Ring the Alarm! Marriage in the 21st Century

I just read a disturbing article in the March 2011 issue of Ebony Magazine entitled “State of Black Marriage.”  It begins with an anecdote about an African American woman named Cleo Lightfoot who discusses the lack of happy marriages she had seen, and the philosophy her relationships had been rooted in:

“I was taught at an early age that I didn’t need a man for anything.”

She is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology.  So…is she right?  If we’re talking about her ability to challenge her intellect, have a fulfilling career, educate herself and be a model for others, she certainly is.  But if we’re talking about living a fulfilled and happy life, and having a positive social impact on her children and the children around her…then we’re getting into some serious gray area.

To demonstrate my point, a 12-year-old African-American male student of the DC Public School System provides a quote in the article that illustrates the damage that such a philosophy has on the psyche and self-perception of impressionable children:

“Marriage is for White people.”

Wow.  Disturbing.  To say the least.  Statistics provided by The Pew Study (in conjunction with Time Magazine) quoted in the article speak to the young man’s point:

  • In 1960, 68% of all twentysomethings were married.  In 2008, that was true of just 26%.
  • In 1960, 61% of Black adults were married.  By 2008, that share had dropped to 32%, compared with 56% of Whites.
  • Among Black women giving birth in 2008, 72% were unmarried.  (72%)!! This compares with 53% of Hispanic women and 29% of Whites.

Not only has the marriage rate among young adults dropped precipitously amongst all Americans, the marriage rate amongst African-Americans has dropped on a whole different scale.  And it’s having a negative impact on how our children see themselves and how they view the necessity of marriage and long-term relationships.

By the end of the article, however, we see hope for all Americans.  Having undergone a six-month premarital counseling class at her church, Mrs. Cleo Lightfoot-Booker, the same “strong, independent” woman we met at the beginning of the article, notes that seeing real-life examples of what good marriages looked like helped her to learn to trust her mate.  She dropped this pearl of wisdom:

“I now believe that marriage is a learning process, (as is) being in a relationship.  To learn something, you must be patient, make mistakes and overcome obstacles without giving up.”

Amen and amen.  Adults: we’ve got to step our game up.  No matter what our views on marriage are, we’ve got to see beyond ourselves and consider the impact of our relationship decisions on our children and our neighbors’ children.  The statistics tell us this is critical.  We are (and definitely should be) in emergency mode.  Ring the alarm.  And let’s reconsider where we stand.

Sound off!

Broadcast your inner Champion!

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10 Responses to "Ring the Alarm! Marriage in the 21st Century"

  • I think there needs to be caution in understanding marriage as a) a heterosexual right, b) a competition of sorts between Blacks and Whites and c) comparable now to a time in history when marriage was because it was expected in order to reproduce and also to have the ability to have sex without stigma. All of these factors make for a complex view of marriage, which all in all have to do about preserving the rights to property from one family generation to the next.

    I think the shift is more about understanding that the order for marriage does not have to be a stamp to have permission to live healthy and free sex lives, as well as explore multiple relationships without as much stigma. What you’re really pointing at, is really the value system displayed by adults in how we treat one another within intimate relationships.

    I also think it is dismissive to suggest that the African-American woman, Mrs. Cleo, is a “strong, independent” Black woman, as you’ve put it. This is a direct shot at her choice (?) to pursue sound schooling and a solid career before aligning herself with a mate. Such tones are what help create hostile environments for women who do not subscribe to the old world order of mate before educate (if you were even approved of by your husband) and holds steadfast to the very cauldron of male privilege that still disrupts holistic dialogue.

    It is not one or the other; marriage or single life of shame. We must be careful to remove other issues that overlap (self-esteem of minority children rooted in racism, poverty and limited access to equitable education) with how minority children see themselves and start with expanding the dialogue passed the same mantra that helped get us here in the first place.

  • admin says:

    Great response Ms. Fludd! Thank you! I would point out that “strong, independent Black woman” is the phrase used in the article (also in quotation marks), and is not my own. Given that, I saw the fact that the phrase was indeed placed in quotation marks as significant.

  • Diva Verdun says:

    Elischia, thank you for such a well documented comment. After reading the article I wanted to reply to this as well, however, you actually stated most of what I wanted to interject myself as well. I applaud you for sharing with such passion.

    The truth regarding marriage is not specific to only educated black women and our children, but black men also have many negative viewpoints regarding marriage as well. This stems from a race consciousness that is buried in division. Women talk about how there are no good black men, black men speak of how strong willed black women are and children are caught in the middle of all this back biting of the sexes in the black community and grow up stimulated in a negative mindset with regards to relationships as a whole.

    As we open ourselves to the awareness of ONEness we crush the race consciousness of division and come into a new understanding that allows us to be filled with love for self first, which generates love for others thereby allowing us to establishing successful and loving relationships. This was evident in Ms. Cleo’s change of perception after taking a pre-marital class.

