Thursday, December 31, 2009

Black women and Marriage: Is it that bad out there?

A while ago, I listened to a discussion about why so many Black women aren’t married when I attended the Circle of Sisters Expo this October. According to statistics, forty-two percent of Black women over the age of thirty have never been married; double the number of white women at that same age.

Some think it has to do with the shortage of “eligible” Black men. These same statistics cite that out of a random pool of 100 black men many are unemployed, (17 percent), incarcerated, (8 percent) or did not finish High School (21 percent). These numbers state that close to fifty percent of black men aren’t the type of males Black women would find acceptable for marriage and this is why there are so many single women in the African-American community.

However, I have to wonder if the lack of married Black women due is a perceived shortage of “eligible” black men or a lack of true Black-on-Black love among African-Americans today.

What is Black on Black love? The ability to love one’s self as a black person, and the ability to take pride in the beauty of being African-American. To look in the mirror and see oneself as a black person capable of expressing love, receiving love and as someone who deserves to be loved for being themselves by other black people. To have the ability to look at other black people as people capable of expressing love, receiving love and deserving to be loved for being themselves as black people.

I really don't think a shortage of men is the reason why so many black women aren’t married, but a shortage of values and character in the African-American community. On the surface, many unmarried black women who complain about this “shortage” say they seem to “have it all” only have it on a material level. However, when I listen to these sistas speak on deeper discussions of internal traits such as character, I often discover that many black women don’t love themselves or see themselves as valuable enough to be loved or deserving the love of others. I believe it’s this lack of a sense self-worth, is why so many black women struggle to find partners, not because of a shortage of Black men.

I truly believe it’s the poor self-image and low self-esteem that many African-Americans have about themselves that causes men and women to have difficulties in finding partners to marry. This negative perception of self goes beyond race, class or gender and is buried deep within the subconscious minds of brothers and sisters. Because both Black men and Black women don’t see themselves as lovable or beings capable of expressing or receiving love, they have little to no standards about what behavior they'll accept in a relationship, and will settle for less than a full commitment from their partners. Without the standards and boundaries self-love establishes, there can be no dedication for a commitment like the institution of Marriage.

It's scary what I've read about Black men and women are tolerating in relationships now. Some are willing to "share" a man and others (both men and women) who just are indifferent about their partners cheating on them. More violate their own personal boundaries and accept relationships with lost, broken, or emotionally damaged men. A few even pursue men of another race or only to find their different colored partner has the same type of toxic character and personality traits they tried to escape from the black men they were pursing.

Because Black people don’t love themselves, they settle for less in life, something unheard of twenty years ago or even forty years ago. Sometimes I walk around my neighborhood feeling all the negative energy around me, I have to ask myself: Where has all the love gone?

I think that the African-American culture is now so full of misogyny, sexism, and self-hatred that a black woman isn't seen as someone valuable by both black men or Black women and that’s why the marriage rate is so low for African-American women. Due to the constant exploitative and disposable images of objectified, degraded sexual, black women, many black men do not see a black woman as someone beautiful or valuable; someone worthy of being an equal partner for life. Worse, many black women do not see themselves as someone having great beauty or value to be someone's equal partner for life.

Many of the character traits presented of Black women in the media these days emphasize the external and not internal. Because there is so much promotion of the external character traits (looks, material possessions, financial status, sexuality) very few Black people see the true value of a black woman's internal character traits (grace, intelligence, compassion, strength, dignity, tactfulness, courage, organization, kindness, patience, understanding caring), the traits men see as valuable in a woman enough to commit himself to her in a marriage.

This same cultural misogyny and self-hatred has also poisoned the way black women see Black men. Many Black women do not see a Black man as a valuable partner due to the numerous false stereotypes used to identify him. These unrealistic pictures of what makes a "successful" man (Well-educated, handsome, "good" six-figure job, expensive clothes and driving a luxury car, good in bed) focus only on the superficial external character traits of a Black man and not the internal character traits (honesty, integrity, caring, tactfulness sensitivity, patience kindness, courage, dedication, determination, a sense of humor, leadership, creativity) that make a Black man a good partner in a marriage.

