On Interracial Dating – The Beyond Marriage Panel (1 of 2)

Ashton and Zoe in Guess Who

Welcome to the Beyond Marriage Panel.

Our panelists are: LM, long time commenter and friend of the blog; CV, LM’s partner; Andrea Plaid, our sexual correspondent; Tami of What Tami Said and Love Isn’t Enough; Nonso Christian Ugbode, friend of the blog and occasional contributor; and Lisa Factora-Borchers, friend of the blog and blogger/author at My Ecdysis.

A lot of the articles focusing on black women (and to a large extent, problems in the black community) as things that can be solved by a marriage ceremony. Should marriage be considered a solution?

LM: Marriage is a byproduct of a healthy, committed relationship — at least in the life I’m trying to live. Of course people get married for all kinds of other reasons too, some of which don’t even include that notion. No matter what, for a marriage to have legs, work is going to be involved… and to the extent that happens, it’s a healthy phenomenon. But people can do this without being married, per se, and I fear too many people focus on a wedding ceremony or piece of paper instead of building a healthy relationship based on shared values and goals.

Andrea: Considering that marriage isn’t a legal option for some women–I’m thinking of cisgender lesbians and trans women–it’s certainly can’t be considered a solution for all women. That’s what these articles about Us Negresses and Our Marriage Problem™ seem to conveniently forget. Another inconvenient truth these pieces continue to forget is the concept of agency: some of us man-loving Black women may not want to marry. A simple phrase would do the trick: “x% of Black women who want to marry and are able to marry have yet to do so.” So that takes out those of us who can’t or just don’t want to. A third inconvenient truth is marrying another Black person isn’t the solution for Black communities, either. A majority of married couples in Black communities are monoracial–and that’s still not working out as far as fighting poverty, getting better schools for Black children, guaranteeing better sexual and reproductive health for Black people, and the rest of what plagues Black communities. On a microlevel, Blackness is no guarantee that two Black people will get along. Perfect example: my mom. She very much believes this narrative of Black Love Conquers All™–and has only dated and twice married Black men. She’s just divorced my now ex-stepfather. However, marrying interracially is no panecea, either: I have a white ex-husband.

CV: Merriam-Webster defines marriage as “the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law”. Of course there are nuances, specifically with regard to whether the person one is united to is of the same or opposite sex. The marriage ceremony, for me, is just that-a ceremony, and I don’t think that alone will solve any issues with black women and our community. However, there is something to be said for that actual marriage and the work and commitment it involves towards the fulfillment of shared ideals and goals, which I believe does go a long way.

Tami: I think there is too much talk about marriage going on and not enough talk about building healthy relationships and how people get their romantic needs met. As Andrea points out, not every black woman can or wants to get married. And black-on-black coupling is not a guarantee of marital success. So, I think a more productive conversation for a magazine geared at black women to have is how black women can build healthy romantic lives within traditional marriage, as well as outside of it. Or perhaps we could simply stop viewing anything short of traditional marriage as a woman’s failure. I do understand that many black women do want to get married. I did. But this hyper-focus on walking down the aisle seems unhealthy. It preferences a ceremony over personal well-being.

Nonso: There’s not a lot of talk about the effects of bad marriages; both on the couples in them, and the potential offspring of that marriage. The logic perhaps being “even if the union was incompatible at best, at least the kids started in a ‘complete’ home.” Being the offspring of a marriage that only kinda worked and then collapsed, I have always actively dismissed marriage from a very young age. And of course add the same-sex loving angle and the journey to that altar just always seemed liked too much work to me. I’ve never really seen marriage presented as a solution, so much as that final key you need to make it into society. Once you had that key you were the Jeffersons moving up, or any number of pop culture definitions of family, for the most part marriage is presented as a prerequisite for family.

If you married interracially, was there a difference in how people treated you and your partner after you wed?

LM: Not in my perception. My wife and I were together more than four years before we got married and anyone who was around us for any length of time could see that we were committed to each other and living as partners, a la a married couple. So the wedding itself was just an event — not an unimportant one, but not one that altered our standing in the eyes of others. The fact that our relationship was interracial had no bearing before or after — once people had been around us. There may have been a few raised eyebrows early.

Andrea: By the time my ex-husband and I married, I just started speaking to my mom. I think it was my ex who encouraged me to speak with my mom again because he wanted to meet her. They hit it off rather well: she felt comfortable to ask those “racial” questions about the inner workings of white privilege. And he found a kindred conversationalist.

My interaction with his family after we married was fraught with unspoken tensions, especially from his younger sister who, I suspect, harbored a secret fantasy of reuniting their own divorced family–and my Black self played no part in that fantasy. Also, for a while, I didn’t go to his family gatherings because he knew how openly racist quite a few of his extended family members were. (”I can just feel the n-word on the tip of their tongues,” the ex-husband would say.) They were polite to me when I finally went to the gatherings, but the ex-husband and I had our Racist Senses on high alert around them.

CV: I don’t think so, at least not that I noticed.

