Thursday, December 29, 2011


The end of each year is marked by a wide variety of Top 10-20-100 lists. Also, inevitably, it is declared “the year of the _____”. Different groups fill in the blank with different declarations. There is no right or wrong answer. Every orbit of the Earth around the Sun features several prominent issues that can claim ownership of the retreating calendar. Like millions of others I spent a great deal of time in 2011, probably too much of it, on Twitter. A strong case can certainly be made for 2011 being the Year of Twitter. Or we can lump it in with FaceBook and other online venues and announce that 2011 was the Year of Social Media. Let others make that claim. This is my blog and based on casual observation, much of it done on Twitter, I’m announcing right here and now that 2011 was the Year of the Unwed Black Woman.

I an intrigued by race based themes and this year left me with no shortage of them to ponder. The election of Barack Obama has made the people of this country more obsessed over racial origin than ever. Instead of serving as proof that we have moved beyond race, it just made everyone more preoccupied about it. A majority of the people of this nation may be willing to pick a black man as their President if the alternative is sufficiently lame (Sarah Palin as running mate? Really?), but many are unable to examine situations without peering at them through the prism of racial identity. Every other week (give or take a day) a debate over use of the “N word” or what qualifies someone to be considered a “real black man” rather than a tan imposter came about.

Another blazing hot topic in 2011 was marriage. You’d think gay people would have dominated it with a good number of them allowed to legally marry for the first time. Plus we had a royal wedding this year, a fairy tale ending/beginning to gawk at in high definition. But on Twitter, or at least in my particular tweetstream, the topic that repeatedly emerged was not gay marriage or royal marriage or reality TV marriage. Instead, the subject constantly dissected and analyzed and bickered over was the marriage rate of straight African American women. Apparently the percentage of married black women is lower (at least in a certain age range) than it is for women of other races. Or at least it’s lower than that of white women, for after all, black people (at least on my tweetstream) don’t spend much time comparing themselves to Asians, Latinos, etc. It’s almost always a Black versus White issue, no matter what the issue may be.

Off Twitter and wandering about the real world, at least my version of reality which takes place mostly in New York City and northern New Jersey, I’m not seeing this epidemic of black women unable to find mates. I spy black women paired off all the time. My family is chock full of happily married black women. Perhaps my immediate environment is an aberration to the national trend. Surely all of those articles wouldn’t have been written, all of these doomsday statistics cited, if there wasn’t legitimate grievance to be aired. So despite what I’ve seen with my eyes I’ll nonetheless accept that black women are under-married. Now that we’re in agreement on the existence of the What, it’s time to examine the Why.

A few explanations jump out at me. The incarceration rate of black men is unnaturally high, taking too many qualified (by melanin) applicants out of contention. Black women on average are better educated than black men, considerably more likely to have a college degree and beyond, and understandably a good many of them do not wish to “marry down”. These two reasons are frequently mentioned by those who choose to examine the unmarried black woman phenomenon. A third reason perhaps less frequently given is that there are more single black mothers than single white mothers, more black babies born out of wedlock. Since a woman with one or more kids from a previous relationship is often not at the top of a man’s wish list when deciding on a mate, this would lower marriage odds for black women overall.

Each of these explanations is measurable, quantifiable, and fairly sensible. But since the topic is an emotional one, many of the studies and articles do not focus on hard evidence. Instead they target reasons that are a tad more subjective, circumstantial evidence leading to proclamations such as “black men are dogs” or “black men want white women much more than black women”. I won’t bother to delve into the canine character assassination, but will remark on interracial relationships being a root cause. It is true that due to social progress in this country, blacks and whites are much more likely than a few decades ago to have friendly rather than contentious relationships, with some of them being romantic in nature. So yes, more black men are married to white women today than in 1961. More white men are married to black women than in 1961 as well, so this is not a shift that leaves black women totally out of the equation. Do more black men marry white women than white men marry black women? I suppose the answer is yes since several of the unmarried black woman exposés focus on why they should consider giving white men a shot as solution, or else on why they most certainly should not break the dating color barrier. Still, I doubt the disparity is so dramatic as to be the primary explanation for 2011 being The Year of the Unwed Black Woman. The number of white women who never went black or else did but eventually went back dwarfs the number who are determined to pilfer from the insufficiently robust “good black men” pool. Kim Kardashian, who supplied America’s pathetic response to the bash at Buckingham Palace with the second “royal wedding” of 2011, is not a symbol for why black men have forsaken black women. She’s just someone who has improbably stretched her 15 minutes of fame to nearly an hour now, dating a few brothas in the process.

