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Saturday, January 2, 2010

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 September. According to statistics, forty-two percent of Black women over the age of thirty have never been married; double the number of white women.

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.

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 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 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 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 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: Don't look for love; love will find you. Love attracts love. And if you love yourself, others will love you.


  1. Shawn,
    I really like your article. I think you speak "lovingly" and with compassion about what ails us. My only point of contention is the high rates of incarceration, drug abuse and low levels of education of some black men ARE a reflection of the lack of love and value some black men feel..which in fact does make them unsuitable mates for many black women. I think we also have to discuss how we as a people show love to our children. That’s were all of this begins. A good friend of mine, a black man who I respect dearly and have known since we were 9 and 10 years old, beautifully put it this way recently... being born black in and of itself is not a disadvantage, but being born black and to a single, uneducated parent, who lives in poverty (material, spiritual and mental) is. We are told immediately by the world (including our parents) from our very conception how much worth we have to those around us. From the moment you bring a child into this world and you have not thought enough of it to plan its arrival, bring it home to the very best of are saying...your life is not valuable enough for me to make sure you were created with thought and intention. I did not take into consideration how I would make sure you had a safe neighborhood to come home to, a safe and effective school to educate you, and enough resources around you to properly, clothe and feed you. I did not pick carefully the man or women with whom I lay with to create you and their ability to love themselves, me or you enough to feel that your rearing is in fact an honor bestowed by the Creator…you are in fact saying to a child on the most fundamental of levels that you are unworthy of love. If we can get to this point of caring for the lives we create and are charged with nurturing…then maybe we will be able to someday enter into truly loving and affirming romantic unions.

  2. Karen,

    Thanks. I truly care about my sisters and I want them to achieve the best in life.

    While I feel for the brothers and sisters who are dealing with the issues of incarceration,drug abuse and a poor education I understand that Both black men and black women must come together and stop focusing on the problems and start focusing on solutions. Our community will not grow unless we learn to love ourselves.

    I understand that this crisis in our community has been a vicious cycle that will keep repeating itself until a generation of people are willing to have the courage to start the healing process. To paraphrase Bill Cosby said "Hurt people hurt other people" . We can stop hurting ourselves; it's a choice we all have to make to endure the painful healing process that will allow us to grow as a people.

    African-Americans, my brothers and sisters must learn to love themselves and teach that love to their children Even in the bleakest of situations we all must realize that we are valuable because God created us and he wouldn't put us here without a purpose. While our parents may not be the people we want them to be we can choose to be better by the choices that we make in our own lives. I learned this at sixteen way back in 1990 and it changed my life for the better.

    I myself was born to a single mother and grew up in poverty in the South Bronx. I still struggle as a writer but I realize that I must work towards making better choices so that I do not perpetuate the vicious cycle of self-destrucution I see around me.

    Many African-American Children are bought into

  3. Hi Shawn,

    I hope you didnt take my response as an attempt to blame us. My reply is in the spirit of we are so blessed to have the opportunity to choose something different. i know our parents did the best they could and what i'm calling for is a shift in conciousness around what our best should look like. single moms have the hardest job in the world and i think we do them, and our children a deserves when we dont have the challenging conversations around how precious THEIR lives are and what a blessing and true responsibility the care of life presents..and that we have to really think about what it means to be loving in every sense of the word. I also take issue with Bill Cosby...his critism was harsh and partonizing and didn't get to the spritual reasons for the choas that exists. I think he was critical of the outcomes without being compassionate about its genesis. we really have to take step back and realize that love is more than our feelings, its our actions and wishes for one another and our willingness to sacrafice for one another....And Shawn, thank you so much for taking the time to reply.

  4. Karen,

    Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Your response gave me something to think about.Perhaps I'll return to write about this subject again. I'd love to hear more from you on this subject.