|CCF Marriage Proposal Symposium of Responses|
Council on Contemporary Families
Colleagues and senior fellows from the Council on Contemporary Families offered responses to Stanford Law Professor Ralph Richard Banks discussion paper presented this week to the Council on Contemporary Families. Banks' discussion paper, Why Interracial Marriage Is Good for Black Women - and the Best Hope for Restoring Marriage in the Black Community is available from CCF, and CCF's news release is available here. Responses are detailed in full below.
Micere Keels (University of Chicago) does not think that Black women have been ruling out non-Black partners. "Dr. Banks correctly identifies the structural issue-there are significantly more marriageable black women than black men. But educated black women do not summarily reject suitors of other races. For a forthcoming book, I asked 200 college-going and college-educated black women, ages 18 to 51, what race/ethnicity of man they would like to marry and why. Although many stated a preference for a same-race spouse, this was usually a way of assessing probable compatibility. Once other measures of compatibility were evaluated, race greatly receded in importance.
"And black women are not the ones enforcing race-based matching in the world of online dating. Black women are more likely to include white men as possible dating matches than white men are to include them. Additionally, they receive the fewest online advances from men of other racial groups, and the most non-responses when they make online advances to men of other racial groups.
"Furthermore, telling black women to "marry out" rather than "marry down" ignores the fact that women of all racial and ethnic groups are outpacing their male counterpoints in educational attainment. The only viable solution for black women's low likelihood of marriage is to correct society's failure to educate all our boys."
From: Micere Keels, Assistant Professor, Department of Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago, and author of (forthcoming 2012) Societal Explanations for Personal Problems: The Decline in Marriage in America, and the Particular Case of College-Educated Black Women's Low Likelihood of Marriage, 847-409-2757, email@example.com.
Belinda Tucker (UCLA) agrees Black women are way of white men, but ties this to a history of white men's attitudes towards them. "Our data from 21 large U.S. cities in 1996 showed that while nearly 90 percent of Black men would marry someone of another race, 71 percent of Black women also supported interracial marriage. When it came down to specifics, though, a differential reluctance emerged: only 57 percent of black women would marry someone who was white.*
"This reluctance to marry white men comes from a deep knowledge of this society's historical and current views about Black women, especially in regard to those elements of self that are most vulnerable in romantic encounters-physical features and sexuality. Societal physical standards essentially the opposite of those possessed by most African American women are made abundantly clear in the skin color,hair texture, hip size, etc. glamorized in television programs, ads, and magazines. Media portrayals of Black women as either hypersexualized or Big Mommas continue to encourage exploitative attitudes. When I was in high school in the 1960s, one of my white male classmates casually quoted his father's assertion: 'you cannot be a man until you split a black oak.' That quote has remained embedded in my consciousness, and I'm certain it has affected my assessments of the motivations of white men who pursue African American women.
"Though Professor Banks may believe the continued loyalty expressed by African American women for African American men is misplaced, the enduring embrace of African American men establishes a boundary that is, at the very least, safe from societal rejections of Black womanhood (i.e., where standards of attractiveness and status are at least partially community defined). For, despite the near universal acceptance among Black men of interracial marriage, most married African American men have Black wives."
*Taylor, P.L, Tucker, M. B., & Mitchell-Kernan (n.d.) "I Do" But to Whom: Differentiated Attitudes toward Intermarriage.
From: M. Belinda Tucker, Vice Provost, Institute of American Cultures and Professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences Center for Culture and Health, University of California, Los Angeles, (310) 794-3669, firstname.lastname@example.org
But Pepper Schwartz (University of Washington) agrees with Banks that cultural prejudices against black women's looks are indeed changing. "Cultural and sociological studies show that for the most part, beauty is a cultural artifact. Samoan cultures have prized big women; other cultures have fetishized small feet or the nape of a woman's neck. Our own culture has bounced back and forth from revering lush, full hipped women, to no breasts or hips at all, to athletic bodies, etc. This happens with race as well. While evolutionary psychologists cite recurring preferences for facial symmetry and waist to shoulder ratio, they do not show universal preferences for racial type. When America was fighting the Japanese, Asians were taunted as 'slant eyes'; now Asian women are highly prized as models or movie stars. In America, light skin has long been a symbol of cultural privilege. Yet today men like Michael Jordon and women like Beyonce are seen as sex symbols, and I believe that positive perceptions of African American women's beauty are on the rise."
From: Pepper Schwartz, Professor of Sociology, University of Washington, email@example.com.
