People aren’t socks. You can’t pair two up because they match and expect everything to work out.
I remind my well-meaning and wonderful friends of this every time they have a black male friend they want to me to date. I remind my less well-intentioned friends of this every time we’re out anywhere and they see another black person and comment how cute we’d be together, despite the fact that we know nothing about each other and all he did was open the door for us or walk by our table on the way to the bathroom.
I discovered this morning, courtesy of Jezebel and The Wall Street Journal, that apparently this way of thinking extends the other way: Black women need to open their eyes to dating outside their races if they want to save “black marriage.” It’s just that simple, posits author and Stanford Law School Professor Ralph Richard Banks, who is black, for the record.
“Black women can best promote black marriage by opening themselves to relationships with men of other races,” he writes. Oh, and here I thought black marriage included two black people. Silly me.
Aside from that, Banks’ thesis seems flawed because after all, people aren’t laundry. I can’t just go to my local white-people gathering place, select my make and model and bring him home for a life of interracial bliss, complete with awkward stares from strangers and uncomfortable moments with our less open-minded relatives. But I’ll get to that later.
My real problem with Banks’ article is its overall intent: The idea that once again the black woman is being called on to exercise her agency for altruism, possibly at the expense of her own happiness and desires.
Little-known fact: Do you know what my friends love about me? It isn’t my ability to rap every verse of “Monster,” nor is it the way I make them feel progressive and accepting because they have a black friend. My friends’ favorite quality about me is actually about them: They love my compassion and the way I effortlessly solve their problems.
The compliment I’ve received most in my life is not about my physical beauty, my intellect or even my talent. It’s about how I’m such a good listener and I’ve always got such great solutions for interpersonal conflicts. I’m not a token; I’m a walking jump-to-conclusions mat.
In case you don’t believe me, here’s a little anecdotal evidence: When the infamous Fake Best Friend describes me to his friends, rather than discuss how I would and have done anything for him usually to my own detriment — including showing up at his house in footie pajamas to play Trivial Pursuit at 1 a.m. just to make him laugh or making him a care package when he broke his foot — he tells them about how compassionate I am and how easy I am to talk to. It sounds like a compliment, and it is. But it’s also a compliment that isn’t really about me. It’s the equivalent of saying that my favorite thing about my boyfriend is that now I don’t have to go anywhere alone.
Black women have spent their lives taking ones for the team. Don’t forget that my foremothers struggled to keep the black family intact as their fathers and husbands were sold away like property (because they were property). Then, in the face of poverty, disease and high imprisonment, the burden once again fell on black women to be sole breadwinners and make sure the black family unit survived.
The thread through all of this is that black women’s mission became larger than themselves. And now, with Banks’ call for our community to get a widespread case of jungle fever and solve our problems, once again black women are being blamed for a problem out of their control while simultaneously being told to solve it.
Banks isn’t totally wrong. I completely agree that as our country becomes more multi-cultural, despite Glenn Beck‘s and Bill O’Reilly‘s crusade to reverse it, everyone should be open to finding love outside their ethnicity. I’ve been looking outside my race for love since before I realized it was controversial.
I’ve discussed that for tokens a lot of times your surroundings will dictate your attractions. I grew up in a really white suburb in a really white state so almost all of my friends were white and all the guys I liked were white. I’ve blogged at great length about my love for men outside my race — Shaun White, Armie Hammer, Jon Hamm; I’m looking at you — but as En Vogue used to sing, “that doesn’t mean I don’t love my strong black brothers,” (ahem, Donald Glover).
My issue is with the matyrdom of black women. Once again, we’re being the caretakers.
While this may not be Banks’ m.o., the broader point about the importance of saving black marriage isn’t really about helping the black community, it’s about saving marriage for all. Banks supports using black women to fight the grander battle of bringing American marriage back from the brink.
American marriage is in sad shape folks. Half of marriages end in divorce. Six states have legalized gay marriage, as has Washington D.C., which is basically just poking a giant sassily waving finger in the eye of pearl-clutching family values fiends, ergo they assume marriage is on the downswing (though if more people are getting married and want to get married, I don’t see how that’s bad news for marriage, but that’s probably just because I don’t regard gay people as less than human). Plus, some straight people don’t have enough regard for marriage to try it out for longer than a few days.
I’m not speculating on Banks’ feelings about gay marriage or likening him to the people fighting against it. What I am suggesting is that the fight to save black marriage is being placed on the backs of black women to benefit more than themselves. This theory is allowing black women to become the vessels and their happiness is the casualty in the fight to restore and resurrect marriage. And I, as a black woman, am not willing to join in — certainly not until my ancestors get that 40 acres and the mule they were promised.
More than that, Banks ignores an obvious point: He makes black women out to be demanding and narrow-minded, writing that we ”have needlessly worsened [our] situation by limiting [our]selves to black men.”
Well, men of other races who don’t think we’re attractive have certainly helped us be so needlessly limited in our options.
We live in a country where a somewhat-respected psychologist does a study regarding “why black women are substantially less attractive than women of other races” and a reputable website publishes the findings only to have the site’s editor in chief shocked enough by the blowback to remove the study and apologize.
Black women are not the gold medals in the dating pool, especially not for college-educated and high-earning males, particularly white ones. Yet magically, Banks glibly acknowledges and dismisses that reality:
“Numerous studies of Internet dating confirm that black women are the partners least desired by non-black men.But that’s not the whole story. Even if a majority of white men are uninterested in dating black women, that still leaves more than enough eligible white men for every single black woman in America.”
Somehow we’re supposed to be in control of that as well. We’ll fix it! Our minds will be open enough for both us and our not-so-eager white counterparts!
Here’s the truth: Plenty of black women are catches, myself included (and I know a few white guys who just might attest to that). The unmarried black female professional community, of which I’m a proud relatively new member, doesn’t need to be told that we should look not only for Cliff Huxtables, but Sandy Cohens, Phil Dunphys and George Lopezes.
Single black women needing to open their minds and legs to people of all races is a small part of the battle. We don’t need nearly as much dating advice as we do good PR (no, “Single Ladies” and Madea movies don’t count.)
What we really need to do if we’re interested in saving marriage, and black marriage via interracial marriage, is talk to the people with the most power in this country, the people who take all the credit and very little of the blame: White men.
Where’s the article urging them to disregard “traditional” standards of beauty, the ideal family vision they’d foreseen, their friends and family members’ attitudes and their own preferences in the name of saving black marriage? Why aren’t more commentators taking to newsprint to tell white men it’s their duty to open their minds to make black women their spouses? After all, it takes two people to ruin their lives via matrimony. You might as well make a sociological stand while you do it.
I fantasize a lot about the day when I stop having to pretend that other people’s problems matter more than my own. Banks’ article is leading me to believe that this era won’t end until after my wedding day.
If that’s the case, then I’m refusing to marry my martyrdom.