By Starla Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –
Is there a systematic assault on Black marriage?
Seemingly every week a new poll, study or blog reports disheartening statistics and commentary on the abhorrent conditions of Black men and Black women in the United States, adding fuel to the often fiery discussion of male-female relationships and its effect on the disappearing intact traditional Black family. Poverty, unemployment, health disparities, incarceration and financial hardships cut across racial lines, especially among the nation's poor and working class. All are contributing factors to decreasing marriage rates, say analysts.
Marriage across the board has declined among Blacks, Latinos and Whites since 1960. Marriage among 30- to 44-year-old Whites has dipped from 87 percent in 1960 to 65 percent in 2007, according to a recent brief released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). During the same time there was also a decrease among U.S.-born Latinos from 84 percent to 54 percent with the biggest drop among Blacks from 71 percent to 37 percent, a 34 percent decrease.
Data suggests Black men and women would like to get married. In 2008, 72.5 percent of Black people reported they will likely get married according to the National Survey of American Life, says EPI. In 2010, 65 percent of Blacks said a child needs a home with both a mother and father.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam, stressed the importance of marriage and family to his followers. His top student, Minister Louis Farrakhan, teaches marriage and family are not only the cornerstone and foundation of a great nation, but necessary and critical to the very survival of the Black nation in particular. Successful nation building depends on strong marriage and family life teaches Farrakhan.
Marriage prospects among Blacks suffer because of a shortage of Black males, with 21 percent fewer Black males than Black females ages 30- to 44 years old not in prison or other institutions, reports EPI.
The disproportionate number of unmarried Black women is being used as justification by some in advocating the push for professional Black women to marry non-Black men.
If Black women “limit themselves to Black men,” most will either remain unmarried or wed to a less-educated man who earns less than they do, argues Professor Ralph Richard Banks, author of the recently released book, “Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone.”
The matrimonial dip is not unique to any racial group but because Black men are imprisoned and jailed at higher rates, suffer higher rates of unemployment, coupled with a declining share of good jobs results in the “collateral consequence” of marriage decline, reports EPI.
Growing up in Cleveland in a predominately-Black neighborhood with plenty of two-parent households to witness, Prof. Banks saw the drastic decline in Black marriages firsthand. He is married to a Black woman he has known since elementary school and has three sisters but says while Black women have achieved tremendous success, they are more likely than others to be unmarried. Nearly 7 in 10 Black women are unmarried and college-educated Black women are twice as likely as their White counterparts to be unwed, he says.
“Even as Black women are doing really well in other ways, they have good jobs, they have education, you know they are thriving in many ways but then in this one way life hasn't quite come together as they've imagined it would,” the Stanford law professor told The Final Call.
College-educated Black women will often have more in common with their Asian, Latino or White classmates than with the Black guy they grew up with who did not go to college, argues Prof. Banks. This factor, along with the poor economic and educational realities of many Black men, is why Black women should date outside of their race, says the author of the controversial new book.
“I'm African American; I have three boys who will be young Black men in not too many years. So of course I want a world where they can thrive. It's a tragedy that we have as many Black men in jail as we do. That there are so many that are jobless, they're underperforming educationally. That's a failure that's everybody's fault,” says Prof. Banks.
Professor Banks argues Black women do not marry because they have too few choices, and Black men because they have too many. Further, he insists, somehow the commitment Black women have to Black men “weakens” the Black family.
Professor Banks says federal and state programs are needed to address the many problems plaguing Black men but that his book “is about what to do in the meantime.”
The effect of declining marriage is based in the root cause of the legacy and system of White supremacy which has strategically undermined family in the Black community and skewed the God-centered reality that serves as the foundation of a strong marriage and to suggest that Black women “look elsewhere” is insulting, argues Black marriage advocates.
“There absolutely is an ongoing assault on Black marriage because there is an assault on the Black family because the Black family is the base of wealth and reproduction. The Black family provides stability, self-love and self-acceptance,” says Attorney Ava Muhammad, a student minister for the Nation of Islam and a national spokesperson for Min. Farrakhan.
“In order to destabilize the family you want to start at its root, which is marriage.” Muhammad told The Final Call. The concept of family runs in opposition to a society dominated by White supremacy and an economic ideal based on “free” labor when chattel slavery was outlawed, adds the popular author and lecturer.
“Law enforcement policies that contribute to higher Black incarceration rates deflate the size of the Black workforce and the pool of marriage-eligible Black men,” notes the “Reducing Poverty and Increasing Marriage Rates Among Latinos and African Americans” EPI policy brief. “If 2010 unemployment and incarceration rates for Blacks and Whites were the same, almost two million additional Blacks would have been in the American workforce.”
Current policies in America's criminal justice system have ensured significant numbers of the potential Black workforce is in prison and upon release, it is more difficult to find work, adds EPI. The ability for a man to be in a position to support a family before he gets married is an important factor across all racial lines, says the report.
“You have two things going on simultaneously. You have the Black man being bombarded with media images and concepts which continually inflict on his brain this idea that his own woman is undesirable. On the side of the woman, you have her now being bombarded with this idea that the man is incapable,” says Muhammad.
Why would you look outside of your own kind because of employment and level of education? she asks. “That makes no sense at all because level of education and jobs, they are an effect, they're not a cause of anything,” says Muhammad.
Muhammad says there needs to be promotion of the many successful Black marriages that exist and an end to pretending there are no successful ones.
“Let's talk about the millions who have worked and struggled to keep their marriages together at a time when 50 percent of all marriages across the board are doomed for failure,” she says.
“More importantly, this is why we have to become self-contained as a community. We're not able to focus on one another because we're too fixated on attempting to follow, copy, please the children of our slave-masters. And as long as we are with them, we're going to be ruled by them because we're not focusing on self-development; we're focusing on what they think,” says Muhammad.