Part One: The Black Marriage – Truths about the Role of the Black Woman and Wife

Much of the writings about the challenges of marriage and the role of wife have been single lens studies about White (middle-class) women (e.g., Kingston, 2006; Maushart, 2001), even though they are not always marked as
such.

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I came across a great article that speaks on black marriages.  I’m not married, but I belong to a few groups with many married folks and to get insight into the different aspects of marriage, what’s needed to maintain a good marriage, and when it’s not enough and divorce is the only option.  I believe every woman grows up with an image of them meeting the person of their dreams, picturing themselves walking down the aisle and looking into the eyes of their best friend in life and love.  I always thought that and craved that at one time.  Kissed many frogs and dated many fish, but none that quite fit into that dream of mines.

Black women likely do all the emotion management that White women do, including making sure that the relationship thrives. This may include overlooking behavior that undermines women’s happiness. Black women are taught to accept men’s tendencies to date multiple women, acts of infidelity, and other negative behavior as “boys being boys” (Collins, 2005).

As a 40-year old women those dreams are no longer cravings.  I’m not rushing to find that “perfect” person or situation where I will be happy for the rest of my life.  I had to learn to love myself more than a man, and my idea of marriage.  The reality of people is what I focus on and we are all Perfectly Flawed!  But that doesn’t mean they others have not found their Knight in Shining Armor.  Some have had the perfect courtship and wedding and now marriage and babies.  That’s fine.  Some have found the person of their dreams only to lose them in life.  As a black woman I already have several things that I deal with because I’m Black and I’m a woman.  Marriage was supposed to be my salvation.  My completed meaning of life and the person I married was supposed to be that person that makes my hardships a little less hard.  I’m saying all this to say, that black marriages are more than just a marriage.  It’s not supposed to be an image of the white patriarchal system’s idea of marriage because we don’t fit that….because of our history.

Systematic exclusion from the basic building blocks for a “typical” or “healthy” marriage means that Black marriages could never quite measure up. Yet, Black women’s “failure” to conform to “true womanhood” (Collins, 1990; Landry, 2000) and Black men’s difficulties
making a go of it in the sphere of paid work are then identified as the source
of “problems” in Black families. – Johnson and Loscocco

As a single woman speaking on marriage, I’m not trying to be an expert.  I am definitely a generalist, but I have a voice.  I see this world and what it does to black women, children, men, and marriages.  It’s not always cut and dry and the reasons are sometimes covered or not talked about because it’s so embedded as right.  But we need to know and explore how our marriages and companionship with our men should and needs to be.  I’m not an expert, but marriage is important to the black community so that makes it very important to me.  At one time those married women were single and dating and trying to navigate this world based on their values, mores, and beliefs too.  So my information may not be received by all, but the journal article I read enlightened me on The Black Marriage so that we can be more aware.  So that we as a community can understand the dynamics of black marriages and what it really entails in this country.  These are some of the takeaways from this journal I read this morning.  Let me know your thoughts.

In general, everything the imagined traditional family ideal is thought to be, African American families are not. —Patricia Hill Collins (1990, p. 53)

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The Black Marriage

  • Studies always show that black marriages are difficult to maintain, the lack of marriageable black men, and criticism about unwed black mothers.
  • The emphasis on the oppression of Black men in discussions of
    marriage markets and family troubles renders Black women invisible, or worse—responsible (Collins, 2005; White, 2008).
  • Disproportionate numbers of Black women will have no marriage at all. As Ridgeway and Kricheli-Katz (2013) suggest, Black women’s failure to
    live up to dominant (White) femininity makes them less marriageable than White and Asian women, and also Black men.
  • Gender organizes the institution of heterosexual marriage, as it does social life, by placing women and men in unequal relationship to one another
    (Risman, 1998, 2004).
  • Placing the blame for the state of Black marriage on the very people who are given the difficult task of protecting it from a variety of external assaults that stem from structured racism (Chaney, 2010) is not just unfair. It also diverts attention from the real “culprit,” the patriarchal (and racist) institution of marriage (cf. White, 2008).
  • Black women occupy a lower social status than both White women and Black men. Black women are not represented in cultural prototypes of “woman” or “black,” rendering them invisible (Collins, 1990; Crenshaw, 1993; Hooks, 1989).
  • When it comes to major concerns in Black communities, sexism takes a back seat to
    racism. She notes that “the Black Men’s Club” is “a not too distant cousin of the White Men’s Club.”
  • The role of Black wife is an example of intersecting identity categories which holds Black women accountable to an ideal crafted for White women, and requires them to cope with Black men who wrestle with hegemonic definitions of masculinity (Connell, 1987; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005; S. A. Hill, 2004).
  • Those with access to wealth and power have had the biggest role in shaping the norms and values that underlie institutions such as marriage (Collins, 1990; Schwalbe et al., 2000).
  • The social construction of this gendered institution has also been highly racialized, though typically unmarked as such. The elite groups with the power to control definitions of marriage were, it may seem to go without saying, not just men, but White men. The “authority to  define societal values” associated with marriage “is a major expression of upper class white male power” (Collins, 1990, p. 76).
  • In fact, it is common, even among Black leaders, to see the solution to “marriage problems” as a question of adapting to White middle-class norms. The
    reasoning is that if Blacks would accept traditional gender ideology and strive to
    develop a politics of respectability which strengthens “weak” Black men, they
    would combat racism and reverse Black poverty (Collins, 2005).
  • The couples cite giving out “needed support to family, extended family, fictive kin, or
    acquaintances as a constant stressor on their marriage” (Marks et al., 2006, p. 176).
  • When it comes to the division of emotional labor in marriages, Black women are apt to do considerably more of it than their husbands do, as is true for their White counterparts (Duncombe & Marsden, 1995; Strazdins & Broom, 2004;
    Thompson & Walker, 1989).