    As a community of people we must work together to eliminate the negative stereotypes that we have perpetuated from generation to generation through the fractures in our own identity as a black people. Once we begin a self healing process individually then we will see the changes take affect globally. The challenge here again lies in unification.

    I would like to comment on the “strong, independent black woman” phraseology. This statement is a double edged sword depending on who and where it is being referenced. Black women have always been very strong and have been the buckle that have held everything together. We have traditionally been very independent as well taking on all that is necessary in order to provide for our children when the fathers have left the home for one reason or another without any support to sustain the family. I do not agree that this term applies to only educated black women, it has become a stereotype placed on educated black women, because as they have chosen to empower themselves through education delaying their options to start families.

    The black family has notoriously suffered from divisions in relationships and marriage leading to the destruction of the black family unit, which again perpetuates the necessity of the quote – unquote “strong, independent black woman”. Unfortunately, black women have also been labeled negatively with this term due to a headstrong nature or to their negative views of black men as lazy and shiftless resulting in the lack of love and respect for our men as the Kings they are born to be. Without this love and respect, black male children are raised viewing the black female as superior (the one that provides), angry and hostile toward black men, as they try to grasp and understand why their own fathers are not there to embrace them. So our young men grow up with low self-esteem as a black male because they already feel cursed as inferior, and are angry and hostile as well, thereby again continuing the rift of division between the sexes in our community.

    It is a self-propelling illness that we are inflicting on ourselves as a people. However, again black men are just as much in need of a healing as black women and there should not be a pointed finger solely at the black female for the problems that exist in our communities with our relationships, marriages and the issues with our children. We are in need of a unification and healing that will enjoin both male and female in the holy bond.

    The word marriage simply means union. It is not actually just a piece of paper that gives right of property to another. All of life is participating in the Divine Union, the holy bond, “the Divine Marriage” consistently everyday. The healing begins with changing the mind set and the belief systems that have been petrified in our consciousness for so many years that lead black people to have lower levels of self-esteem and self-respect, thereby generating larger issues on a global basis.

    My own father shared with me the very same statement regarding not needing a man to do anything that I dreamed for myself.” However, this statement was taught to me in a loving light toward men and was shared with me by my father, not my mother. Additionally, I was blessed to have my father in the home as I was growing up and he was a very strong and positive, guiding role model in our lives as children. He participated with family, he loved family and he loved being a black man and shared his positive philosophies with other black male youth in our community to ensure young men that had no male role models had an understanding of who they were as black men. He developed programs to enlighten these young men and give them opportunities that they would never have dreamed they could participate in. (no he was not a minister, he was just a man that loved black people and wanted to see them prosper as the person they were born to be, knowing that through the understanding of self they would be able to achieve success in careers, success in relationships and marriage and ultimately success in raising strong, independent black children that understood exactly who they are.) He believed in the philosophy of each one teach one and that it takes the whole community to raise a child.

    I also shared the same statement about needing a woman in your life with my son. I do not have any female children, but I know that this is a powerful statement when shared with a child so that they understand that their success in life is predicated upon their own dreams and complimented by the union they have with a mate. It is not determined by their relationships, but by their own high ideals of self first. Once they become successful within their own consciousness, then they are prepared to unite in a relationship and have successful unions as well.

    This is a global issue in the black community. The divisions we have are numerous, however, they can all be healed with the simple understanding of who we truly are as individuals created and the image and likeness of Spirit as we unify our consciousness to align with the Oneness of all creation thereby allowing Love to flow freely in our lives to establish healthy relationships with self and others.

    Thank you Steve, for allowing me a forum to share my thoughts.


  • admin says:

    I want to thank you both for such impassioned responses. You’ve given all of us a lot to think about and process.

    Let me add to the mix. I believe we can’t complete this conversation without mentioning the continued impact of slavery on the African-American family structure. Malcolm X spoke eloquently of this when he said that we no longer needed chains on our bodies to be held down, because we chained our own minds through what he called “the slave mentality.” Consider: what exactly does a woman feel towards her man when he can’t save her from something as fundamentally wrong and damaging as the sexual advances of their “master?” How does the man view HIMSELF after that? And what do those parents teach their children about this? Does this damage pass down from generation to generation? Do we really need a study to know the answer to this?

    And in case some people lean on the old argument that slavery can’t possibly impact what’s happening today, I’ll share this story. While having a discussion with my White roommate from Valley, Nebraska at a top-ranked prep school, he informed me, after much discussion…that he was very attracted to Black women. He then went on to say that he was TERRIFIED of Black men. Now, this may not be a big deal if he was just some Joe on the street, but what if he’s a doctor today? Or an attorney? Or a police officer?