The contents of character within men and women form the values that are supposed to complement each other so both partners can support each other for the duration of the relationship. Unfortunately, because so many African-Americans have a poor self image and such low standards in who they choose for partners today, relationships are often formed on shaky foundations with broken, damaged, lost or non-committal partners. Without a relationship built on the solid foundation of common values found in internal character traits there's no structure to build the supports for a long-term commitment like a marriage.

Shawn's advice for the lovelorn, lonely, Sistas: Love yourself. Don't look for love; love will find you. Love attracts love. And if you love yourself, others will love you.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Acting White

Acting White. It’s what some African-Americans call a person who speaks articulately with good diction, aspires to achieve academically or is well-educated. It’s something some people have called me for just being myself. Since I was a teenager It’s always puzzled me how African-Americans often associate a person’s intelligence with the color of their skin.

My most recent experience with this cultural trend was when I took my PC Repair class a few months ago. I was talking to one of my classmates when another interjected “He talks like a white man.” I didn’t take offense to it; Even when I was in High School, at college or the many jobs I’ve worked people have been surprised by my articulation and strong diction. Like it was unexpected for an African-American male to express any semblance of intelligence.

I have often been laughed at by some and mocked by others for my intelligence and good diction, however I haven’t once thought of changing my speech pattern to reflect what is perceived as “black”. While my peers may have thought my speech was peculiar, I never saw speaking well and being intelligent it as just a “white” thing. I always thought intelligence reflected positively a person’s character; a sign of patience, understanding compassion, and reason. Those were character traits to me that every person should try to aspire to have.

Some of the people who have inspired me and my writing didn’t consider expressing their intelligence or speaking well a white thing either. I don’t believe Malcolm X was seen as “acting white” when he spoke articulately back in the 1960s. Neither was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And I enjoy hearing African-American actors like Salli Richardson, Keith David, Charles Dutton, and Denzel Washington perform because of the near perfect diction in their performances.

From what I’ve learned about the African-American experience Education has always been a “Black” thing. Throughout history, from the Ancient Egyptians who were masters in Astronomy, science, engineering and math to artists like Juan De Pareja, writers like Phyllis Wheatley, or inventors like Benjamin Banneker and George Washington Carver to educators like Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune Barack Obama, African-Americans have always pursued excellence in education.

Even my slave ancestors aspired to learn because they saw education as a way to improve their economic and social condition. After many southern states like Virginia passed laws against teaching slaves how to read and write, many still persevered towards gaining literacy because they saw it as an opportunity to empower themselves. From the 1800s up until almost recently, being an educated intelligent black person who spoke well was considered a good thing. It wasn’t considered “acting white”.

So I’m wondering where did this “acting white” thing come from over the last fifteen or twenty years? As I see it, what people called “Acting Black” as it’s seen in mainstream America to me doesn’t seem like a representation of “Black” but a perpetuation of longstanding racist stereotypes. These “real black” images presented to the African-American community seem more like a repackaging of the degrading images of the black buck, the coon, the black harlot, Tragic Mulatto, jigaboo, and the mammy to me.

What’s more ironic to me is that many of the wealthy rappers, ballplayers thugz and other assorted people who perpetuate the degrading images of “acting black” are the same ones sending their children to high-priced private schools to learn how to speak well and become intelligent, while promoting to the black masses a message of ignorance.

So on this issue of race and identity I often wonder who really is “acting white” and who is “keeping it real”. Are the African-Americans who aspire to speak well and express their intelligence “keeping it real” because they follow a centuries long history of education that has been part of the black community, or are the African-Americans who identify with “street” culture “acting white” because they promote and perpetuate a stereotypical image of African-American life that makes Middle America comfortable.