Everyday racism is a source of stress that has to be emotionally managed somehow as well. If one faces small slights and big insults or worse, what happens when you retreat to the marital haven? How do wives, who are tasked with provided emotional support, manage to give it when they and their husbands are up against this source of tension and pressure every day? – Johnson and Loscocco

 

Sources:

Kecia R. Johnson and Karyn Loscocco, Black Marriage Through the Prism of Gender, Race, and Class Journal of Black Studies March 2015 46: 142-171, first published on December 23, 2014  doi:10.1177/0021934714562644

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. This article was everything! Wow…you provided factual quotes about how they actually feel about black women and black marriages in general. My husband and I married at 21. We knew the stereotypes surrounding the black family and wanted to make a change. Because it starts with us. I’m so glad you took the time to research this information. I needed this. 💗💗💗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did you get a chance to read two? Thank you for your comment.

      Like

    2. It definitely starts with us. I am changing the narrative for my young daughter by showing her financial responsibility, wealth, and resilience.

      Like

  2. Hey lady, I enjoyed your piece on marriage. I think the biggest mistake one can make is to compare him or herself to another. Another independently and/or another group or ideology.

    As you know, I am happily married and have been for almost 14 years and with this man almost 17. My viewpoints on life, relationships and marriage have been different in quite a few areas – let me share a couple:

    I believed that Jesus was my salvation and that a relationship was something I could in fact live with or without.

    I was always taught that you are much better off alone, than to be in a relationship with someone who is not faithful to you or abused you in any way.

    I was taught to value my body. “I’m a fox, I sit on my box!”

    I was shown how healthy relationships could and did exist through aunts and uncles and older cousins married for decades. No yelling, screaming, or disrespect was ever seen (doesn’t mean it didn’t exist)

    Conversely, I was also shown how men could beat, cheat, and disrespect his wife making marriage appear to be nothing to aspire to. It’s no wonder, (with the latter scenario), my mother, the person telling me to never accept abuse of any kind – she had seen it the most. My father’s side was where I saw the healthier marriages. My father had seen it, but still never measured up to mom’s expectations of a husband.

    Did I mentioned that a couple of those healthy marriages I witnessed growing up was those of interracial couples. So while I know the impact systemic oppression has had on my lineage, aspiring to mimic what white culture represented was never in my cards. Aspiring for a healthy mutually respectful relationship was what my cards called for. I saw it so I knew it was possible. Meeting my husband wasn’t the knight in shining armor scenario for me. He was my God send arriving in God’s time – not mine.

    My last point, and I had this discussion with another Sista. Unlike many, I was blessed to have experienced finding real love three times over. I had three great men that showed me that I too play a role in how my relationships with men would play out. You see, my presence commands a level of respect that is understood from introductory points. However, what I had witnessed and experienced along my journey shaped who I was. Men can sometimes make us hard. Finding a man that allowed me to be pink, and who understood my value just because of who I was, was the silver-lining for me, not finding the one that fit the fairy tale for someone else’s journey. Our daughter has NEVER seen us raising our voices with one another – and I have it in me. There is just a mutual respect for she and my husband that won’t allow me to expose her to that. We disagree respectfully and make up swiftly!

    Our life experiences shape us to be, to give, and to receive. Sadly, many young boys and girls alike are cheated. They are robbed of the basics and have to travel their journey devoid. This has a huge impact on “if” they marry, and what that looks like should they. I must say, I was cheated and robbed a lot as a child. But because of God’s grace, I got that which was essential for the relationship I nurture and love today. That’s just my perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is beautiful…I appreciate your words and insight. I never had tat experience and being 41 now, I am understanding my worth which was more than I could say in my 20s. But I have a daughter and I am teaching her what you were taught so that my legacy going forth can understand their worth early on and receive respect and love that’s made for them. Thank you again!!!

      Like

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