There have been many news articles lately examining the state of black relationships in America, and particularly the increasing number of never-married African American women in their thirties and forties.
I don’t think that any of the articles have been especially insightful. They rely heavily on statistics and then briefly mention black women’s hesitancy to marry men outside their race and frustration with black men who do.
I think most of these articles short shrift: 1) why black women are loyal to black men; 2) are hesitant to consider marrying outside the race; and 3) how black women feel about white women and inter-racial dating.
In some ways I am the wrong person to write about this topic. 1) I am married and married to a black man, and 2) I run the risk of appearing to speaking for all black women. I am not.
This is not a definitive account, but my own, interwoven with the stories of other African American women I know and the experiences we’ve had.
Another limitation of this post is that it’s US centric. It doesn’t account for the black diaspora around the world, or even the growing number of black immigrants in the USA.
Bear with me on this.
Black Women and Men of Other Races
I know few black women who are admamently against dating non-black men. When other black women do marry non-black men, most of us are happy to see them happy, and maybe a little curious about how their relationship works. I think some of us feel frustrated that black women are most often portrayed in the media and the popular imagination as loud, uncouth, disrespectful, and overly sexual. This 1) make us seem undesirable as mates, or makes us desirable for the wrong reasons; and 2) makes it hard for men to have a clear and nuanced understanding about who we are and what we can offer.
Black Women and Black Men
The truth is black women are very loving and there are few people that we love more than black men, even when we’re not attracted to them. Here’s why.
First, our collective experience of oppression unites us. Black women love black men, not just as individuals, but as co-partners in ensuring the survival of our race and our stories. We love them with pride for all that they are and have accomplished in the face of grueling odds.
Second, we celebrate the us in them. We love black men, because most of them “get us.” They know our strengths and our vulnerabilities beyond “the mask.”
Third, we’re not as possessive as we are protective. We love them knowing that society sees little value in them. We fear for their safety knowing they are never far from harm, whether it’s the end of a rope or bleeding out on a street corner. And when it’s not the threat of physical violence, there are the psychological and spiritual wounds from dehumanization that weigh them down.
Black women don’t have a lock on this sort of compassion for black men and their experiences. I am not saying (nor trying to imply) that no one can love a black man, like a black woman. This is patently false. However, black women tend to be very conscious of these needs and often take pride in being responsive to them.
Black Women and White Women
Fact: black women have a long and complicated history with white women in America. You cannot talk about interracial dating and not ground it in this context.
Even today, white women are held up as the quintessential model of beauty and femininity. This omnipresent mis-measuring of black woman-hood jeopardizes some women’s sense of worth and is a painful experience even for those who are comfortable in their own skin.
Second, white women have played a large role in black women’s subjugation. It runs from mercilessly beating and tormenting black women as slaves and housekeepers; to not wanting black women to fully participate in or benefit from suffrage and the women’s rights movement.
Black women have also watched in horror as some white women watched on (literally and figuratively) as black men were lynched and beaten, and recently protested the potential election of a black man “over” Hillary Clinton.
In such instances black women have felt betrayed that white women have chosen to uphold their white racial privilege and/or self-interest, over justice concerns.
I say this with the disclaimer that there have been many individual white women who have been tireless allies for equality. I do not intend to overlook or minimize their efforts. They did it in the past and continue to do it today. We appreciate their solidarity.
Black Women and Interracial Relationships between Black Men and White Women
Most black women I know are happy when two people love each other, regardless of the ethnic/racial composition of that coupling.
But these historical and contemporary experiences of betrayal and insensitivity figure prominently into the concerns that some black women have about white women marrying a black man.
Most black women assume that if a black man marries a woman of color (Latino, Asian, Native American) she would have had run-ins with systemic oppression and thus be sensitive to its pervasiveness and know how to cope. However, racism is something that few non-women of color have to confront. So unless the white woman in question has a highly tuned consciousness based on other experiences of oppression (e.g. their gender, class or abilities) they often have an undeveloped “race/power dynamics/oppression consciousness.”
Without an oppression consciousness, white women often are utterly oblivious to how racism continues to operate in American and appear ill-equipped to deal with how it will affect their spouses and their offspring. Remember we’re protective, not possessive.
Specifically, some black women worry:
1) Will you believe your spouse when he discusses his experiences with racism? Will you comfort him? Will you stand beside him and the black community to help eliminate racist policies and practices?
2) Will you rear your kids to have coping mechanisms? Will they know how to thrive and be self-affirmed despite the persistence of racism and the vulnerability it brings?
3) Will your kids be familiar with black culture? The child will have black heritage of course, but African Americans have a culture and a history, and it goes beyond the “Electric Slide” and “MLK.” In part, it’s about respect for elders, veneration of ancestors, and concern for the community. Will they know these things? Will you teach them?
Yes, black women worry about inter-racial marriages, because perhaps the most painful truth is that with the declining number of black-on-black couplings, we are counting on white women and other women of color to help us ensure the survival and well-being of the black community.