Archive for the ‘race & ethnicity’ Category
Book Review: Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone by Ralph Richards Banks
BY: KATHLEEN S. PETERS
Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone provides a historical and sociological analysis of the declining marriage rates in the African American community. The first book by Stanford Law professor Ralph Richard Banks, Is Marriage focuses specifically on middle-class African American women and discusses why, of all Americans, this group is the least likely to marry and the most likely to divorce. Through sociological studies and numerous interviews with professional African American women, Banks narrows down what he sees as the main problems in African American relationships and offers some suggestions for future action to remedy these trends. While he raises some interesting points and seemed to do his homework as far as statistics, Banks sorely lacks a deeper analysis of the issues he discusses, especially with regards to gender.
Banks organizes his book fairly thematically, covering a wide range of topics and their effects on African American marriages and relationships. One such topic is the educational gap within the African American community. Banks discusses how African American women finish high school and college at higher rates than African American men and how this leads to not only different values being placed on education, but also disparities in income between the genders. While in other racial groups men’s income still exceeds that of women, Banks states that on average this is the opposite for African Americans (Banks 40). Banks also points out the horrifically high incarceration rates and mortality rates of Black men, and how this phenomenon not only breaks up African American marriages but decreases the number of available Black men. Another one of Banks’ stronger chapters discusses fears and concerns some Black women have of interracial relationships, particularly with white men. He brings up not only the cultural and family expectations that Black women will date only Black men, but also fears that white men would be dating Black women for the wrong reasons (152).
While Banks’ makes some valid arguments, there are also some major issues with his discussion of African American marriage. First of all, Banks looks at the issue of African American relationships and marriage solely through a heterosexual lens and completely ignores the existence or possibility of LGBT African Americans. Apart from one fleeting (and somewhat offensive) comment one single interviewee made of how “even they [gay couples] can get married,” there is no discussion of LGBT African Americans, the issues they face in the dating scene, or what they want in their romantic lives (16). Another assumption is that Banks does not discuss or question the necessity of marriage in the first place. He states that in Europe it is much more common for “couples to maintain long-term stable relationships without being married.” Citing an unidentified study by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Banks states that 91% of cohabiting couples in the United States either separate or marry within a few years (24-25). That statistic and others used throughout the book could be given more context than Banks provides. Overall, Banks assumes that marriage is the goal of all the individuals that he interviews, and that the women who state otherwise are few and far between (14). Banks also frequently uses the desire of African Americans wanting to get married as evidence against claims that declining Black marriage rates are due to “deviant values” within the community (70). While Banks is correct in countering these Moynihan-esque* arguments, he does so by othering those who do not want to get married.
My largest problem with this book, however, is the lack of a gender analysis. The majority of Banks’ information comes from interviews with African American middle class women. Banks uses several quotes from his interviewees, which often perpetuate gender stereotypes of a woman feeling incomplete without a husband/nuclear family. This may have been the true feelings of the women Banks interviewed, thus I cannot judge their experiences or the reasons for their comments. However Banks could have provided greater context for why these stereotypes still exist and the way U.S. society fosters these beliefs. The need for deeper analysis of these interviews is most apparent when issues of gender and class overlap. Banks describes many middle class women saying that when they were pregnant, they often made a point to always wear their wedding ring out in public so as not to appear like the “[poor], unwed black mother, immoral, promiscuous, irresponsible.” They wanted to be “the antithesis of that portrayal of black women” (72-73). While it may be true that there are active efforts to counter stereotypes put forth by a white-dominated, patriarchal U.S. society, for Banks to leave these quotes unexamined is irresponsible and helps to validate these stereotypes.
Another example of unexamined gender stereotypes is in his sixth chapter, “Power Wives.” Banks states that because there is an education and income gap between Black men and women, Black couples often have switched traditional gender roles with the wives being the breadwinners. Banks states that this gender imbalance puts “understandable pressure” on the husband, makes him “feel less of a man,” and “reminds [him] in a humiliating fashion of his own failure to fulfill the role of the husband” (95). Banks often writes, almost nostalgically, of how previous generations did not have to deal with such challenges to gender roles, and ultimately implies that these traditional roles made marriages simpler and easier. Banks states that his book is going to counter the idea that Black women are too picky and demanding in relationships, however this is just one example of how he in fact perpetuates that image.
