Review: ‘Is Marriage for White People?’

An upcoming book instructs black women to marry outside of their race to solve their relationship woes.

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When titles for this book were being considered, perhaps Why Middle Class Black Women Can’t Find a Man and How the Whole Problem Could Be Solved if They Would Just Marry White Guys didn’t have quite the ring the publisher was after.

But that’s pretty much what Stanford Law professor Ralph Richard Banks’ Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone (in stores this September) is all about. The provocative, headline-grabbing big question (inspired by a journalist’s 2006 account of her conversation with an African-American sixth-grader) turns out to be there mostly to signal, “Attention, black bloggers, hosts of urban radio shows and white people, too: This is about to be a controversial analysis of marriage and race. Get ready for a lively debate with lots of interrupting.”

By the time you reach the solution presented at the end of the book — that black women should shift the power balance by opening themselves to interracial marriage — you realize the author hasn’t even attempted to explore, let alone answer, the cover’s quandary.

Oh, and the argument that the subtitle promises to make about how blacks’ marriage decline affects everyone? You can forget about that, too. Presumably added to broaden the scope of the book’s appeal, the topic gets a few nods in the background chapters, “The Marriage Decline” and “What Has Become of Marriage?” with tacked-on attempts at inclusiveness such as, “With respect to marriage and childbearing, white follows black, a pattern that exemplifies the universality of the African-American family experience.” Proclamations like this would probably be fascinating if they were fully unpacked, but alas, that’s all we get. 

It’s safe to say that the solution offered up in the final chapter (marry interracially!) is less than universal. It’s presented solely to black women looking to “shift the power balance” between themselves and black men. Thus, anyone else who picks up this book hoping to discover how the plight of the women whose stories animate its pages (39-year-old “smart, funny, well-educated, attractive” consultant Audrey, who says, “At this point in my life I thought I’d be married with children”; or Cecilia, a University of Michigan grad who struggles with her “blue-collar brother” husband, to name two) relates to their own lives will be left without much to take away. That is, unless you count new insights into the cultural forces that can make natural hair a challenge when dating black men and the nuances of “swag.”

It’s no wonder Banks tried to hide the real content of the book behind a decoy of a title. This project reveals itself to be the latest in a seemingly never-ending conversation analyzing the prospects of unmarried, professional, African-American women.

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