When I was nine years old my stepmother told me blatantly: “don’t you bring no white women home to my house.” The statement, which was racially charged with 4 ounces of abhorrence, 2 cups of historical baggage, and a whole recipe of nuances that could rationalize or reprehend statements similar to my stepmothers. Regardless if she is justified in the statement or not, the message remained the same, if I (a black man) brought home a wife outside the black race (a white woman) my step mom would not approve. Of course this was way before I came to the realization that I was gay, so as a nine-year-old boy I had to grapple with the politics of race and marriage, even before I fully understood the complicated history that came with these two subjects.
Now a professor turns this conversation on its head and gives a dissenting argument when paralleled to the words of my stepmother. Professor Banks, who teaches at Stanford Law school, asks black women to “Put the Burden Down” and not be afraid to marry outside of the black race. In Banks’s new book titled “Is Marriage for White People” he seeks to find the reasoning behind the decline of marriage in the black community. 70 percent of Black women are not married and over 90 percent of people in the United States are okay with interracial marriage (at least according to a poll from USA today). Imani Perry, from the New York Times, argues that unmarried black women, have been a “figure of cultural fascination” in contemporary media and culture. However, there are a few thoughts I have about the idea behind marriage, attraction and the problematic history of “passing”.
First and foremost, regardless of how many Obama marriage photos we see on the front of Times Magazines, this perfect and nuclear view of the black family that we are all so very proud of, is not only an unrealistic view, but it poses an unrealistic goal for many of the individuals who are the most marginalized in the black communities. If marriage is for white people, this is only the case because with marriage comes certain privileges in society, and these privileges have been funneled into those individuals who have the social capital and financial ability to participate in the idea of what I call American Normality. I use this to refer to the process of growing up, going to college, getting a living wage job, getting married, and then having kids so they can do the same thing. Unfortunately there are communities (usually poor and of color) that cannot participate in this process. The reason for this can be found at the very inception of American Normality. In the very first stage of growing up, many young black women and men are automatically faced with incarceration rates, poverty, inequality, and a lack of resources distributed to their community.
Second, I posit that idea of attraction can be problematic. I should note that I think interracial relationships are just as beautiful as any other connection between two people coming together in the cusp of love. However, I wonder if whom people are attracted to is ever related to histories of privilege, power, and passing for a particular race due to social/economic upward mobilization. If one’s attraction is not related to these things then I deem it an honest one, however, if they are, then I deem that attraction to be problematic.
Third, I think Professor Banks is entering a narrative that needs to be addressed. Even though I am not a proponent of marriage (in general) due to the fact that it isolates and marginalizes those who are most disenfranchised (the LGBT community and single women of color), the marriage conversation is not going away. And I do not believe that race should be a barrier for anyone who seeks to find another person to love. But unfortunately marriage is not only about love. It has historically been a symbol of those who belong and those who are deviant. Marriage has represented the benefits of joining a class who believe in American Normality. Let us be honest, marriage is problematic, and we have to seriously think about the marginalizing nature of marriage, and then maybe we can understand why marriage stats are unbalanced in our country.