Banks’ ultimate conclusion to the declining rates of African American marriage is for Black women to be as open to marrying “out” of their race as they are to marrying “down” from their class. He states that if Black women opened themselves up to dating men of other races that they would be more marriage possibilities and that this could solve some key issues within the Black community. “Recall that relationships are negotiations and that, as in any negotiation, which party prevails depends on the power that that person can bring to bear…the better one’s options outside of the relationship, the more power one has within it” (180). Thus while as of now Black men have more power in relationships because of the disproportionate gender ratio, if Black women opened themselves up to more dating options then Black women would get married more frequently, Black men’s leverage would decrease, and Black women would gain more bargaining power in their relationships.
While this solution may be Banks’ attempt to make the best out of the current situation, this conclusion is flawed because it not only places the blame on Black women, but it ignores many of the societal factors Banks refers to throughout his book. Not least of these factors is the huge (and I mean huge) percentages of Black men in prison and the way the U.S. education system handles Black male youth. Instead of Banks’ focusing on what Black women can do to better the rates of Black marriage, why not address the prison industrial complex and the reasons there are these disproportionate incarceration rates in the first place? Why not discuss how our education system could be improved and truly address the achievement gap? That would be much harder than simply telling Black women to date “out,” but it might get more to the heart of the real issue.
*For more info on The Moynihan Report read our review of Freedom Is Not Enough.
Many thanks to John for pointing out this poll that links opinions about interracial marriage with opinions about political candidates. (Click through to see the difference between Palin and Romney fans.)
We asked voters on this poll whether they think interracial marriage should be legal or illegal- 46% of Mississippi Republicans said it should be illegal to just 40% who think it should be legal.
Fascinating, because the New York Times recently reported that “Mississippi led the nation in the growth of mixed marriages for most of the last decade,” and cited data “suggesting that much of the growth in the mixed-race group can be explained by recent births.”
The Times still describes marriage as the only indicator of mixed-race relationships and the only source of mixed-race births. This feels inaccurate to me, but a wonderful fact sheet published by our friends at the Council on Contemporary Families suggests why my instincts might be wrong.
- Interracial daters report receiving less social support, such as positive affirmation or help from friends, family, or just people they interact with in public.
- Due to perceived lack of support, interracial couples are less likely to … report thinking of themselves as a couple.
- …The odds of going from dating to living together or getting married are 1 in 4 for same-race daters and about 1 in 5 for interracial daters.
- Interracial couples who cohabit are only 60 percent as likely as same-race cohabiters to get married to each other.
I’m still willing to guess that interracial cohabiters are less likely to marry because they are less bound by traditional views about relationships, rather than assume their relationships don’t work out. I’d love to see some research on that.
I’d also love to see stats on the marital status of parents of mixed-race children. The CCF fact sheet does not mention childbirth – perhaps we can inspire them to look into that question for a future fact sheet.
Meanwhile, more of you have responded to our quiz about interracial identity and relationships. Thank you! Here’s an update based on your 56 responses:
- 40% identify yourselves as multi-racial or multi-ethnic
- 14% of your parents were unmarried when you were born
- 93% of you are unmarried
- 82% of you are in committed relationships including marriage, and 80% of those relationships are with one different-sex partner
- 67% of your relationships are interracial, including 50% where your partner is one race/ethnicity that is different from yours, and 17% where your partner has a mixed-race identity
- 43% of you have mixed-race/ethnicity children
Thanks so much to everyone who took the quiz! So far, your 39 responses paint this picture:
45% of you identify as multi-racial or multi-ethnic; among you multis, 24% of your parents were unmarried when you were born (compared to 15% of parents of the total group). Your ages range from 19 to 74, with 46% of you still under age 40. 90% of you are unmarried, and 47% of you have multiracial/ethnic children of your own.
Among the 28 of you who have committed romantic relationships, 74% are different-sex, 6% are same-sex, and 19% are poly. Of the 37 partners you described, 22% are themselves multiracial/ethnic, and 51% identify with just one race/ethnicity but that one is different from yours. So 73% of your relationships are interracial/ethnic.
Of course, this is not a scientific sample! But it is fascinating to see such big numbers. Your personal comments are also fascinating. Here are just a few:
Although my family of origin was marriage-based and white, there are lots of multiracial families among my extended family. We all feel just as much like family even though we all look different and have different last names, and we joke a lot about the benefits of “hybrid vitality.”
… our real difference are the economic/ parenting styles we experienced growing up.