    To that point, it is wrong to single out Black women solely as “strong and independent.” There have been MANY “strong, independent” Black men who have dedicated their lives to their families and their communities. We just don’t talk about THEM like we should. Why don’t we have a stereotype about “strong, independent Black men?” Just ask my old roommate, and he’ll tell you why not.

    It is true that looking through history, Black men have A LOT to answer for when it comes to stepping our game up and being the community and family leaders that we are born to be…but we can’t legitimately explore any of the myriad aspects of this discussion without the proper context. And…this isn’t just an African-American issue. The study shows that all Americans have changed their views on marriage. We ALL (irrespective of gender, race or ethnicity) have to step our game up. But…isn’t that the point? So…how do we DO that?


  • Many thanks to all, namaste.

    I see the issue lies in wanting to DO something. While it is essential to create action on causes we care about, it is equally as important to give pause. There are many “do-gooders” in the world that inadvertently cause more harm by applying a one-stop fix shop approach to complex issues.

    We don’t DO anything about the process of people deciding on marriage. It is a choice and should be free and fair for all.

    Instead, I challenge that the mission is to continue expanded dialogue, from the individual to the White House and beyond that challenges social perceptions, and to challenge the stretch of the diligence of law in providing all with equal and fair human rights.

    In the end, it’s all a process, and not one way is the only way except by way of humanity for all.

  • admin says:

    Thanks again Elischia, for a great response. I submit to you that expanding our dialogue to multiple levels of sociopolitical status and responsibility, and to “challenge the stretch of the diligence of law” is exactly the sort of “Do”-type action steps I’m referring to.

    I completely agree with your thoughts on “applying a one-stop fix shop approach to complex issues,” which is why that sort of limited action is not called for here.

    So allow my poor mind a Socratic moment! :-) How do we do what you’ve mentioned above? What would that look like? And who would do the expansion of dialogue and challenging of the law?

  • Yes, I see what you are saying, and I am suggesting that the answer lies in giving pause.

  • Diva Verdun says:

    I submit to you both that we have gotten so educated that we philosophize everything to a level that we are not connecting to the masses people that are in need of that which we are dialoguing about. To those of us that can have this type of dialogue it is easy to summarize all of the issues that have added to the deterioration of our species as a whole and specifically to the black populace.

    We can continue to have dialogues with big words and big theories and speak of positioning political agendas etc… but the truth of the matter is that we will only reach those that are already moving in the like mind set as we are here. The three of us are engaging in the usual dichotomy of conversation that generally takes place amongst educated blacks. We speak of the issues of our communities and the fixes that should be in place reaching to white government and establishments to assist in fixing a system that does not support a healthy mind set or socio-economic standard for blacks in this country.

    To fix the issue surrounding family lifestyles in black America, as well as, many other issues, those that are of the elevated mind set as we are must work together to create new methodologies that go to the core of everyday people that unifies at the point of the fracture; Self-esteem, self-knowledge and the alignment of the true identity of who we really are as human BEINGS, not human happenings; black people, white people, red or brown people. We must simplify the methods of instruction from systems of points and measures to a place of simply working to elevate the consciousness of our people through the knowledge of ONEness and that there is no division of self just because you are born with skin of color.

    If we cannot reach our people at a core level to deal with the basic issues of self, no political agenda, educated jargon is going to heal the rift that has existed for decades. I also submit to you both that religious dogma has done more damage than good to the black community as a whole. However, I do not wish to open this debate at the present time as that leads us into another level of discussion. So we will reserve that topic for another comment thread.

    I submit to you both that the fix is in moving through a simplified process that is more concerned about the individual person at the core of their experience over political agendas and fund-raising efforts.

    I agree with all that has been said on all accounts. You both are very wise and powerful leaders and I am honored to dialogue and learn from you both. We as leaders have to bring true impact and that comes with moving to action in reaching out to heal the consciousness first, knowing that through that all other issues become still and fall away.

    Namaste! It is a pleasure to dialogue with powerful and great minds.



  • Diva, your response is quite interesting. I can say that I agree with your points, particularly about religious dogma! Bravo!

    Perhaps, I can present yet another dimension to this equation as food for thought.

    As a seasoned community organizer, it is of our (people who are organizers) mindset not to misinterpret intellectual jargon with inaccessible jargon. The two are not necessarily interchangeable. As such, the flavor of languages people use to dissect any issue is, in my belief, inherently valid. People whom I come across understand all of our arguments presented here, they speak about it differently.

    It is our job as organizers to bridge the gap, not homogenize the voices. I think that’s what expanding the dialogue is all about, allowing all kinds of voices, particularly those traditionally kept silent to rise, untainted. To that end, the organizer’s view is to get people to understand each other’s views and empower all parts of the community as a whole to create a more balanced norm and process for the issue they tackle.

    Otherwise, we’d be recreating the oppressive systems that surround them.

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