A provocative new book by Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks examines why black women are so unlikely to marry — and proposes a solution that is arousing controversy in the African-American community: Cross the color line.
“Don’t marry down. Marry out,” says Banks in his campus office, busy with phone calls, emails and preparation for the new semester. The shared experience that once bound blacks together — segregation — is gone, he asserts. “So it all coalesces around this …: whether black women will continue to be held hostage to the failings of black
Some welcome his book, “Is Marriage for White People?” because it has started an uncomfortable conversation they say is long overdue.
The project grew out of an intellectual journey that is part of his scholarship at Stanford Law School, focusing on two long-standing interests: racial equality and discrimination, and family and children. Many Stanford-based colleagues and friends helped him refine his arguments, and Stanford students helped with interviews.
But most black women face a big problem, he asserts. High rates of incarceration and job-market discrimination against black men have created a gender imbalance. Then women confront the venerable economic model of supply and demand — scarcity creates excess demand for black grooms, tilting the terms of courtship to men’s favor. Many simply sidestep commitment. Yes, there are exceptions, he concedes — fairy tale couples such as Barack and Michelle, or Will and Jada, dubbed “nuptial eye candy” by Essence magazine.
He speaks from personal experience; two of Banks’ three sisters — “intelligent, beautiful and educated” — are unmarried. In fact, black women are the most unmarried group of people in our nation. They’re only half as likely as white women to be married, and more than three times as likely as white women never to marry, according to his analyses. “Black women face the thinnest pool of same-race partners of any group in the country,” he says.
It wasn’t always so. Through the middle of the 20th century, about nine out of 10 black women married. Now black women are about half as likely to be married as their 1950s counterparts. White adults are also more likely to be single today than in the past. But marriage has diminished more among African-Americans than among any other Americans. And when they do marry, black women are more likely to marry men with substantially less education or less income, Banks says. His message to black women: Stop settling for less than you deserve. Forget race loyalty. Quit thinking that white, Asian and Latino men don’t find you attractive; it’s not true.
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