This week, I was a guest on a fantastic NPR segment about race and dating. A woman had written into a local paper’s advice column worrying she would always remain single because she’s black. A few years ago, if someone would’ve suggested race had anything to do with a woman’s marital status, I would’ve said he or she were full of hooey. Now, I’m not so sure.
In the last year, there have been countless articles suggesting black women, especially successful, educated ones, are the least apt to get married. A 2010 OKCupid study revealed black women get the fewest replies from potential online suitors. A 2009 CNN.com post quoted a census bureau survey indicating 45 percent of American black women have never been married compared to only 23 percent of white women. The same year, MSNBC placed the percentage at thirty-eight, suggesting, “African-American females do not fetch as much ‘value’ in the marriage market.” Then, of course, there was David Duke-dicked John Mayer.
All single women do battle with the tiny, media-born demon on their shoulder screaming, “Men don’t like smart women. Men don’t like women who are too successful. Your fertility is weakening. You have a better chance of being eaten by a walrus than finding love after thirty.” And now we’re hit with the fact that, in the dating market, skin color makes some of us as valuable as rotten plums in the produce aisle at Whole Foods. Maybe we should just bag it and become nuns.
So what gives? Supposedly, black men aren’t as interested in marriage, and when they are, they prefer women of other races. Meanwhile, many black females are told by men from other cultures how “exotic” they are rather than “pretty,” or how “wild” they think they would be in the sack. Maybe black women are sexual detours on certain guys’ road to pursuing Ms. Right, or worse, an opportunity to dabble in taboos. Some say certain men are put off by the stereotype of black women as domineering monsters who intimidate the hell out of everybody, including black men. There’s also the assumption that all black women are xenophobes who would never date outside their race.
Then there’s the more painful possibility that black women simply aren’t considered as “attractive” in American culture. We have the occasional Beyonce and Halle, but for the most part, black beauty isn’t prized. After the release of 2005’s Wedding Crashers, in which Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan crash a bunch of weddings to hook up with cute bachelorettes, black writer Debra Dickerson wrote a piece about how the film contributed to her overarching feeling of invisibility.
“The crashers seduced their way through every culture and every ethnicity but mine,” Dickerson wrote. “Why don’t Owen and Vince want to seduce me, too?”
Of course, it could be Ms. Dickerson and all my black friends are just a bunch of maladjusted weirdoes who, like millions of white women across the country, are too something-or-other to be considered marriage material. Certainly, there could be a whole hill of reasons why so many black women find themselves alone.
But the marriageless-ness of black women is more than an interesting trend to ponder. It’s deeply personal. Agonizing. Every single woman must feel a sting when the culture tells her, “You’re too smart to find a man.” But imagine being told, “You’re just not desirable enough and never will be.”
Rather than shoving bad news down our throats, I wish the culture would do something about it. Don’t keep breaking our hearts. Don’t abandon us. It’s aggravating how often America’s single women are told their intelligence, their desire for public recognition, their sexual confidence and economic self-sufficiency are reasons they’ll never have companionship and love. These articles and so-called studies give us all the reasons we can’t have what we need, but offer no advice on what to do about it, let alone offer condolences. And now black women are told we’ve lost the race before we’ve even left the gate.
I say screw it. The answer is probably, ‘yes,’ if you’re a black woman, finding a life partner won’t be easy. But the same is true if you’re over 35, a single mother or obsessed with vampire novels. It’s harder, but not impossible. Really, you’re only going to meet one or two people in your lifetime you’ll want to take the plunge with anyway.
Even if you look like Donna Reed.
**Check out the segment on interracial dating on 90.9 WBUR’s Radio Boston program at http://www.wbur.org/2010/08/19/love-letters-3.