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    Tuesday, March 28, 2006

    Black leading indicator on marriage


    I grew up in a time when two-parent families were still the norm, in both black and white America. Then, as an adult, I saw divorce become more commonplace, then almost a rite of passage. Today it would appear that many -- particularly in the black community -- have dispensed with marriage altogether.

    link

    There is no religion in this article, which is of course the root problem.

    It is interesting to read where the young generation finds themselves. God
    help them.

    For years, I wondered why not. And then some 12-year-olds enlightened me.
    "Marriage is for white people."

    Although slavery was an atrocious social system, men and women back then nonetheless often succeeded in establishing working families. In his account of slave life and culture, "Roll, Jordan, Roll," historian Eugene D. Genovese wrote: "A slave in Georgia prevailed on his master to sell him to Jamaica so that he could find his wife, despite warnings that his chances of finding her on so large an island were remote. . . . Another slave in Virginia chopped his left hand off with a hatchet to prevent being sold away from his son." I was stunned to learn that a black child was more likely to grow up living with both parents during slavery days than he or she is today, according to sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin.

    Traditional notions of family, especially the extended family network, endure. But working mothers, unmarried couples living together, out-of-wedlock births, birth control, divorce and remarriage have transformed the social landscape. And no one seems to feel this more than African American women. One told me that with today's changing mores, it's hard to know "what normal looks like" when it comes to courtship, marriage and parenthood. Sex, love and childbearing have become a la carte choices rather than a package deal that comes with marriage.

    "A woman who takes that step is bold and brave," one young single mother told me. "Women don't want to marry because they don't want to lose their freedom."

    The turning point in my own thinking about marriage came when a longtime friend proposed about five years ago. He and I had attended college together, dated briefly, then kept in touch through the years. We built a solid friendship, which I believe is a good foundation for a successful marriage.

    But -- if we had married, I would have had to relocate to the Midwest. Been there, done that, didn't like it. I would have had to become a stepmother and, although I felt an easy camaraderie with his son, stepmotherhood is usually a bumpy ride. I wanted a house and couldn't afford one alone. But I knew that if I was willing to make some changes, I eventually could.

    As I reviewed the situation, I realized that all the things I expected marriage to confer -- male companionship, close family ties, a house -- I already had, or were within reach, and with exponentially less drama. I can do bad by myself, I used to say as I exited a relationship. But the truth is, I can do pretty good by myself, too.

    Most single black women over the age of 30 whom I know would not mind getting married, but acknowledge that the kind of man and the quality of marriage they would like to have may not be likely, and they are not desperate enough to simply accept any situation just to have a man. A number of my married friends complain that taking care of their husbands feels like having an additional child to raise.

    By design or by default, black women cultivate those skills that allow them to maintain themselves (or sometimes even to prosper) without a mate.

    And here's the new twist. African American women aren't the only ones deciding that they can make do alone. Often what happens in black America is a sign of what the rest of America can eventually expect. In his 2003 book, "Mismatch: The Growing Gulf between Women and Men," Andrew Hacker noted that the structure of white families is evolving in the direction of that of black families of the 1960s. In 1960, 67 percent of black families were headed by a husband and wife, compared to 90.9 percent for whites. By 2000, the figure for white families had dropped to 79.8 percent. Births to unwed white mothers were 22.5 percent in 2001, compared to 2.3 percent in 1960. So my student who thought marriage is for white people may have to rethink that in the future.

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