Camping, rugby, and well, Sarah Silverman. These, at least according to a now infamous list, are a few things white people like. New Balance shoes, parental hatred and yoga made the top 100 too. Which is funny, only because I could never really figure out why I kept skipping the classes I eagerly signed up for. And well, I’m certain that if I even thought about hating my mother she’d whack me in the head with a Bolo-bat.
White people also seem to be enamored with marriage. Although that age-old social institution didn’t make the list, a recent study in the new book “Is Marriage for White People?” lays out the case.
Over the last 50 years, African-Americans have become “the most unmarried people in our nation” says the book’s promotional material. ”[Black women] are more than twice as likely as white women to never marry.”
“The shortage of successful black men not only leaves black women unmarried, it renders them more likely than other women to marry less educated and lower earning men.”
The solution? Marry a white man, of course.
I suppose if I actually believed author and Stanford Law professor Ralph Richard Banks, I’d be ready to hurl myself over a bridge. Not that interracial marriage is necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been there and I’ve got incredible children (and a lifelong friend to show for it). Drowning in a river of grief, I may never gone back for a second chance, found the love of my life and grown my family to a party of seven. But, it’s the settling part that most disturbs me.
What’s wrong, anyway, with marrying someone who earns less money or didn’t go to B-school? Mr. Right might be an artist, an entrepreneur or run a non-profit. Heaven forbid he turn out to be a schoolteacher, police officer or social worker. Nothing about a six-figured salary guarantees a happy, sustainable marriage. Besides, the shoe has been on the other foot for centuries. Men marry women of lesser income every day.
Banks, learned as he may be, misses the real point. Marriage, like good parenting, is handed down like baseball and chili recipes. Negotiating the waters of healthy relationships and marriage is a learned skilled. Its relative strength and durability is held in something as basic as mimicry. We do what we see.
In 2007, I conducted a study on behalf of my then client Procter & Gamble. The P&G/ Essence poll showed that 77 percent of African-American women believed they were more negatively portrayed in popular culture than any other race or gender. It was rare, they said, that black women were reflected — particularly in music, film and television — in healthy, balanced relationships. And black men were fairing no better.
On screen, they are hapless street urchins — abusing the women who loved them, abandoning the children who needed them. Generally speaking, aside from The Cosby Show, black people have a difficult time pointing to widely distributed, positive reflections of black life. Our “condition”, as it were, is too often housed the dilapidated, drug infused, bullet-riddled construct of Hollywood’s fertile imagination.
Before you discount the power of what we watch or listen to. Remember, the soundtrack of the 1950s and 60s helped to fuel the civil rights movement and that the counterculture films of the 60s helped end wars, change social mores and advance human rights. All we are saying is give peace a chance… Remember the power of Black radio to impact the public discourse and incite change?
So-called reality television, with its not so real housewives and the near weekly hyper-sexualized slugfests, is candidly damaging. Not only for the way it advances cruel and vicious stereotypes, but the insidious way in which it infects and affects the way we see ourselves. Hollywood doesn’t get all of the blame. Just like the local dope boys around the way, they understand something about demand. They make what they know we’ll watch. Sadly, this season’s network television line-up promises no reprieve and the news coverage surrounding Professor Banks’ somewhat less than profound book is near deafening.
But, complaints about what newsrooms choose to cover or ignore, as well as what entertainment industry chooses to green light, wear old when we keep tuning in, clicking and downloading. We can expect nothing to change about that until we change.
For the record, I am not offended by Professor Banks presentation of statistics. The gender, academic and economic imbalances are evident and clear. It’s his analysis of root cause and solution that I find so troubling. If it’s any consolation, at least he didn’t call me “angry.” Because you know there’s nothing Black women like more than being angry.