But there is perhaps a more valuable lesson we can all take away from Shepherd’s story. Part of what has clearly resonated with many of the women heatedly discussing and debating Shepherd’s situation online is that her story happens to tap into one of the cultural lightning rods facing modern American women. We are constantly being told in news story after story how hard it is to get a man—particularly if you are a black woman. Allegedly, either black men are busy pursuing partners of different races, or eligible black men are not our financial and professional equals—and, supposedly, other races don’t find us attractive.
This hasn’t been my experience. I know there are plenty of men—black, white and every race in between—who adore black women, because I’ve either been in relationships with them or had the opportunity to be and declined. As have plenty of my beautiful black female friends. But society does a great job of making black women feel as though we have to settle, as though having any man—whether he treats you poorly or treats you well, whether he is your intellectual equal or not—is better than having no man at all.
According to my mother, when she was growing up, older women who were terrified of the “spinster” label would say, “A half a man is better than no man.”
In 2014, no woman should be saying that or thinking it.
I’m not calling Lamar Sally half a man. But I am saying that Sherri Shepherd is at a certain professional and financial level and chose to marry someone who is not. That’s not to say other qualities do not matter in a relationship. Kindness, sincerity and true love certainly do. But the behavior alleged in their separation and divorce papers doesn’t indicate a relationship brimming in those qualities, either, which raises the million-dollar question: What, exactly, was he bringing to the table?
I hope that her story will cause more women to ask themselves that question. And if the answer isn’t clear, I hope more women—of all races—will get comfortable saying, “If he’s not bringing anything to the table, then I’m better off dining by myself.”
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.