I'm supposed to be planning out tomorrow's class, but I had to do this instead.
So I took a hiatus from reading wedding blogs for a while, but I've recently returned to one of the blogs that makes me feel saner, known as A Practical Wedding. It's chief writer, Meg posted what's known as a wedding graduate post, a kind of review of one's own wedding with any advice to pass onto those as yet unwedding-ed. Today's post was from a bride of color, which for those of you who haven't spent any time searching for diversity in the blogosphere, is a rarity. I really enjoyed reading it, as well as the comments, and through a blogger known as The Happy Nappy Bride (I myself quite nappy, though today, not much so happy) I discovered an article published in a 2006 issue of the Washington Post called "Marriage is for White People."
It has not escaped my perception that much of the African American experience in this country, in whatever state of blended family it exists, is often unmarried. So yes, all the evidence that supports a theory like this, I get it. And I often declare many things for white people, sometimes with irony, sometimes absolutely serious: Classic Rock; sweaters tied around the neck; pumpkin pie--as opposed to sweet potato; country music; swimming; ice hockey; the state of Colorado.
But I had a really hard time with this article.
The article takes a slant of marriage chiefly as a vehicle for raising a family and providing financial security. It celebrates the non-traditional concept of families, that they come in all shapes and sizes with varying participants. The writer writes about the changing face of social relationships that one black woman told her, "with today's changing mores, it's hard to know "what normal looks like" when it comes to courtship, marriage and parenthood... Moreover, in an era of brothers on the "down low," the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the decline of the stable blue-collar jobs that black men used to hold, linking one's fate to a man makes marriage a risky business for a black woman. "
Risky business? It's 2006, and black marriage is still being equated as a business transaction?
The picture of marriage that gets painted doesn't get any rosier for the writer, based in her own experience, or others. "Today, people have become economically self-sufficient as individuals," she writes, "no longer requiring a spouse for survival. African American women have always had a high rate of labor-force participation... But now instead of access only to low-paying jobs, we can earn a breadwinner's wage, which has changed what we want in a husband."
What? My increase in earning potential has changed what I want in a husband? There's more that really upset me, but I can't in good conscience keep quoting this article, so go read it.
I was stunned and really disappointed. When had life become so bleak that we spoke about marriage in such a mercenary and callus way? I tend toward idealism, I know, but I couldn't get over how much making babies and making money seemed to be the author's priority in marriage, and how little it was about commitment, companionship, sex, love, affection, intimacy. There's one sentence at the end, a throw-away about "intangibles" that makes these reasons for marrying someone seem just stupid, as though anyone would want to marry someone they loved and respected were naive.
I don't know why I didn't hear this writer talk about healthy marriages in the black community, marriages where, regardless of earnings or family size, both partners love and respect each other, they make time for each other and enjoy each other. Maybe it's because these are the things that are for white people. Maybe we as African Americans don't believe we deserve someone to love us unconditionally, to encourage us when we stumble, to hold our hand and expect our best while still loving us at our worst. Maybe what we deserve is absence, infidelity, dishonesty and expectations, and if we get it in a relationship whether we're married or not, why would we get married.
As my day gets closer, this is something I've been considering, the lack of marriage in the black community. I'm the first girl in my generation on both sides of my family to marry, and only the second cousin total. I have a female cousin several years my senior, with two sweet, adorable daughters, who has never married their father. My own parents have been married for 33 years this August, and while their marriage is full of its own flaws, they make it work, and do so happily. I think they do more than tolerate each other. I think they have it good. And my parents were piss-poor when they married, so I'm pretty sure that for all the reasons they did it, it wasn't because my father was earning some ridiculous salary, and marriage was a good financial move for my mother. In my extended family, many of the women have married more than once. Several sisters married men just like their father, and well, it came back to haunt them in a number of destructive ways. Several sisters are still unmarried, and have had children as such. But also there are women, black women, in marriages that are working.
I reject the notion that for the black community marriage is about who can provide you with an offer worth, as the article says, "giving up your freedom." I know I'm sensitive to this, but it still bothers me. I'm disappointed in this writer that the best she can do when answering the question about why black marriage is on the decline is answer because it isn't fiscally prudent any longer, because black women can do bad by themselves, but they can "also do pretty good alone, too." There are more reasons to marry than sperm donation and paycheck donation, and to ignore those is to reduce black women to insignificant means. Black women deserve the kind of affection, understanding, companionship, tenderness, support and intimacy as much as anyone else. This is why I marry, and any sister not considering these things does herself an incredible disservice.