LFB: Our families treated us the same, but strangers treated us like a delightful home-cooked experiment. His German-French-Irish background and my Filipino-Spanish heritage caught the eye of friends and strangers alike who would stop and ask if we were married. And then we’d hear, “Oh I wonder how your children will look” for the millionth time. It wasn’t discriminatory, but it was certainly annoying to deal with our interracial marriage as fodder for small talk.

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  • Hdacosta222

    I was in an interracial marriage for 10 years.  He was an African American and I am from an Italian, English and German back ground.  we both came from strong christian homes and our families gathered together for holidays , picnics, birthdays etc. both of our mothers were more concerned with the marriage and the religious teachings surrounding marriage and the success of a christian marriage than our color.  My older sisters had husbands from India to Puerto Rico and of the Jewish faith , so it was not even a surprise when I introduced them to my husband.  A christ centered marriage is more important than color.  Teaching children to love all people and realize God created us in him image.

  • temple

    This conversation & all others like it are . . . frustrating.

    The very first thing people need to understand is that black women are human beings.  That means that they possess the same traits that all other human beings possess.  So, yes, they are capable of understanding that same-sex couples don’t have the right to marry in some/many states, but what does that have to do with black women & their desire to marry?  They understand that marriage is not desired  by ALL black women, but what does that have to do with black women who do desire marriage before starting a family?  They know  that some people (of many different races) marry for the wrong reasons,  but what does that have to do with black women who want to marry for the right or wrong reasons — like every other person of whatever race or gender can do w/o having the legitimacy of their desire to marry questioned?   They realize that marrying outside their “race” is not a panacea,  but why is it assumed that ONLY black women are w/o the necessary intelligence to know this or that only black women marry nonblacks for reasons other than love?  In other words, why is it assumed that black women are the only humans who need policing on these issues?  Why were none of these issues introduced in the previous interracial marriage/relationship posts?

    I’m amazed at the arrogance . . .

    • laromana

      I totally agree with your comments and share your frustration with this type of  arrogant/patronizing mindset.

    • Anonymous

      Look at the original question, temple:

      A lot of the articles focusing on black women (and to a large extent, problems in the black community) as things that can be solved by a marriage ceremony. Should marriage be considered a solution? 

      What some of us on this panel–quite a few of us who are readers and observers of pop culture within and outside of Black communities–have noticed not only mainstream media geared towards Black women (remember, this whole panel series is a response to an Essence article about exogamy as a solution for Black women) but the mainstream media in general (I’m thinking the CNN panel from several months ago) seems to have hopped on various parts of the Black Women Need to Marry Now. And we’ve done many a post here at the R about the myth of interracial dating as solution to the world’s racial woes. So, when Latoya asked us married/partnered and ex-married/partnered folks about our thoughts and feelings about what Essence published–that now marrying outside the race is a new solution for Black women–well, we stated what we thought and felt about that piece and took on the larger pop-culture phenomenon of the Black Women Need to Marry Now.  

      What does that have to do with some Black women not being able or not wanting to marry? Everything, if it is not addressed in these kinds of articles, shows, and webcasts…and this idea is rarely stated in these articles. That’s why I stated what I stated as a possible way to rectify that: 

      “x% of Black women who want to marry and are able to marry have yet to do so.” 

      However, these pop-culture pieces construct–through language, visuals, etc.–that this is something all Black women want and, more insidiously, should want. And, on this panel we take on the idea of interracial and intraracial marriages and long-term partnerships that we’re living to respond to this pop-culture meme, not to police Black women’s desires to marry. 

    • Anonymous

      It seems your voicing frustration at something not necessarily rooted in this panel. Especially considering they are addressing something not brought up by them but by a supposed source of African American media.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it so funny (not in the good way) that so many article paint marriage (esp. marriage to a non-black man) as the solution to our problems yet juxtapose that message with “but no one wants to marry you because you ugly”?

    • Anonymous

      Really!  Folks need to pick an argument and stick with it.  Except the whole point of both is to run BW into the ground.

  • Anonymous

    I think that we should stop using marriage as the synonym for stable, committed relationships.  What I’d really like to see is how many women who want that (whether through marriage or partnership) are able to achieve  it.

    I think that the problems that plague some single mothers, for example, independent of skin color, is that they have no one to help them co-parent.  And by some extension, you could say that there is a correlation to whether or not a child is born to two people who are committed to each other versus being born to people who have no emotional connection (because there is a man who is likely to bolt).  

    We associate marriage with the idea that a man is committing to a woman (or another man or two women to each other). We assume that the emotional bond is there.  We assume that responsibilities are shared. We assume mingled finances.

    So I think we need to in some cases get more specific about what we mean and stop assuming that marriage means one thing and unmarried means another.

