Too few African-American weddings
The Kansas City Star
Some may not consider it disturbing. But, as a happily married African American man, I do.
In “Is Marriage for White People? How The African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone,” Ralph Richard Banks, professor of law and education at Stanford University, uncovered some uncomfortable truths — especially for people who believe in the venerable institution of marriage. Americans of all races, according to Banks, are substantially less likely to be married now than their predecessors.
Some may consider my mourning the fall of an institution that nurtures conservative American values an overreaction to a trend of modern times. And others may say I’m an old-fashioned, out-of-step, “stick-in-the-mud” having trouble being at ease with the fact that as many as 60 percent of Swedish children are born to unmarried parents.
Yes, I’m a baby boomer and the conjecture about me may be true. Nevertheless, Banks’ findings have raised my level of anxiety about the consequences that this trend could have on unborn generations.
Although marriage decline is higher among blacks than whites, the reasons are different, and observers should not presume that African Americans underestimate the value of marriage. I found it very troubling to learn that African Americans are the least likely to marry and the most likely to divorce.
And adding insult to injury, African Americans maintain fewer committed and enduring relationships than any other race.
Still, James Brown’s boastful lyric implanted in me during the 1960s — “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud” — provoked me ask why. Those paying attention to news won’t be surprised that black men suffer disproportionately higher rates of incarceration than men of other races.
Incarceration is taking a toll on the population of eligible black men available for “traditional” marriages. And it’s no secret that African American women complete colleges and professional schools at higher rates than African American men and in many instances gain employment that pays higher salaries than those paid to the men of their race.
Data extrapolated from Banks’ investigation confirms that African American women are loyal to the men of their race when it comes to marriage. Former Essence magazine Editor-in-Chief Susan L. Taylor, an African American woman, wrote in one of her monthly letters to readers:
“Who will be allies to black men in their personal development if not us? Choose a man you can love and work with him. See him as your brother.”
Perhaps the face of loyalty can be seen in statistics, which reveal African American women marry “across-class” but not outside of their race in significant numbers. Unfortunately, many well-educated African American women are choosing to remain unmarried and childless.
The irony in this situation is that the women most able to nurture children in a home of conservative American values in the venerable institution of marriage are choosing to remain out of the business of influencing unborn generations. This fact, lodged in Banks’ findings, affects everyone in America.
One model of a well-educated African American woman is Michelle Obama. Some women fitting the profile of our nation’s first lady are choosing to remain single and childless because of the scarcity of African American men like President Barack Obama. While the problems encountered by African American men of all ages are being resolved, perhaps well-educated African American women in greater numbers should explore the option of marrying men they can love outside of their race.
Roger C. Williams Jr., Ed.D., is a retired principal, counselor and instrumental music teacher. He lives in Lee’s Summit. To reach him, send email to email@example.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108.