I have a biracial child and am a single parent. My child attends a predominantly black school and has been having some identity issues due to her bi-racial status and we are working through them little by little each day
Board member Kevin Maillard has written extensively on the topic of unmarried mixed-race relationships. He sent this commentary:
The NY Times’ recent article on multiracial identity places great weight on intermarriage as the catalyst for the “biracial baby boom.” But is this true? It would suggest that the multiracial population did not take off until 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled antimiscegenation laws unconstitutional in Loving V. Virginia. This is an easy way to imagine the origins of mixed race in America, but it overlooks unmarried relationships that produced the bulk of the historical mixed race population.
Marriage is only one way of recognizing relationships, and it is also a convenient way to ignore them, too. By prohibiting marriage between people of different races, states did not have to recognize the legal legitimacy of multiracial children. Because the parents did not have a legally recognized relationship, the state could deny benefits and support. In all kinds of court cases, people used antimiscegenation laws to invalidate and prevent equal treatment of the law. For example, white men tried to evade divorce obligations from black women, landlords excluded Amer-asian families, and collateral heirs argued that wills were invalid. By saying that such relationships were illegitimate, people relied upon law to erase the legal existence of multiracial people. They were not counted in the census, and the children weren’t either.
But during this entire historical period, families continued to blend outside of marriage. States’ goals of keeping the races separate only worked for preventing official recognition. As people, we’ve always known that marriage isn’t the only way to make a family.
As a mixed-race person myself, I couldn’t help falling for the huge coverage of multiracial identity in Sunday’s New York Times. And of course I couldn’t help noticing the Times’ matrimaniacal focus on interracial marriage, as if that’s where mixed-race babies come from. The article is good, and the charts are nifty, but I suspect the Times missed the real story. My unscientific hypothesis is that unmarried relationships are more likely to be multiracial than married ones. I’d even guess that mixed-race kids could be more likely to have unmarried parents than single-race kids.
I’m curious, and I hope you share my curiosity because we have the technology to find out more and share the results! Please take this quick quiz and invite your friends to do the same. It’s not scientific, of course. It asks for your name in case we have a chance to do some to follow-up research, but we won’t publicize any individual’s information; and, you can tell us up front if you want to be anonymous (or, by contrast, if you want to share your story with the media).
Thanks for helping us, and the world, reach a better understanding of unmarried people.
Book Review: Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America’s Struggle over Black Family Life—from LBJ to Obama by James T. Patterson
BY EMMA ROSENBERG
Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America’s Struggle over Black Family Life—from LBJ to Obama is a verbose title with a revealing indication of what is to come. James T. Patterson, a Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University, offers a rigorous 288 page account of the Moynihan Report and its aftermath. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a politician-academic and an Assistant Secretary of Labor, wrote a report in March 1965 summarizing the poor conditions of the black community in America. The Moynihan Report, officially titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” highlights the destructive forces of unemployment and poverty for black Americans. Moynihan emphasizes the deterioration of black family life and the retarding nature of the matriarchal structure. Moynihan criticizes the structure of the welfare system, which preferentially assists families with absentee fathers and therefore encourages broken homes. Moynihan’s groundbreaking discovery, which Patterson fondly refers to as ‘Moynihan’s Scissors’, details the puzzling correlation between the fall of unemployment rate and the rise in the number of new welfare cases. In other words, a growth in the economy does not necessarily decrease poverty. At the center of Moynihan’s findings is the detrimental rise of non-martial births, a trend that he claims will push the black community further into poverty and create a “tangle of pathologies.” Patterson emphasizes that the report “was diagnostic, not prescriptive,” merely outlining the societal issues in the hopes of turning the heads of government officials and directing the political agenda. In June, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson relied on the report for his commencement address at Howard University, in which he spoke the famous line “freedom is not enough.” While the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act granted equality as a right, Johnson called for equality as a result.
