All the Single Ladies (and Men) Deserve a Break

Why the conversation about love between black women and men needs a new focus.


Last week, more hoopla around unmarried black women dominated the media — again. The Associated Press reported that according to government statistics, in 2008 72 percent of African-American children were born to unwed black mothers. Even though the author, Jesse Washington, mentioned that racism, disproportionate poverty and high rates of incarceration factor into this statistic by taking black men out of the community, the article is devoid of any voices and perspectives from single black fathers. Instead it unfairly focuses on women’s decisions. It sends the message that not being married and not “wanting” to be married is wrong for them, their children and the black community.

To further push this notion, the article opened and closed in the office of Dr. Natalie Carroll, an African-American ob-gyn in Houston, who has many single black female patients. Carroll repeatedly expressed her disappointment with the women, saying, “The girls don’t think they have to get married. I tell them children deserve a mama and a daddy. They really do.”

And in true Moynihan Report fashion, this type of framing clearly tells us that the issue is not the role that men play in conceiving and providing for children, or their lack of desire for marriage. This is solely the single woman’s fault, and ultimately she has two choices: Either forgo motherhood altogether for the greater good, or be more willing to adapt to what men want in order to become viable marriage material.

Yes, it’s that same old story: matrimonial Darwinism.

And no, I am not overlooking the negative outcomes of what happens to black children who grow up without fathers and are encased in poverty. But marriage isn’t necessarily going to “fix” the lives of low-income black women and their children. Clearly, something else is at play.

What I am merely asking is that we put these messages into context with the way the public debate about declining marriage rates in the black community has been playing out. Last month we were subjected to the viral cartoon “Black Marriage Negotiations.” Borrowing from Tyler Perry’s playbook of racial and gender stereotyping, its creator, Darroll Lawson, turns black women into overbearing, self-contradictory and shallow caricatures who claim that they want a good man but prefer a thug; who have their own careers but need to be taken care of financially; and who want their men to be faithful but refuse to “stick that nasty thing in their mouth.”

Some call this “satire” ingenious; I call it annoying as hell, as is our obsession with single black women.

What’s interesting is that every five years, this topic dusts itself off and re-emerges with a trendy news hook. This time around, we have Perry’s exhaustive body of work and our infatuation with the Obamas’ marriage to blame for why this topic just won’t die. You know it’s bad when the subject has infiltrated spaces like the Economist magazine.

My issue isn’t with the fact that we are talking about straight black romantic relationships; it’s with how we are talking about them. These conversations are not nuanced, eye-opening or constructive. Instead they are dominated by malicious finger-pointing, and cloaked in sexist and classist undertones that do nothing but insinuate that we as black people are pathological. A lot of the fingers point toward black women in particular.

Clearly, we have internalized some of this bias.