by Guest Contributor Taja Lindley, originally published at Nicole Clark’s Blog
Conversations like these put Black women on the defensive where now we need to explain what we think, how we act, and for what reasons so that these so-called experts can give us paternalistic and patriarchal prescriptions for solving the so-called crisis of the unmarried Black woman.
Academic professor and researcher Ralph Richard Banks, recent author of Is Marriage for White People?, administers the latest advice for us. He enters the conversation on the assumption that has gone unchecked: that all Black women are successful, and all Black men are victims of America…as if heterosexual Black women seeking marriage aren’t in poverty with a net wealth of $5, suffering from wage discrimination, or also dealing with escalating rates of incarceration. But setting those facts aside, he advises that Black women consider interracial marriage for the purposes of bolstering the Black family and better serving our race. (No, I’m not making this up, see for yourself.)
So clearly what’s at stake here is the Black family. Not Black women’s happiness, not our ability to learn and grow as lovers and partners in a relationship or in marriage. What’s at stake is the responsibility that consistently gets laid on our back about the success or failure of the ENTIRE Black community. As if single parent families headed by women are the root cause for disparities and inequality. (Sound familiar? Yup, kind of like the Moynihan Report.)
My question is: why do people get to collectively comment on my body, my sex, my family, my choices, and my life circumstances? It’s just not fair. The answer: the preoccupation with the unmarried Black woman is part of a larger history and tradition of the hypervisibility of the Black female body. Our bodies, lives, love and labor are always on display as a spectacle for public debate, open for public inspection and consumption (you better believe that people are getting paid for the publication, distribution and sale of these books in addition to “expert” appearances on television).
Black women can’t seem to catch a break! Everywhere we turn we are being judged and diagnosed as stereotypes masked as pervasive problems with Black women. From the billboards that shame and blame Black women for having abortions, and the accusations that our abortions are racial genocide; to the demonization of young mothers and single mothers; to the stereotypes of gold-diggers, welfare queens, and the emasculating over-achieving successful Black woman; to the current preoccupation with the unmarried Black female…We can’t catch a break!
Black women are not a problem. The American public does not always have to be concerned with a solution. We are not broken or lacking, and we are not unfulfilled and incapable of living (or loving) without men. We are whole. So this fear mongering of “you are not complete without marriage!” has got to stop.
The other problem with this conversation is who’s having it…
Newsflash to all of the so-called experts: just because you have a platform through the entertainment industry doesn’t mean you’re an expert; it means you have an audience. And just because you have an audience doesn’t mean that everything that comes out of your mouth is right. And just because you have a dick doesn’t make you an expert on manhood. And even if you were an expert on manhood, it doesn’t make you an expert in relationships because not every woman is having (or interested in) a relationship with a man.
That’s right. I said it! And quite frankly, I’m one of them.
These conversations are frustratingly heteronormative. When you ask why Black women aren’t marrying men, it might be because I don’t want to. So let me queer this conversation right quick because this is the elephant in the room…
Women are having sex, and relationships, with other women, and as a queer woman of color, I know. So when I hear statistics of unmarried Black women I have to ask: Are these Black women even marrying age? Are they in relationships already? Did they just get their heart broken? Are they single by choice? And are they even heterosexual?!
Some good research has already been done to reveal the absurdity of the statistics being used to paint catastrophic and inaccurate pictures of marriage in the Black community …so I won’t repeat that here.
But given all of this conversation on the topic, it makes me annoyed (to say the least) that the fact that some of us are dating women has not even entered into the conversation. People are reconfiguring love and companionship outside of the confines and institution of marriage and heterosexuality. Deal with it! Not every unmarried Black woman is looking for marriage, or for a man.
Now don’t get it twisted: me queering this conversation is not me offering lesbionic relationships as an alternative to the so-called marriage crisis (because that would be just as paternalistic as the advice administered by these so-called experts). What I’m suggesting is that marriage is not an institution that is available to all of us, and, consequently, is inherently a flawed measure of personal happiness and success. Creating healthy relationships and families without marriage is possible (heterosexual people do it all the time!). Marriage does not equal partnership, marriage is not everyone’s goal, and marriage should not define who we are (or are not).
This is not to diminish the fact that some states allow civil unions or marriage for same sex couples, or the desires of marriage that exist among queer people. The fight for equality in marriage is an important one, and there is significant material, economic and social reasons for why that fight continues. But what I’m offering is that many of us have found ways, out of choice or necessity, to create and sustain relationships and families without the institution of marriage, and that should not be overlooked.
And this is not to downplay the feelings of heterosexual Black women, or any woman, looking to get married and having a hard time finding a compatible mate. That struggle is real, but lets be clear: it does not represent all of us. And even if you are a Black woman struggling to find your perfect partner: the media and these Black male experts do not have your happiness in mind. The alarming and excessive coverage of the unmarried Black woman in the media is only meant to serve the agenda of the capitalistic Black male ego and is part of a history that unfairly blames us for the struggles of our community.
What’s more important is that we are having honest, healthy and fulfilling intimate relationships. And the fact of the matter is that we’re not going to get the best advice on how to accomplish this from mainstream media outlets.
Taja Lindley is a full-spectrum doula, performing and tactile visual artist, and reproductive justice activist addressing the challenges of women of color through creativity, personal transformation and entrepreneurship. She is the founder of Colored Girls Hustle, an initiative that uses art as a tool to create affirming and celebratory images, messages and adornment for, about and by women of color. You can find her on facebook, twitter, tumblr and Etsy.