Unfortunately, the United States did not reach Johnson’s goals for racial equality. Patterson largely connects this failure to the accidental leak of the report to the press and the “tortuous trail of misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and destructive controversies” that followed. With utmost craft, Patterson interweaves the racial, political, cultural, and social issues and events that contributed to the creation of the report, its unfavorable reception, and the present-day repercussions. His sweeping collection of academic and media sources, from W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X, to Bill Cosby, provides a much-needed chronicle of a crucial document in civil rights history and a scrupulous survey of black family life in America from the 1960’s to the present. His depiction of black family life, while wide in scope, feels light in weight, merely serving as a backdrop for his defense of the Moynihan Report. Patterson’s ultimate (and limited) goal is to lament the misinterpretation of the report and prove its prophetic nature, especially in regards to the dangerous rise in out-of-wedlock births and overall deterioration of traditional black family life. At the time of the report, 23.6 percent of black births were out of wedlock; by 1984, 60 percent. In 2008, the rate reached 72.3%, with the white out-of-wedlock birthrate at 28.6%. Any innovative findings, however, are watered down by a profusion of tedious statistics strung together by poorly constructed sentences. Patterson is ambitious in tackling such a large time span, but does so at the expense of the reader’s interest, making the book a mind-numbing read.
Surprisingly, Patterson does not dedicate much space to the report itself, leaving the reader in suspense for nearly 50 pages, but does provide ample and unnecessary ink on the life of Patrick Moynihan. The structure of the book may feel perplexing, but Patterson’s point is clear; the Moynihan Report deserves more attention than it was previously given and is still relevant today given the U.S. government’s continual failure in dealing with the growing ills of the black lower class. However, Patterson’s full-fledged endorsement of the 1965 report feels uncomfortably outdated for the present times, given the evolving notion of family structure in American society. His brief smattering of modern-day references–the cultural influence of the Cosby Show, the threat of hip-hop culture, and the presence of sexually-transmitted diseases—are intriguing at best, yet together build a sparse representation of the current times. Freedom Is Not Enough is a substantial and benign read in understanding “the story of a great missed opportunity in American history”, but the reader is left to wonder, what now?
Emma Rosenberg is a senior at Barnard College-Columbia University studying English Literature and Religious Studies.
While 45% of adults in the U.S. are unmarried, marital status is not distributed evenly throughout the population. One figure that always stands out for me is that 70% of African American adults are not married. To me that makes reducing marital status discrimination part of advancing racial justice.
It would seem logical that giving everyone access to health care and other basics regardless of marital or relationship status would be important common ground for the African American and LGBT communities. But a new report by the Arcus Operating Foundation shows the two groups haven’t fully recognized their shared interests, yet.
Here are a few highlights from the report:
- 60% of African Americans favor health care and pension benefits for unmarried couples.
- 66% said that “Access to health care and pension benefits for unmarried couples” is a big or very big problem for African Americans, while a smaller majority (57%) said it is the same level of problem for gays and lesbians.
- Surprisingly, when both LGBT and African American communities were surveyed, “participants did not draw a comparison between African Americans and LGBT people being two groups with high levels of domestic partnership or unmarried partners, which could lead to common goals on health care and pension benefits, or on hospital visitation rights.” (emphasis added)
In 2006, New York City was rocked by the terrible death of Sean Bell. Unfortunately, the shooting of Sean Bell was not a rare or unique event. Some quick exploration finds that NYC police fatally shot an average of 24 people per year from 1990 through 2000, that, “in 77% of the incidents where officers fired their weapons at civilians between 1999 and 2006, the officers were the only ones shooting, with officers often shooting at unarmed civilians,” and that “during 1996 and 1997, 90.5% of civilian shooting targets were black and Latino.” Horribly, the death of unarmed black and Latino men in a hail of police bullets in NYC happens much too often, yet rarely becomes a huge news story.
One thing that made Sean Bell’s death huge news was the fact that it occurred on the eve of his wedding. The planned wedding separated Mr. Bell from potential stereotypes, giving the media a guaranteed attention-getter. Mr. Bell’s death is far from the only one to be treated differently because of proximity to a wedding. Just this morning I heard a radio report about a terrible plane crash in Pakistan: all 152 people aboard were killed; the only ones described in any detail were two Americans and a Pakistani couple who had just celebrated their wedding.
This is not to question that each of these deaths is tragic, but to point out that the media often relies on matrimania to make some violent, untimely deaths seem more terrible than others.
The loss of Sean Bell is in our minds again today, because NYC is paying his family $7 million to settle their lawsuit for “wrongful death, negligence, assault and civil rights violations.” Technically speaking, none of the settlement will go to Nicole Bell, whom Mr. Bell was about to marry after a long-term unmarried partnership during which they bore and co-raised two children. “The money will go to her two children with Mr. Bell, Jada, 7, and Jordyn, 4; she will not receive a share because she was not married to Mr. Bell (she took his name legally after his death).”
