Ralph Richards Banks' book, "Is Marriage for White People?: How The African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone," challenges black women to stop marrying down -- settling for black men who aren't as educated or accomplished as we are -- if we marry at all, and instead start marrying out -- that is, outside the race. Banks says that black women are the least likely of women of any ethnic group to marry outside of our race. He posits that, although we've stood by black men despite the fact that the number and quality of black men available to us is nowhere near equal, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our race is to marry outside of it.
First, some disclaimers. I'm not opposed to interracial marriage. There are many, many interracial marriages within my family, and I've always believed that sometimes love chooses you, not the other way around. All my family are all my family, regardless of race.
Second, I'm an educated black woman happily married to an educated black man, both of us Stanford alums, as is Professor Banks. My husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB), tells me that at our last college reunion, somebody said that upwards of 70% of Stanford alums marry other Stanford alums. When we attended Stanford, I don't recall the number of black women outnumbering black men so much that black women felt they couldn't find a black man. Most of the black women I know who dated at Stanford dated black men, but that was during the '80s. In fact, interracial dating was so derided in the Stanford black community at the time that we had a term for it: Skiing.
Third, although I'm happily married to a black man, I married later in life -- five days before my 40th birthday -- so I've spent more of my life single than married. While I was single, I went on a date with someone outside of my race only once. It took only one date for me to decide this:
Interracial dating was not for me.
Mind you, it's not that I'm not physically attracted to men outside my race, at least younger ones. Were I single, I wouldn't kick Brad Pitt or George Clooney out of bed, so to speak, although when it comes to maintaining looks in old age, my money's on Denzel. Sorry, but black don't crack, and I like that.
The reason why interracial dating wasn't for me was because, in my brief and limited interracial dating experience, I discovered that what I prized, what I longed for in a marriage, was a cultural connection and a bond that comes from having grown up and lived black in America.
As I sat in some hoity-toidy bar in Palo Alto with my white date, an investment banker or stock broker, I don't recall which, his conversation was more about status -- and whether I, as a Stanford/Harvard/Princeton alum measured up to his -- than shared life experiences. It forced me to ask myself, "Was a shared cultural connection so important to me that I'd be willing to forgo marriage if I couldn't find that in a mate?"
The answer for me was an emphatic "Yes." So much so that, in 2000, I decided that I wasn't going to marry at all. I was going to move forward with my life by buying a house and adopting a child. I had been so disappointed by the black men I'd dated, BMNB included (we'd dated for seven years prior during the '80's and briefly again in the '90s), that I'd thrown up my hands and given up on the idea of marriage, period. If I couldn't have what I wanted -- a marriage to a black man -- I wasn't going to settle for what I could have. It was a year later that BMNB and I reconnected, hashed out our differences, and decided to move forward as a couple. I had even told him, though, that I had given up on marriage and I was done with men because I hadn't found a suitable black man. He basically talked me out of my position and later proposed for the second time in a decade. I'm glad he did.
What Professor Banks may not realize is that perhaps black women prize that cultural connection in a mate as much as I did, so much so that they're not willing to settle for anything different, even if it means not getting married. According to Banks, only 9% of black women marry outside of our race, while Asian and Latina women marry interracially at rates closer to 50%. Maybe black women value a shared culture more than Asian and Latina women. Maybe we don't want to get married that badly. I don't know.
What I do know is that when I describe something racist that happened to me during my day, I don't have to "prove" to BMNB that what happened was racist or that I'm not paranoid. When I use phrases and terms unique to black culture like, "If you don't know, you better ask somebody," or "I don't have to do anything but die and stay black," or "Aw, sookie, sookie," BMNB gets it without explanation. When I talk about the double standard of race -- that the rules for black people in a white America are different -- BMNB doesn't even question me about the truth of what I'm saying because he's lived it, too. I don't know if I could live the rest of my life with someone who wasn't similarly burdened, especially if he experienced white privilege and didn't realize or acknowledge it.
I also thought it would be unfair of me to marry someone outside of my race if I considered myself to be "settling." What person deserves to be a second choice? If culture is so important to me that marrying any man who doesn't share my culture would be a second-level choice to me, how would it make that man feel? What kind of marriage would it be if I married someone I would always consider to be lacking in something so important to me?
At the end of the day, black women need to be true to themselves and what they value, whether it's shared culture or whatever they value most in a mate, and choose accordingly, whether that leads to interracial marriage, intraracial marriage, or staying single. If they are open to marrying outside of the race, great, but I don't think they owe the black race anything by marrying outside the race for the purpose of preserving the race or black culture. As BMNB says, "Black women ARE black culture. The culture resides in them." Telling us that we need to marry outside of our race in order to preserve the race is a lot to ask of us if we're not inclined to do so. We owe it to ourselves to be happy, period.
And for me, that happiness was in marrying a man who understood the phrase, "Negro, please."