‘Black Marriage Negotiations’ viral videos hit a nerve

OPINION - While many of us may question the accuracy of the content of these videos, we can't deny that something is terribly amiss in black male-female relationships...

Last week, a YouTube video called “Black Marriage Negotiations” spread like a forest fire among the African-American middle class set. With posts on Facebook, Essence.com and many sites in between, the 3-minute-plus animated video, where a professional black woman dictates what she requires in a mate to a professional black man, has elicited strong reactions.

In response to the poll that the site blackandmarriedwithkids.com conducted asking if the video was a) both funny and sad b) sad or c) funny, Jbngrace wrote: “I refuse to vote because I don’t think it’s funny and the only sad thing about it is that it’s getting real old hearing this stereotype of black women perpetuated when I know PLENTY (sic) of black women who neither think nor behave like this.”

Indeed the animated female has become an all too familiar stereotype, especially in the last two years. Earlier this year, ABC News ran a special report on the single, black female. Her plight, as noted by the popular black gossip site Bossip, even attracted the attention of Russian TV. And, of course, she’s been the subject of numerous newspaper, magazine and Internet articles. But what exactly is the problem?

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“I can’t find any good black man,” the highly educated black female says to a potential mate in the video, who asks “what are you looking for?” As she rattles off a checklist that includes a six-figure income, integrity, good character, good credit and loves his mom, requirements he actually meets, she later details many restrictions including little to no sex.

As she reiterates her demands, he notes the irony of it all: “wow that’s confusing: career-minded, strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man but you expect to have your way through life paid for by your man.” Yet, when he finally submits to her unrealistic wish list, she tells him “you’re too weak. I need a man with a backbone who won’t let me run all over him. Besides you’re not 6’5 and that’s a deal breaker.”

Another video “Black Marriage Negotiations (Woman’s Perspective)”, detailing the black man’s desire to have a wife who works but doesn’t make more money than him, cooks every day, primarily raises the kids and keeps a “flat” stomach, hasn’t proven nearly as popular. In fact, yet another video “Black Marriage Negotiations Pt. II”, which shows a white co-worker making moves on the potential black mate, has gotten far more play on YouTube.

While many of us may question the accuracy of the content of these videos, we can’t deny that something is terribly amiss in the black male-female relationship dynamic. Yes, marriage is on the decline in general but still the numbers for the African-American community are way out of sync with the national average and that’s been true for some time now.
“In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites,” declared the controversial 2006 Washington Post article, “Marriage Is for White People,” by Joy Jones. “African-American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent,” it continued.

The statistics are so dire that the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families has placed special emphasis on its African-American Healthy Marriage Initiative, which is a part of its larger Healthy Marriage Initiative. “Research suggests that child well-being is related to family structure. All things being equal, children who grow up in healthy married, two-parent families do better on a host of outcomes than those who do not,” reads an AAHMI brochure.

So, in the interest of increasing the number of healthy African-American children, the push has been to create the more ideal two-parent environment for them. That’s not to say that a single-parent household cannot usher a child into healthy adulthood because it has been done. Statistics, however, suggest that it is more challenging and, thus, not as successful.

There’s even a “Black Marriage Day.” But the wedding is half the battle. Sadly, most of those dating rarely consider the type of mother or father a potential mate will be. Unfortunately income, physical appearance and sexual prowess score greater importance. And, while the rates of incarcerated black men are indeed disturbingly high, almost 70 percent of black men under the age of 30 have never been involved in the criminal justice system. Also, 62 percent of black women and 67 percent of black men work. Even allowing for so-called “down-low” black men, theoretically, there are available “straight” working black men to match the pool of “straight” working black women.

In the face of attitudes like those expressed by both the man and woman featured in the “Black Marriage Negotiations” videos, however, such realities matter little. Educational attainment is important but it does not ensure that a man or woman will make a great parent or partner. Perhaps not having enough firsthand examples of healthy marriages or positive feedback in popular culture is also a source of blame.

When black marriage is presented on television, as evidenced by the current Vh1 reality show La La’s Full Court Wedding, the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony take greater precedence over the human connection of the bride and groom. So, the storyline isn’t about a woman and man finding a life partner, but, rather it becomes dominated by the baller Carmelo Anthony marrying a known radio and television personality La La Vazquez and all their celebrity friends and the bling.

Similarly, on this season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, NeNe Leakes and her husband Greg are at odds because, due to a failed real estate market, he is no longer bringing home the bacon. Although they have been married for more than a decade, lack of money, as it does with many couples, threatens to drive them apart. This is in huge contrast to the popular 1970s sitcom Good Times where Florida and James Evans regularly pulled together during their proverbial hard times.

Maybe the problem lies in the fact that no forms of African-American media regularly drill successfully married couples. Yes, we all know about Will and Jada and both Essence and Jet are great at showing marriage ceremonies. It would be even more helpful, however, for these couples to share their joys and their challenges. If being married with kids became sexier than who is sleeping with whom or popping bottles at the latest celebrity party, then, just maybe, black marriage negotiations could become a blissful process that mutually satisfies all parties involved.