In his debut (Law/Stanford Law School), Banks explores the marriage gap between African-Americans and whites, concluding that fewer African-Americans marry and stay married due to “the changing conception of marriage, and the changing educational and economic positions of men and women.” Add to this the “numbers imbalance” between the wide array of eligible African-American females and an African-American male population in short supply—an unevenness Banks attributes to incarceration, interracial marriage and a lack of economic opportunities for black men. Banks argues that while many African-American women seek out highly educated African-American men, these same men are statistically more likely to date women outside their own race, prompting the pool of prospective suitors to dwindle further. As a result of this imbalance, many African-American men find little incentive to engage in a monogamous relationship: “Why cash in when you can continue to play?” The author writes that “[b]lack men maintain nonexclusive relationships for the same reason as other men: because they can.” Banks tempers his statistically driven arguments by weaving in intriguing personal interviews. This technique, both quantitative and qualitative in its approach, provides the groundwork for a brave and convincing argument—one that reveals a startling trend in the decline of African-American marriages.
When titles for this book were being considered, perhaps Why Middle Class Black Women Can’t Find a Man and How the Whole Problem Could Be Solved if They Would Just Marry White Guys didn’t have quite the ring the publisher was after.
But that’s pretty much what Stanford Law professor Ralph Richard Banks’ Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone (in stores this September) is all about. * * * By the time you reach the solution presented at the end of the book — that black women should shift the power balance by opening themselves to interracial marriage — you realize the author hasn’t even attempted to explore, let alone answer, the cover’s quandary. * * *
It’s no wonder Banks tried to hide the real content of the book behind a decoy of a title. This project reveals itself to be the latest in a seemingly never-ending conversation analyzing the prospects of unmarried, professional, African-American women.
Black women are sick to death of this topic, and understandably so. It’s been rehashed unsatisfyingly and, at times, infuriatingly, in recent years, peaking with a Nightline special, “Why Can’t a Successful Black Woman Find a Man?” It was co-hosted by Steve Harvey. In the words of Melissa Harris Perry, ”The serious, interesting and sensitive social and personal issues … were hijacked by superficial, cartoonish dialogue that relied heavily on personal anecdotes and baseless personal impressions while perpetuating damaging sexism.” Is Marriage for White People? will have to answer to some of the same critiques, starting with the initial choice to dramatize the dilemma facing African-American women for whom “unmarried has become the new normal, single the new black,” and blaming the “problem” on simple individual choices, instead of a complex set of issues with many causes, effects and stakeholders.
But we can tire of the way the issue is framed without boycotting attempts to get it right.
Read the rest of Ms. Desmond-Harris’s review here.
H/T June Carbone.