This past weekend was very eventful on the high-profile “Atlanta black marriage” front.
First, we saw GOP presidential hopeful and Georgia native Herman Cain announce on Saturday that he was going to “suspend” his presidential campaign amid serious allegations of sexual harassment, and more critically new allegations that he had engaged in a 13 year long adulterous affair with Atlanta resident Ginger White.
Also in Atlanta this weekend, the Bishop Eddie Long announced he was taking a “sabbatical” from New Birth congregation when news broke that his wife of 21 years, Vanessa Long, has filed for a divorce.
But what makes this weekend more interesting to me, is what we all witnessed from two high-profile black men, and their wives. Both Gloria Cain and Vanessa Long are black women who hail from the “Baby Boom” generation, and both have handled the sexual peccadillo’s and improprieties of their husbands in similar and yet, very different manners. The reality is that we have not seen this before in the public arena in the lives of black folks.
Yes, we have watched former President Bill Clinton, former Governors Elliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford humiliate their wives with sexual affairs, and we’ve suffered others like now GOP front-runner Newt Gingrich who is on his third wife (who was also his staff aide) and was his lover while he was still married to his second wife
What we have not seen before is a serious black political candidate like Herman Cain who has had to weather moral charges on a national scale, and unlike his predecessors (who are mostly white men) be able to survive the political and personal damage. The same goes for Bishop Long who has been under intense scrutiny for months amidst allegations that he coerced young teen men to have sex with him as their spiritual father and leader.
Long at first denied the charges, then filed for binding arbitration and settled with the class of plaintiffs. Both men are married to good women, who have born them children, and stood by them as they crawled up the corporate and religious ladders of power to great success.
The real question, however, that will be discussed over office coffee breaks this morning and lunch later today, is what to make of Gloria Cain and Vanessa Long. Is it still a good thing for a woman to “stand by her man” even after he has violated the marriage, stomped on his vows, and humiliated his wife and family in public?
At some point, we as women of a new generation are going to need to set our own standards in this regard, because to be candid, I do not have much respect for Gloria Cain or Vanessa Long. Both of these women had to know that their respective husbands were catting around (or worse), and when they did come to know with a certainty, what did they do about it?
Sadly, not much. Clearly, a marriage is a unique institution between the man and the woman in that marriage, but when it comes to the values we are teaching our girls and young women of a new generation, I have to say that the “Baby Boomer” wives, starting with former First lady Hillary Clinton have failed us all with their adoring, smiling, waving, or even heart broken faces (Silda Spitzer comes to mind) as they stand next to or behind men that are simply put: CADS.
As for Vanessa Long, she has finally decided to divorce her husband after a year of what can only have been the most horrific of personal tragedies. Being married to a man who is a spiritual leader to millions, head of your household, and national figure only to find out he has been sleeping with teen boys and young men has to be devastating.
But, I go back to my earlier point: Vanessa Long and Gloria Cain are nobody’s fools. They had to know what was going on as first rumors circulated, and then bonafide allegations came to light. Both of these women have daughters, and young women in their lives that look up to them for guidance and mentoring. So what is the message Mrs. Cain and Mrs. Long have sent to our young women:
1. Stand by your man at any cost, even at the cost of your own personal worth and self-esteem
2. No matter “how far we have come baby” — we have not come far enough because we are still expected to put up with men’s antics and do so with a humiliating smile. Grin and bear it girls.
3. “Look the other way” when you know your spouse is engaged in illegal, unethical, or immoral behavior (sexual or otherwise). Plausible deniability works.
4. Silence is golden, even when your family is being destroyed
5. Boys will be boys so let’s not over-react to their bad behavior and let’s understand they cannot help themselves so it is our job to stand by them at all costs
Let me close by saying as a black woman of Generation X, I categorically reject the example that Vanessa Long and Gloria Cain have provided us to date. As a Christian woman I respect and understand wanting to make your marriage work, and to forgive your spouse. But as high-profile women we must understand that what we do, say, and display in public affects millions of other women here and around the world.
My hope is that as the Baby Boomer generation gracefully ages and exists the public stage in the next decade, that my generation of women and those to come will set clear boundaries of self love, respect, and honor above the antics and foibles of the men we love.