I’m going to stick with the reasons that are backed up by numbers in my thesis, based on facts rather than opinion, even if facts can be malleable when expertly manipulated. Fortunately for unwed black women who wish to exit the demographic, these explanations which are based on data rather than generic finger pointing need not be set in stone. If each situation improved by just 10% the alleged shortage of married black women would probably cease to exist. Ten percent fewer black men in prison, ten percent more black men with college diplomas and the better jobs this leads to, ten percent fewer black children born into single parent households. The first scenario would certainly be a positive thing, so would the second, and some fairly strong arguments can be made that children are better off entering a family with two parents waiting for them. I personally don’t think it significantly matters if the two parents are the same ethnicity, or different genders, or if they’d go to unequal lengths in pursuit of a Klondike bar. Bottom line, math says that two are greater than one, and when it comes to parenting, two are often more effective than one.

With these three situations each altered by ten percent it would probably be viewed as less damning by those who take offense that some black men marry women of other races (not because they absurdly hate all black women but simply because they fell in love with someone who was not one). As for some black men being intent on making babies and breaking hearts with minimal interest in being responsible for the devastation left in their wake, not much to be done about that. Like cockroaches, jerks of all races aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Some situations simply can’t be altered, and practically none of them can be complained away.

Regardless of whether these 10% shifts happen (probably will not occur over the course of the next twelve months), my hope is that talk of the infamous unwed black woman is receding in our rear view mirror. Surely another topic deserves a turn in the rotation, perhaps one that completely lacks a racial component. Now how radically postracial would that be?! My fingers are crossed that 2012 will be The Year of Something Else. Just about anything else will do.


Here's another option!

Friday, December 16, 2011


Earlier this week Gene Marks, who by all appearances happens to be a middle age white man, wrote a piece for Forbes called 'If I Was A Poor Black Kid'. Problematic title of course. I wonder if it was his choice or the magazine's. The article amounts to a list of suggestions that might be employed by a disadvantaged youth of color to improve his or her circumstances. Some of them were so blatantly obvious and commonly stated that you wonder why Marks bothered to repeat them. Stay in school and study hard. Computer literacy is a good thing. However, since many poor black kids (think I'll shorten to PBK going forward) do not focus and excel in computer class or anywhere else in school, no harm in reminding. A couple of his tips were a little less obvious, possibly even helpful to a MOTIVATED PBK who might stumble upon the article. "Motivated" is capitalized for a reason. The primary curse of poverty is that it squelches motivation to rise above.

The ensuing ridicule heaped upon Mr. Marks (complete with at least one Twitter hashtag for guidance) was swift and relentless. Critics showed their disdain with a few quickly dashed sentences of mockery for starters, then set off to write fully fleshed out responses. I won't name drop them as I've done with Marks, but chances are you've either seen a published rebuttal or else a Google search will lead you to one in an instant.

The annoyance and derision inspired by Marks' article was basically on account of the messenger, even if writers claimed it was the message that got under their skin. How dare a PRIVILEGED (capitalized because it's the curse word du jour) white man dispense advice from his ivory tower to the darker, huddled masses? He isn't one of them, never was, never will be, so he may as well be the teacher talking to Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang - Blah blah blah.