Since Ms. Bell was involved in negotiating the settlement, I’m willing to assume that she’s OK with the way it works. But what if they hadn’t had children? What if they had been planning to adopt? What if they were all much older and the children were independent adults? What happens to unmarried survivors whose partners die wrongful deaths?
Professor Nancy Polikoff has documented that few states allow any compensation to unmarried survivors, and New York State has consistently denied them – see her book Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage, page 88-89. Matrimania is not just an annoying media habit. Reliance on marital status in wrongful death cases, as in so many other legal and economic policies, can double the pain of a loss and create permanent hardships for people whose caring, interdependent relationships don’t count.
If you like charts and percentages, you’ll love this collection of figures comparing marriage rates by race & gender with a focus on people with high incomes / educations.
Thanks to Jonathan for sending me the great news that Google will cover the extra tax costs for employees with same-sex partners whose domestic partner benefits coverage is treated as taxable income (unlike spousal benefits). It is infuriating that Google would level the playing field only for same-sex partners, leaving different-sex partners to pay more or “just get married.” This is one of my biggest pet peeves, and here is (a corrected version of) what I posted as a comment on the New York Times blog about the story.
As reported by HRC, Google extends benefits to the domestic partners of both same- and different-sex employees (as do 95% of companies that offer DP benefits).
According the US Census Bureau, there are three times as many different-sex unmarried partner households in the San Francisco – Oakland – Fremont Metro Area workforce than same-sex ones. Nationwide, different-sex partners comprise 88.6% of the 6.15 million households headed by cohabiting couples. In a 2006 study, Badgett of the Williams Institute (who is quoted in the main article) wrote that “people with different-sex partners who have domestic partner coverage [currently] outnumber the same-sex partners with domestic partner coverage by a nine to one margin” and that, if all US employers offered DP benefits, “out of every thousand employees, on average only one to four would sign up a same-sex partner, and another 13–21 would sign up a different-sex partner.”
This is not a “gay” issue, it is a public health and social justice issue. Again quoting Badgett, “Gay men and lesbians in couples are more likely to be uninsured than are married heterosexuals, and people with unmarried different-sex partners are the least likely to be insured.” In addition, different-sex partners are also more likely to be people of color, and to have lower incomes, than married or same-sex couples. (More on unmarried people’s access to health care.)
What a company as rich as Google should do is convert its entire family benefits structure to a plus-one model, in which every employee has an equal right to extend benefits to her/his economic dependents, children up to age 26 (per new federal law) plus one non-dependent adult regardless of relationship type.
Google’s new subsidy policy is a ridiculously wrong-headed move that will surely antagonize it’s workforce and should hurt its global reputation.
Many thanks to Jim (and to Bitsy, and Dennis, who both tried earlier) for getting me to finally read Lily Kahng’s paper on “eliminating marriage as a basis for preferential treatment under the tax law.” What a pleasant surprise to discover that she references AtMP’s advocacy on income taxes, as well as Jim’s extensive research and analysis (marriagePenalty.xls, best accessed here). Of course, we agree completely with Kahng’s conclusion: “The joint return is unsupportable and should be abolished.”
Quoting (with permission) Jim’s post to AtMP-Talk, our email listserv:
all my work, and all AtMP’s work for that matter, compares two unmarried people vs. a married couple, i.e. ALWAYS TWO people compared to TWO people. I believe comparing the tax burden of one person to that of two people is an apple vs. oranges comparison. But I do strongly agree with her that the plight of the uncoupled single (someone who doesn’t have someone else to collaborate with on splitting credits and deductions and even income to minimize taxes) is being left out of practically all studies and discussion of the marriage bonus/penalty issue.
For those who hate numbers and taxes, Kahng’s paper is about much more than that – she surveys attitudes to singles, all kinds of advocacy and alternatives to married groups, discrimination (other than taxes), and other sociology of singles topics. So you can skip over the tax stuff if you want and enjoy the sociology stuff.
For example, here are Kahng’s closing words:
Moving beyond the tax system, recognizing the value of singleness can help us interrogate and critique the role of government and citizens in promoting and supporting marriage. For example, the same-sex marriage debate might be informed by considerations of whether the legal, economic, and social privileges of marriage ought to be expanded further, or rather eliminated entirely. Similarly, we might further question the role of the government in promoting marriage as a solution to poverty, especially for African American women. Instead, marriage could come to be viewed as one among many alternatives. (link added)