I both love and hate this time of year. Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend, there is love in the air as everyone prepares for high end dates, magical short trips, taking casual friendship one step further and of course marriage proposals. That’s the best part about Valentine’s Day, but the other side, is the one that I can’t stand. The “Black Marriage” part, the “dating” part, the part of Valentine’s Day that gets mixed up with Black History Month when everyone starts throwing out horrible statistics about black marriage, interracial dating and how everything is so terrible in love town that black folk should just curl up and die. The good news is that we don’t have to be victims of the “Black Marriage Industrial Complex”. Things are a lot better than we’re being told in the world of Black love, and if you have any doubts, just look at NBA All Star Weekend.
The Marriage Industrial Complex
What is the Black Marriage Industrial Complex (BMIC)? Is it the prison industrial complex with conjugal visits? Nope, it’s the political, cultural, racial and financial vortex that has sprung up around African American marriage statistics ever since that infamous urban legend statistic popped up in the 80’s. The one that states African American women have a better chance of getting struck by lightning, killed by terrorists, winning the lottery etc. than getting married past 30. We’ve all heard variations of it. Combine that with the prevailing myth that there are “no available black men out there” because they’re all gay, in jail, not educated or chasing white girls, and a healthy panic has been sold to black folks to the tune of billions. Of course not everyone wants to get married, or is even thinking about it, but a constant drumbeat of marital gloom and doom is getting a lot of people in the BMIC paid. We’re not just talking relationship advice books by every black celebrity out there (no matter how shady his own history is – *Ahem* Steve Harvey). We’re talking seminars to help women find husbands, websites claiming the only way to marriage is to date interracially and the million dollar wedding industry that sells the story that black marriage is so rare that when you get one you better spend like there’s no tomorrow. Fortunately, this holiday season there is a way to fight back, the Black Marriage Industrial Complex doesn’t have to suck you in this year like it does every year, you can fight it, you just have to know where to look.
First, always be wary when mainstream news reports come out talking about “problems” with African American love and marriage. The little known secret is that the press is driven by the stories that get eyeballs, and which gets more attention “Black Marriages on the Rocks” or “African American love is Stronger than ever”? Exactly. You’ll see a million stories telling you what’s wrong with black marriage but most of them focus on interviews, collecting a group of 30 something single black women and dishing stories. They almost never talk to single women or men that are happy, women that are happily divorced and heaven forbid they talk to LGBT women and men who are never a part of these conversations. That’s coffee talk, not reporting. The real stories, like a CDC report showing that African American fathers are more involved in their kid’s lives, married or not than Latino or White men, or that online dating has improved the chances for African Americans to marry, or even National Black Marriage day (March 23rd this year), don’t get covered.
As a professor, I find these folks are some of the most insidious conspirators in the Black Marriage Industrial Complex. Under the guise of social research or education, they promote long held stereotypes about black love and marriage that are blatantly not true, but provocative titles and research studies will get you more paid speaking engagements and interviews than good news. Books like “Is Marriage for White People” which argued that African American relationships were so unsalvageable that the only solution for black women was to marry a white man. Not just date or marry interracially, but marry white men specifically. Or research showing black marriages aren’t just hard to find but they are actually unhealthy for African American women. Try any basic search of “Black marriage statistics” on Bing or Google and you’ll see a slew of gloom and doom articles like this. And since all of these studies come from people with PhD’s they must be correct right? Not at all, most legitimate research on African American, dating, marriage and family finds a more nuanced and positive picture of Black Love in modern life. Let’s break down the real facts:
- 88 percent of African American men who are married are married to black women.
- 94 percent of African American women who are married are married to black men.
- 75 percent of married black women get married do so before the age of 35.
- 50 percent of black marriages include a child from a previous relationship which means single moms and dads are jumping the broom like everyone else.
The Culture Hustlers
The most dangerous part of the BMIC are the culture hustlers. They’re the ones that make sure Olivia Pope and Mary Jane are always chasing after married men or non – African American men or both. They’re the ones that point out that most of the actors in “Best Man Holiday” are married to non-black women in real life. They point out Kanye and Kim as examples of black men dating “out” again and praise Robin Thicke and Paula Patton as sistas “evening the score”. The most seductive part of the Culture Hustlers is they have so many examples they sound like they’re right. But what makes the culture hustlers the most powerful is also their greatest weakness – it’s just a matter of what examples you look at.
Kanye’s “When he get on he leave your ass for a white girl” is a great line but you’ve got to cherry pick celebrities for it to be true. For the Black Marriage Industrial Complex to work you have to ignore that three of the most powerful couples in America of any color are Jay-Z and Beyonce’, Will and Jada and that couple living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since the election of 2008. Despite all of the abuse she takes from Fitz on Scandal, Kerry Washington dated men of all colors in her personal life but actually married retired NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha last year. And speaking of athletes, over 80% of the married NBA All-Stars the last two seasons are married to African American women. These are young guys like LeBron, Steph Curry, Kevin Garnett, and Chris Paul (we’ll just overlook D-Wade and Gabrielle Union right now). What could be a better indicator of how strong black love is than the most popular and powerful ballers in the country not only getting married – but marrying African American?
Of course the most popular part of the BMIC is that African American love and marriage is on a respirator because black men always choose other women and black women’s only hope to not end up alone with a house full of cats is to date out. Interracial dating is not a way to racially “get even” nor should it be because of a “lack of options”, the idea that all of the ills of personal dating life are because you didn’t choose enough colors is the worst kind of internalized racism. Even worse this narrative ignores the fact that most black women are very open to dating interracially, the reality is that most men of other colors, especially white men, aren’t asking. Look at the data fromMatch.com, Ok Cupid, and E-Harmony.
The undercurrent for this part of the BMIC is to suggest that black men aren’t looking for love (which they are) and that black women are rejecting some mythical long line of white, Latino and Asian men who are breaking down doors to be with them. When GQ, Esquire, or Maxim have full page articles extolling the virtues of dating women of color I’ll buy it, but until then black magazines and culture mavens of the BMIC need to stop promoting a myth to scare black folks into buying into whatever dating snake oil they’re peddling.
True love can be hard to find for anybody of any race, culture, age or socioeconomic background. But way too much ink and pixels are spent every year lamenting the prospects of African Americans in dating, love and marriage and it’s about time we push back. Are there problems? Of course, but many of the issues laid at the feet of black love have more to do with poverty and lack of education than anything about black people or black culture. Black marriage numbers have been stable or growing for the last decade, African Americans are finding each other and love just as much as usual, and in the face of a more racially diverse and progressive America we still choose each other 8 to 1 over anybody else. So go out and enjoy your holiday weekend – alone or with someone else. Just know you don’t have to buy anything literally or figuratively to enjoy black love this weekend. From the top of the key to the White House to the streets of Brooklyn, black love is doing fine. It just doesn’t pay to talk about it.