    Now I do think that in the context of dating, it is important to note which women have agency over being single or not.  If you don’t want to be married, do you want to even be dating?  Do you want one person who is more or less committed to you?  I’d posit, as a single black woman that perhaps for a myriad of reasons, some black women who want a committed partner are not able to find that, and are not finding that they are able to remedy the situation because they can’t find black, white, Asian, or any other men who want to buy what they are selling.  I think we’ve been having bits of these conversations, beauty standards, dating hierarchies, etc.  

    I do think that there are single black women who are dating and finding partners much less often than their black counterparts even when they want to find a partner. 

    The discussion about whether black women or any other women actually want a marriage to result is important, but I also think it can be a distraction to the discussion about how easily a woman who wants to be partnered in some way is able to do that.  

  • Sewere

    “x% of Black women who want to marry and are able to marry have yet to do so.”

    Speaking as a social scientist, this is pitch perfect stats explanation.

    Everyone and everything else is so right on.

  • Sewere

    “x% of Black women who want to marry and are able to marry have yet to do so.”

    Speaking as a social scientist, this is pitch perfect stats explanation.

    Everyone and everything else is so right on.

  • Guest

    I somehow feel like they are not getting to the heart of the question. All marriage rates have dropped – in every age group. The question is: why are they so low in black community (for e.g.) as compared to others. And when we talk about marriage as a “solution”, are we talking about a) marriage per se or b) rates of marriage at the same level as that of other racial groups. Would trying to achieve B be a worthy goal?

    It’s sort of a cop out to say “well, lesbians can’t marry so that ends the marriage question. You might as well say “trans women can’t give birth naturally so we can’t talk about pregnancy”. That’s not really a forceful push against such a huge disparity unless you are making some claims about why black women are *less* likely to want to marry than non black women.

    Also “married black people are not helping poverty etc”. Er, that’s not true. I know what you mean is that if all black people got married tomorrow it wouldn’t solve all the problems of the black community. BUT intact black families are disproportionately healthier, wealthier and happier. They are part of the institutions in the black community who give back. It’s those parents who help out in underachieving schools and provide role models and mentors for those who are struggling. Arguably “married black couples” are even more crucial in the black community than married white couples in their community. We should scrap the “talented tenth” and call them the “married tenth”.

    • Anonymous

      I think we are getting to the heart of the question, Guest–we’re simply disagreeing with the idea that marriage is a solution for all Black women and, by extension, disagreeing with your viewpoint. As Tami and I said, some of us cannot do so and some of us do not wish to. That pretty much, by the definition of “all,” contradicts that idea of “marriage for all Black women.” Not saying that it cannot be talked about at all, either, but that the conversation needs to be much more nuanced than “y’all Negresses need to marry post-haste.” 

      Now is it a solution for some Black women? Those Black women of that mindset may say yes. But it’s the constant media push of that Black women (and the word “all” is implied in that statement, according to the grammar rules) need to marry makes some of us on this panel say “hmmmmm.” 

      And the implication is your statement, “BUT intact black families (btw, how are you defining “intact families,” Guest?) disproportionately healthier, wealthier and happier” and that getting married confers instant wealth, health, and happiness for those who do and, by implication, all of Black women *should* do so for these very reasons. Though married couples may be wealthier and healthier (the report look at “health” in terms of living longer), they aren’t necessarily happier….another reason why the Black Marriage as Solution for Black Women and Black Communities falls short. 

      And having been married, I can attest to these states. I wasn’t wealthier when I was married–I was a temp worker married to a diswasher-cum-graduate student. I wasn’t healthier when I was married–I gained weight that wound up physically hurting my knees and didn’t have medical insurance. I wasn’t happier when I was married, as evidenced by my divorce. To be honest, I’m happier, in better health, and with more disposable income being divorced than I ever was married. And I don’t believe I’m an outlier in this, either.

    • Anonymous

      But what is it about the married couples that makes them special might be the more important question. Because as any number of people can point out, being married in and of itself doesn’t make a person do those things you listed. It has to be some mechanism involved with marriage s(or the people that marry) that leads that to happen. Because marriage is just a simple legal union sometimes given religious significance, so what about that makes those people more likely to do the things you stated? 

      And I’m not just hammering those questions at you per say more just voicing them as things that need to be considered. Because not all marriages are good and there are “bad” people who come from marriages.

      My thoughts for a family are simple: 2 adults equal 2 people to watch a child and 2 incomes. That’s rather simple. It isn’t the marriage the makes the difference but the commitment to the other person that does. Hence, why same-sex couples can do an equally adequate job of taking care of a child.

      Now the other things you’ve stated I’ve never seen data on so I can’t fully speak on, but we need to look for the underlying themes or forces at work because marriage itself is just the legal document.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ankhesenmie Ankhesen Mié

    I do understand that many black women do want to get married. I did. But
    this hyper-focus on walking down the aisle seems unhealthy. It
    preferences a ceremony over personal well-being.

    My eldest sister once said, “Marriage is something you do once just so you can say you’ve done it.”  Another time, when I graduated and got my first degree, she told me she would’ve rather heard I was engaged.  This hyper-focus on walking down the aisle is indeed most unhealthy.