By Dr. Boyce Watkins
Hopefully we can all agree that there is nothing more precious and beautiful than a well-made African-American woman. Your definition of "well-made" may vary from mine, but when I see my daughter, sister, mother and grandmother, they're exactly what I'm referring to.
I recently watched an ABC News special about black people not getting married. It featured a set of beautiful, intelligent black women who couldn't find husbands. One of the women was even a cheerleading attorney who said that, no matter how hard she tries, she just can't find a black man willing to marry her. The show quoted Steve Harvey, who wrote a book on relationships last year, and allowed the rest of America to drone on about how sad it is to be a black woman, where the men you want are just too blind and pathetic to see how great you really are.
I can't help but find it odd that black women in America are taking relationship advice from a comedian. Not to hate on Steve, but you've got to wonder if there is a qualified relationship counselor available somewhere who actually studied this stuff in school. Perhaps it's because black America is getting relationship advice from a comedian that our family structures have become a great big national joke.
We know the story: over 70% of all African-American women don't have husbands. That is a tragedy for the entire family, especially the children. The joint social trauma inflicted by a poor educational system, mass incarceration and massive unemployment among black men has come together to create an unsustainable set of social outcomes. That's not to mention the black men who've either chosen to date other men or can't see the beauty of black women when they know that Elin Nordegren might be available. Yes Houston, we have a problem.
I often wonder if there is more to the black relationships story than that. Here are some thoughts to consider:
1) Whites aren't staying married either, so this is not just solely a black issue. The next time Barack Obama gives a speech about black men "behaving like little boys" because they don't live with their children, I would love to see him give that same speech to the millions of divorcees in white America. Given that roughly 50% of white marriages end in divorce, we can't presume that black people create the only dysfunctional families in America. All of America is turning away from marriage, and that's just a fact.
2) Are men the only ones to blame here? When I watched the beautiful women on the ABC special who felt that they could never find a husband, I heard some of my educated, fully employed male friends say, "I'd marry any one of them right now!" Over the years, I've seen many women pass over good men who would make excellent husband/boyfriend/baby daddy material. (Sorry, I hold no ill will toward baby's daddies - I only care about love, not labels).
I've noticed that there are many women who spend all their time chasing the alpha male who may have 10 different girlfriends at once and ignoring the less-than-perfect man who is willing to be their lifelong mate. Given that it's illegal to marry more than one person at a time, many of these "Michael Jordan types" fill the gender gap single-handedly by occupying the attention and loyalty of several women at once.
Perhaps the next time you're chasing the super-fine, super-hunk man of your dreams, you might consider the fact that there is probably a new woman chasing him down every single day. That's not to say, however, that you don't have the right to be attracted to whatever you want - just realize that dating is a market, like searching for a job. The more constraints you put on your search, the fewer options you are going to have. So, if you are passing up men because they are 6'1" instead of 6'2", you'll get very little sympathy as you sit around the fire with your girlfriends crying into a glass of red wine. Your Prince Charming may never have belonged to you in the first place, and you may have kicked the real Prince Charming to the curb.
3) Doesn't it take two to tango? The last I checked, there were usually two people in a relationship. So, although Attorney General Eric Holder has joined the chorus of politicians gaining political points for blaming black men for being the sole cause of the breakdown of the African-American family, I often wonder why African-American women are rarely held to account. This does not imply that black women are systemically unbalanced; we all know that each individual is unique. But it does imply that the same challenges imposed by racism have affected all of us.
I'm sorry if this hurts your feelings, but I've got to be real. Most kind, attractive, intelligent women are able to find good husbands. Some of us spend our lives either barking up the wrong trees or barking in a way that sabotages our objectives. To obtain a good mate, you must learn how to be a good mate and how to choose a good mate. So, after you finish reading Steve Harvey's book, you may want to read, "Secrets about Men Every Woman Should Know," by Dr. Barbara De Angelis. She also wrote, "What Women Want Men to Know," a book based on scientific research, not just speculation. The idea is that in order to get what you want, you must learn how to give what others want. But you can't effectively give to others if you're only thinking about yourself.
4) What's REALLY going on with families and children? You don't necessarily get to declare yourself the hero in a failed relationship just because you kept the kids. In fact, oxytocin production in the brains of women during pregnancy creates a nearly unbreakable bond that makes it almost impossible for women to let go of their children. So, for us to presume that black fathers are being irresponsible because their children do not live with them is a terribly misguided assertion.
Also, while we are quick to share stories of fathers who don't spend time with their kids, we are not so quick to share the stories of fathers who've been alienated from their children or have children who've been trained to hate them. Trifling fathers need not apply for this explanation, but we know that irresponsible behavior does not always align with gender. The most important determinant of a child's outcomes in life is the disposition of the mother. If the mother does not open the door for a child to have a good relationship with his or her father, then no such relationship is going to exist.
5) Perhaps we should work together to solve the problems. Anyone who simply sits around complaining about how irritating other people are without doing any serious introspection is doomed for a life of frustration. Additionally, given that there are serious obstacles being faced by black men, perhaps we should all work together to support causes that serve to liberate African-American men from the shackles of oppression.
President Obama should hear consistent chants from the black community about the fact that black male unemployment is as high as 50% in some urban areas, keeping these men from being able to provide for a family. Anyone who loves any black man anywhere should tell Attorney General Holder that we must stop supporting the prison industrial complex and simultaneously create paths for ex-convicts to re-enter into society.
If you have a black son, brother, father, or husband, you should want to fight against the fact that black boys are nearly five times more likely to be placed in special education than white kids, severely impacting their graduation rates. An uneducated, unemployed man in the criminal justice system is not going to make a good husband; not every black man in these circumstances is consciously choosing to end up this way.
Whether we like it or not, we are in this boat together, and most of us are guilty of the blame game on some level. Perhaps it's time to stop blaming each other and find the real cause of these very real problems. To slightly modify the words of Steve Harvey, "Act like a lady, but fight for your man." The black family needs support from us all.