Shirley Hill (Kansas University) says Banks' proposal has merit but "puts a lot of responsibility on women." "Professor Banks' proposal that African American women confront the shortage of marriageable black men by becoming more open to interracial relationships has some appeal: It stands to broaden options for forming intimate partnerships and complicate racial categories for generations of children to come. The formula is simple: The bad behavior of African-American men (in this case, their evasion of marriage and fidelity) can be tamed if black women reverse the scarcity advantage. It puts a lot of responsibility on women, however, implying that African-American parents (mostly mothers) are not properly socializing their sons and that women in the broader community (e.g., girlfriends) must take up the task. As Banks notes, high rates of marginal (or no) employment and incarceration, coupled with low rates of educational attainment, explain many of the patterns he describes. Dealing with those structural issues gets us closer to the root of the problem."
Scott Coltrane (University of Oregon) reminds us that in some ways gender equality is higher among married African-Americans. "The interaction between the gender numbers imbalance, the economic and educational disadvantages of men, and the dynamics of family life in African-American communities is complicated. True, black men and women often remain unmarried, and the marriages they do form are more fragile than those of whites. But in part because the gap between African American men's and women's wages has been smaller than for whites, marital relations between black couples have traditionally been more egalitarian than those of whites. Most national surveys show that black husbands take on a somewhat larger share of housework than white husbands. When studies control for income and education, married African American fathers are found to have similar levels of involvement with infants and similar styles of engagement with young children as white fathers. And nonresident black fathers are actually more likely than nonresident white fathers to see their children and interact with them frequently."
From: Scott Coltrane, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, University of Oregon, 541.346.3902l; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mignon Moore (UCLA) contrasts straight versus lesbian interracial partnering. "Non-Black lesbians are more likely than non-Black men to partner with Black women. This suggests that relative to heterosexual men, non-Black women who partner with Black women may place a greater value on the attributes Black women have to offer. The state of California, with the second largest population of Blacks in same-sex couple relationships (second only to New York), illustrates the differences between heterosexuals and and same-sex couples in choosing partners: About 51 percent of Blacks in same-sex couples in California are in interracial relationships, compared to just 20 percent of Blacks in heterosexually married households.
"Black women in same-sex couples also tend to have higher incomes and are more likely than their married, heterosexual counterparts to have a college degree. This suggests that educated Black lesbians are better able to find a Black partner who is their equal in education and income. But when Black lesbians do partner with Black women with lower education and/or income, there is less stigma attached to the human capital inequalities in that union, because only heterosexual men expect to have higher status than their partners - that expectation does not strongly exist in relationships between women. Without the gender structure of male privilege, Black same-sex couples have more freedom to create relationships that are more egalitarian."
Mignon R. Moore,Chair, Race Gender and Class Section of the American Sociological Association
Associate Professor of Sociology, UCLA; author, Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships and Motherhood among Black Women. Need phone; email@example.com
Jenifer Bratter (Rice University) discusses the opportunities and the challenges of racing multiracial children. "Interracial couples and families stand as one of the most potent symbols of a society healing its racial divide. But raising a multiracial child can be a daunting task, from negotiating child rearing strategies between parents of two distinctive cultural backgrounds to managing the process of racial identity development. Physical appearance often does not solely determine identity. Instead, my research shows interactions between parents, children, and the community in which they live also shape how children understand their own race. Biracial children often face racial difficulties from both sides of the racial spectrum, leaving parents to help their children to make sense of these experiences. This is doubly challenging for white parents, who may be confronting issues of racism for the first time.
"Although biracial children often inhabit diverse neighborhoods, many feel that they must 'choose' one race while leaving one parent out. Nevertheless, my research shows that biracial children seldom fully abandon their Black heritage. The large majority are classified on the Census with a black racial category, either alone or in combination with another race, with a small segment classified as white. Many children maintain this identity into adolescence and adulthood. As adults, my research shows that many biracial adults partner with Black adults and when classifying their own children, nearly all classify their children as solely Black. Therefore, while there are unique challenges rearing biracial children, simply instilling a Black racial identity is not one of them."
Virginia Rutter (Framingham State University) reminds us that interracial dating is increasing...but not with ease. "Interracial unions, including interracial dating, have increased in the past fifty years in the United States. But the rates of increase are slow. 'How Color Blind is Love? Interracial Dating Facts and Puzzles,' a fact sheet for the Council on Contemporary Families that I co-authored this spring, reported that lack of social support means that interracial daters are less likely to present themselves to others as a couple or be affectionate in public. There continues to be less support in daters' families and communities when they are a mixed-race couple. Not surprisingly, people in more racially integrated settings are more likely to interracially partner. And younger people are increasingly more positive about interracial dating."
Ellis Cose (author) responds that it may not be the numbers so much as finding a compatible mate. "Banks argues that black women could do everyone a world of good by shedding their reluctance to marry outside the race. But in a 2003 Newsweek cover story, 'The Black Gender Gap,' I quoted numerous black women who were already looking beyond the pool of black men. 'I love brothers... But there is such a gap that I think I may not end up with a black man,' said choreographer Fatima Robinson. 'If you have to have the same race, your choices are limited,' said civil-rights attorney Connie Rice.
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