parents are. However, it’s hard to provide this stability between two people who are ill suited to each other. White middle class men arguably have much more in common when it comes to values than middle class black women and blue collar brothers. Furthermore, since white men and women outmarry at more equal rates and white men vastly outnumber black men, the man shortage disappears. Black women don’t have to settle for a lack of monogamy, and they can avoid the health consequences that come with it.

Thesis 4: It’s more than just numbers. 

A) Desire. At the heart of the interracial dating issue is the fact that many black women are either not attracted to white men at all, or just have a strong preference for black men–the way some men have a preference for women with light skin, long hair, or big boobs. What’s so wrong with it? Nothing really, and there’s no way to make someone feel attraction where there is none.

B) The Black Family. Some black women (like myself, admittedly) feel they have a duty to preserve the black family. As interracial marriages increase, we are moving closer to a beige America and some of us want to preserve the culture in our own small way. But the big issue is loyalty. Some women also feel that it would be a slap in the face to their beloved fathers, brothers and grandfathers to marry outside the race. The world still looks down on black men and it’s our job to lift them up, right? Well…not really. At least, not in the way that we’ve been doing.  Marrying outside the race doesn’t mean that you think black men are unworthy, and you don’t have to stop supporting the black community just because you marry outside of it. Black men feel no such loyalty to their women; marrying a white/Asian/Latina woman doesn’t mean to them that they love their mothers, sisters and cousins any less.

This is the really complicated bit. My sister is one of the few intrepid souls to try dating a white man; coincidentally, so is her best girlfriend! And they’re happy together. My brother and father don’t feel in any way put out by her choice. But many families aren’t as open as mine; in fact, some of my extended relatives still look at her boyfriend as an exotic and expect the drama to pop off at any moment. But even if they were to break up, that doesn’t mean interracial dating is a failure. Most relationships don’t make it to marriage, regardless of the two people’s race. Still, it’s hard to go against a lifetime of social conditioning, much less do so amid the objections of the people you hold dear.

C) Reciprocity. A study by the dating website OkCupid revealed that black women got the least responses to their personal messages. Closer examination of the data showed that other minority men–Native Americans, Asians, and Latinos–were all very likely to respond to black women, but black men were the least responsive, with white men in second. The racial divide goes both ways, and many white men think that women won’t be attracted to them. And black women are afraid of being treated as a fetish object. Their fears are not unreasonable–just look at the decades of sexual exploitation at the hands of white slaveowners, and the hypersexualization of black women that still saturates the media of today

Although Is Marriage for White People is a rather slim volume, Banks packs in a ton of information. I’ve merely summarized the main points of the book,  but I still highly recommend that you give it a read. While interracial dating is presented

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