Friday, April 21, 2006

"Marriage Is for White People"

This link is not here because I approve but because if I didn't see it for myself I would not have believed it could have been said and published in a respectable newspaper. I didn't realize how really old-fashioned I was until I saw this.

I grew up in a time when two-parent families were still the norm, in both black and white America. Then, as an adult, I saw divorce become more commonplace, then almost a rite of passage. Today it would appear that many -- particularly in the black community -- have dispensed with marriage altogether.

But as a black woman, I have witnessed the outrage of girlfriends when the ex failed to show up for his weekend with the kids, and I've seen the disappointment of children who missed having a dad around. Having enjoyed a close relationship with my own father, I made a conscious decision that I wanted a husband, not a live-in boyfriend and not a "baby's daddy," when it came my time to mate and marry.

My time never came.

For years, I wondered why not. And then some 12-year-olds enlightened me.

"Marriage is for white people."

That's what one of my students told me some years back when I taught a career exploration class for sixth-graders at an elementary school in Southeast Washington. I was pleasantly surprised when the boys in the class stated that being a good father was a very important goal to them, more meaningful than making money or having a fancy title.

"That's wonderful!" I told my class. "I think I'll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing children."

"Oh, no," objected one student. "We're not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers."

And that's when the other boy chimed in, speaking as if the words left a nasty taste in his mouth:

"Marriage is for white people."

The writer continues in a vein that leaves the reader with the impression that she is not really opposed to the idea. In fact, she cites evidence that the trend may be in that direction for society as a whole.

And here's the new twist. African American women aren't the only ones deciding that they can make do alone. Often what happens in black America is a sign of what the rest of America can eventually expect. In his 2003 book, "Mismatch: The Growing Gulf between Women and Men," Andrew Hacker noted that the structure of white families is evolving in the direction of that of black families of the 1960s. In 1960, 67 percent of black families were headed by a husband and wife, compared to 90.9 percent for whites. By 2000, the figure for white families had dropped to 79.8 percent. Births to unwed white mothers were 22.5 percent in 2001, compared to 2.3 percent in 1960. So my student who thought marriage is for white people may have to rethink that in the future.

Am I missing something, or is she sugesting that marriage is becoming obsolete for everybody, not just blacks? This is another reason that I have no objections to a massive influx of a population believing in old-fashioned families and the values that weld them together. When I hear people complain, speaking of immigrants, that "they don't want to become part of American culture, they want to keep to their own" I ask myself why anyone sees American society as a model to be admired and embraced.


Anonymous said...

Ummm . . . LaShawn Barber is a conservative Christian. It's safe to assume that she believes in marriage between men and women.

Hoots said...

Indeed. And so do most people I know, read and respect. In fact, I can't say I have read anything else (aside from this one reference) advancing the same notion as plainly as the writer does here. Sadly, however, I sense she is on to something. I have made the same observation myself over the last several years. There are so many children now born of unmarried mothers that the word "bastard" is no longer used in it's most ordinary meaning.
Just saying...

ilona said...

Culture is always in flux, so though we see changes, or threatened changes in American culture I don't think it is safe to say that we have nothing "as a model to be admired and embraced."

this matter you have commented upon seems more a result of minimizing the importance of men to start with, which then becomes women believing they can handle things better independent of them.... the final result being disillusionment and loss of the purpose of marriage altogether.

The racial divide on this is one that social commentators have been noticing for some time. Plenty of guilt can be laid at the door of Welfare's social engineering during the past fifty-plus years. But there has been a general breakdown of the institution of marriage in our lifetime, which explains much of this cultural shift.

Commitment and duty are two concepts that need society's rationales, and I think that is what is missing: an articulated rationale given to the upcoming generation on the purpose and importance of marriage as an institution and how traditional family benefits society. There's been lots of propaganda to the contrary.

Hoots said...

"Commitment and duty" as you say are vanishing ideas, at least in the old-fashioned sense. I think you are correct the the trend has more to do with cultural shifts than race, accelerated by the unintended consequences (let's hope) of welfare's otherwise good intentions.

To complicate matters more, read Donald Sensing's observation that the breakdown of marriage as an institution has more to do with the availability of reliable contraception than anything else. He is specifically deflecting arguments regardingn same-sex marriage, gut the larger point is well-taken in this case as well.

Today, though, sexual intercourse is delinked from procreation. Since the invention of the Pill about 40 years ago, human beings have for the first time been able to control reproduction with a very high degree of assurance. That led to what our grandparents would have called rampant promiscuity. The causal relationships between sex-pregnancy-marriage were severed in a fundamental way. The impulse toward pre-marital chastity for women was always the fear of bearing a child alone. The Pill removed this fear. Along with it went the need of men to commit themselves exclusively to one woman in order to enjoy sexual relations at all. Over the last four decades, women have trained men that marriage is no longer necessary for sex. But women have also sadly discovered that men's sexual and emotional commitment to them isn't reliably gained by giving men sex before marriage.

The WaPo piece makes the dreary point that a black child was more likely to grow up living with both parents during slavery days than he or she is today. That point also underscores yours that changing gender roles is more important than race in explaining why marriage as an institution is declining.