No one who felt compelled to answer the Forbes article with one of their own seemed to think that perhaps Marks' heart was in the right place, even if the anatomical result looked more like his foot in his mouth. The rebuttals weren't about providing alternative suggestions, superior recommendations. They weren't about disproving the point that if you find yourself in the worst school, striving to be the best at the worst may give you a fighting chance. Marks grossly under-evaluated a major societal woe and proposed simplistic solutions. But in attacking him, his detractors did not remedy a thing. They merely seized upon an opportunity to make fun and proclaim "how dare you". The rebuttals were much hipper and far funnier than the original piece, so laughs and declarations of agreement were achieved. But not a single PBK's life was potentially improved as result. They remain firmly rooted in their role of political football as we approach the next big election year.

Who is it that actually does have the ear of poor black kids? Hip hop artists for starters. The vast majority of them are not conveying messages that will aid in turning a life around. A very strong argument can be made that certain rap lyrics and videos help perpetuate the mindset of valuing flashy style over substance, leading to a dead end. Yet when the next catchy tune comes out that's all about getting high, degrading women, making a quick buck to throw away on status symbols, there will be few complaints and probably no Open Letters imploring rappers to teach our children well. No, such ire is reserved for a white guy who has poked his nose where it doesn't belong. Apparently you have to prove you're cool enough to give a damn about PBK's, but ironically, if you are deemed cool enough you're given a pass and don't have to care.

Here are some of my suggestions, not for poor black kids but for anyone who legitimately cares to lend them a helping hand. Join a Big Brother/Sister mentoring program. Become a foster or adoptive parent. Donate money and/or time (time is always the best donation) to an organization that provides food/books/shelter/guidance to those in need of any or all of the above. Be a role model in both word and deed, not merely a dime-a-dozen snark generator. If you're really ambitious, consider running for president. Barack Obama has surely convinced a few underprivileged kids that contrary to what Newt Gingrich thinks, their future can hold more in store for them than a janitorial gig. Not that there's anything wrong with being a janitor, although it pays substantially less than windbag historian. Even the punchline that is Herman Cain sets an example of achievement. Go to an inner city school where you're sure to meet plenty of PBK's in the flesh and won't have to think of them conceptually, and if you have nothing wise or useful to say, simply listen to what they have to tell you. Last of all, focus a little less on being clever, a little more on being kind.

Below is the advice I gave to Mr. Marks on Twitter in response to his article. I don't think he follows me so if he follows you, please forward. Thanks!

So I just read the article If I Was a Poor Black Kid that has Twitter abuzz -

The article was written by
@genemarks for Forbes. With a title like that you're just asking to be mocked. Many won't even go past title.

I tried to read it with an open mind. I also forgave him in advance for sins he is not at all alone in committing. Like the dumb title.

Pretty much every day I see some blog posting with a provocative title & people responding more to the title than the piece itself. I'm not a big fan of that. Focus on making the full piece provocative, not just its entrance point. People will be more likely to read attentively.

The article is a list of things this guy says he would do to make his life so much better as an adult had he started out a poor black kid. None of the items listed is offensive. None of it is illuminating. It's just a list that makes a couple points a poor kid of any race might want to jot down.

The author makes no actual attempt to imagine what poverty feels like, what being disenfranchised feels like, what lacking hope feels like.

The article didn't offend me because I don't think it was mean spirited. Points that were valid for some people were made. Easy enough to do.

Of course you can pull yourselves up by your bootstraps if properly motivated. Odds of that motivation being found in a Forbes article of all places are slim. Not exactly reaching the demographic you’re writing about. When you’re talking about people under the guise of talking to them, you’re doing little more that theorizing amongst your friends.

If you grow up poor in a loving household where better days are planned & hoped for you, chances are decent you'll get there.

If you grow up thinking nobody really gives a shit about you, one parent missing physically & the other going through motions while fighting their demons, life will be hard.

Instead of writing an article about what poor black kids should or should not do, do something tangible to help them reach their potential.

Once you're done actually dealing with a situation, getting your hands dirty instead of moralizing from high horse, THEN write your article.

You don't know what you'd do if you were anybody but yourself. If you could be in a different skin, you'd be a different you.