Black Women: Seeking Memory and Marriage Part I
Come home from the movies black girls and boys
the picture be over and the screen/ be cold as our neighborhood
come home from the show/ donâ€™t be the show
come home from the movies/ black girls and boys
show our fathers how to walk like men/ they already know how do dance
Few would refute the dismal state of black male/female relationships. The soon to be release movie â€śFor Colored Girls,â€ť will further highlight the plight and problems of black women in society who are viewed as the antithesis of the standard of womanhood and beauty. Added to this is the estranged state of black men and women relationships. Sociologist Orland Patterson has been â€ślistening to black men and women for nearly four decades. He has sifted through census data. And he’s closely followed the work of other researchers who study with new urgency what Patterson calls the current “crisis” in African American gender relations.â€ť
Never, Patterson says, have the voices of black women and men been angrier or sadder. Never have many of the statistics been bleaker or more alarming. And never have these issues been more relevant to all Americans, Patterson and other researchers say. As marriage rates among blacks plummet, Patterson says he’s hearing increased numbers of educated, middle-class black women speak in tones of resignation or desperation about the scarcity of similarly accomplished black men.
As marriage rates among blacks plummet, Patterson says he’s hearing increased numbers of educated, middle-class black women speak in tones of resignation or desperation about the scarcity of similarly accomplished black men. As the black divorce rate has soared, he’s asked black husbands and wives to talk about their marriages â€“ and has been increasingly dismayed by how many say they’re disappointed, dissatisfied or already straying.
Popular music, in particular rap songs have contributed to the estrangement of black male/female relationships, reducing them to recreational sex. . “Hateful,” Patterson described them, flatly rejecting the claim that these lyrics are harmless posturing. “How far can you go with those lyrics and claim what you’re hearing is not what you’re hearing?” he asked.
Speaking of the current state of black male/female relationships, M. Belinda Tucker, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral science says, â€śIt is a crisis,” Her book, â€śThe Decline in Marriage Among African Americans,” highlighted the research of 22 leading psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, historians and economists. “But it is a crisis; she goes on to say, set in the context of a larger crisis: the continuing vulnerability of the black male in this society.”
Nor are these problems unique to African American men and women. Tucker and Patterson say there’s evidence that suggests gender relations among white men and women may become increasingly strained for some of the same reasons.
“In many ways, what has happened to blacks is a precursor to what will happen to whites,” Patterson said. “Some of the trends are clearly in the same direction. Whether they have the same disastrous effects remains to be seen.”
Census figures document many of these trends. In 1910, the government reported that a majority of black women worked outside the home; white women passed that milestone only in the past 20 years, census statistics show. With work inevitably comes increased tensions at home as men and women â€“ white and black â€“ struggle to adjust to new roles and responsibilities, Tucker said.
Census figures also reveal that the number of unmarried black women who gave birth fell by 5 percent between 1990 and 1994, while the percentage of out-of-wedlock births to white women increased by 23 percent during the same period. And there are almost twice as many single white mothers as single black mothers, although the proportion of black families headed by women is much larger.
These statistics suggest that more children â€“ white and black, poor and non-poor â€“ must struggle to learn how to grow into men and women without a father in the home. Even as this problem continues to plague the black community disproportionately, economists have documented an expanding white “underclass” in which grinding poverty complicates the establishment of healthy gender relations, Patterson said.
In the past four decades, a social and economic revolution has transformed traditional patterns of marriage and family among both whites and blacks. Still, Tucker said, the changes are far more dramatic among African Americans, among whom the percentage of households headed by single women remains much higher than among whites. In 1950, 64 percent of black men age 14 or older were married, census data show. (The census selected 14 as an early but arbitrary benchmark.) But by 1995, that proportion had plummeted to 43 percent. (The percentage of currently married white males in the same age category also dropped, but not nearly as much, from 68 percent in 1950 to 61 percent in 1995.
Married black women are even rarer. Between 1950 and 1995, the percentage of black women 14 or older who were married fell from 62 percent to under 38 percent. Currently, 59 percent of all white women are married, down from 66 percent in 1950. Data collected by census researchers also suggest that fewer than 75 percent of black women can expect to marry sometime in their lives, compared with 90 percent of white women.
This crisis among black men and women portends a greater crisis which is devastating the black family. There, the urgency of this matter demands a total solution.
Answers in Kwanzaa: Black men and Women in Love and Togetherness Part II