Black marriage: is the dream dead?


This is actually the second time I’m reading The Conversation and as usual, I’m noticing things the second time around that I didn’t notice the first.

Things like this: Hill Harper uses some ominous quotes to start some of his chapters. Ominous how? Take a look at this from the first page of the introduction:

We are all tied together…in a garment of mutual destiny. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., married to Coretta Scott King for fifteen years, until his assassination.

and this, from page 4:

We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity. — Malcolm X, married to Betty Shabazz for seven years, until his assassination.

Seeing a trend? Hill Harper is absolutely right to contextualize his thoughts about black relationships by quoting two of the most simultaneously polarized and revolutionary African-American thinkers of all time.

The ideals espoused by Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., far outlived the men themselves as have transcended even their own context as race men. Pointing out that both these men, each who died before age 40, were dedicated husbands.  Perhaps it wasn’t revolutionary for the 1960s, when far more black households were headed by married couples than today, for our “leaders” to be hitched. But today, as there’s so much lamenting and consternation about the decline of black love and black marriage, it could be that the most revolutionary ideas we can explore from brothers Malcolm and Martin are their ideas about love and family.

That, though, isn’t what makes the use of those quotes ominous. It’s the fact that the quotes both came from martyrs. Martin & Malcolm married Coretta and Betty, but were cut down before they could fulfill the visions they had for our community and for their families. In that contexts their deaths were prescient; in the decades since, countless black men have been similarly stopped short — by bullets, by joblessness, by bad choices — of living out the ideal of becoming heads of households, fulfillers of vows and promises.

We’ve all seen over the mountaintop of segregation and racial progress since the late 60s. But did another, just as important dream die in 1968?


5 Responses to “Black marriage: is the dream dead?”

  1. NewNew Says:


  2. Georgia Peach (ML) Says:

    (so, here’s a conversation I had offline in response to this blog…hoping we can get folks to bring the convo to the forum for everyone’s benefit)

    Him: One of my homegirls actually hit me up this past weekend. She and a group of single professional black women were talking about why they’re single; the thought process of a lot of women is disturbing. Maybe the black marriage is dead!

    Me: I don’t really look at things the same way as most females do, but maybe I’m the crazy one, lol

    Him: So what’s your view? From what my homegirl was saying it pretty much came off as a male-bashing session. I don’t know. I will say that the difference between women in our generation in comparison to women of our parents’ generation is that a lot of women in our era truly feel as though a man is no longer needed to run a household b/c of their position financially when in the past women didn’t have the opportunities that are now available.

    Me: I don’t male bash; not my style; not productive; and it’s not all their (yal’s) responsibility. I’ve never had a problem getting dates, etc. so I never support the (shortage of available men “crisis” conversation; even though I believe the numbers to be mostly accurate).

    I do believe there are lots of quality men and lots of quality women who are either spatially mismatched or run into each other in bad timing. Patience with self and others is one of the biggest things I think is missing in dating/relationships today. We don’t allow things enough time to “play out” and often hold people to unrealistic expectations (often b/c there are so many options). Sometimes we hold others to expectations that we aren’t willing to meet ourselves. This can be for a variety of reasons, but two common ones are: sometimes we’re not aware that “who we think we are” is not “as others perceive us” and sometimes, and even worse, “who we think we are” is not “who we really are.”

    So, it’s kinda sad when I hear women who are jaded or as you said, feel the need to bash men. Yes, I know plenty of guys (& women) are and can be trifling, but that’s just not the entire answer or the masses. Even those who “do dirt” are good people, often just in a “bad stage” (i.e. timing). Most of us have been there at some point. (Those of us with a strong conscious still feel pangs about the “collateral damage, wreckage and/or carnage” we left behind.)

    To your other point, I don’t need a man to run a house. And, I don’t think that perspective is the big change. Actually, I think it’s a positive switch b/c it takes some of the pressure off black men who already deal with so much. That aside, I do want a man there and “want” (versus “need’) creates a different criteria.

    Him: I don’t bash at all. I think both sexes have their shortcomings in a general aspect. Since reentering the dating scene, I’ve realized that in the beginning there are too many expectations on both ends of the spectrum. Communication is big in dating/relationships and I think that the unwillingness to compromise tends to be the reason why most folks simply give up before actually knowing if the person is fit for them.

    I agree on the timing and patience issue. Patience, or the lack thereof, is one of my biggest flaws. Another thing that’s also a pitfall for many women is over-thinking and over-analyzing. I promise: guys are the most simplistic creatures on this earth, but a lot of women tend to try and breakdown and understand every little action or word that comes out our mouths. Everything doesn’t have a motive behind it.

    I understand you don’t “need” a man to run your house but that’s the thing. A guy wants to feel needed and depended on. Anytime a girl says she can do something without him that’s not going to make the guy feel good about himself – it’s belittling to his manhood. Granted I see your perspective of it taking the pressure off him, but most guys know already that a woman can and will hold it down when need be, but you can’t throw that in our face.

    Me: Well, this is where I think the communication issue becomes even more important. A lot of times guys (in my experience) want to help where they want to help. Sometimes, they don’t do a good job of listening and respecting where we ASK for help. I do ask and I don’t mind assistance on things guys want to do, SOMEtimes, lol. However, you have to be helping where I want and need you to help too. Yes, sometimes that’s a patience thing too. Women need to figure out what a guy is good at doing (and in some cases better than them) and guys also need to become more comfortable with being logical about what makes the most sense (i.e. just b/c your dad paid the bills in your household doesn’t mean it’s a “manly” thing that you should do). If a guy can’t balance a checkbook and really hates it, then it’s OKAY and does not/should not threaten your manhood to allow your woman to handle that portion of your household if she’s a finance person. Likewise, if a guy is a better cook and enjoys cooking and the woman can’t cook then it should be okay for those “stereotypical gender roles” to be switched or shared. I don’t think anyone executing a particular responsibility in a household removes them from input or decision-making conversations (if that’s what the partnership wants). Strong, healthy households demand execution and delegation of various tasks to the most qualified (or interested) of the pairing. Otherwise, the household will be spinning its wheels and that’s “no bueno.”

  3. alldunn Says:

    There is no right or wrong answer to the question that is posed (of course), but I’m going to give my opinion as it pertains to me. The dream of marriage is not dead – at least not in my environment. But it also depends who you ask. Now, if you ask someone who was raised by a never married parent, they may not see marriage as important as I do. I think we are living in a time where television, movies and videos glamorize the single life. There is NOTHING wrong with being single, but it is not NORMAL for someone to continuously desire to be single. But this trend did not just start. If you look back on page 14 of the Introduction, Harper gives the following statistics:

    In 1966, more than 84 percent of all Black children were being raised in two-parent household. In 2006, just 40 years later, fewer than 33 percent of all Black children were being raised in two-parent households. We could blame it on the change in attitudes toward marriage over the past 40 years, but that still would not explain why in 2006, more than 80 percent of Asian American children, nearly 75 percent of White children and close to 70 percent of Latino American children were being raised in two parent households.

    So with that information, I ask this question – do other races value the union of marriage more than African Americans? If so, why? Is there something set up by design that automatically pushes blacks away from marriage?

    As of today, we are living in an era where the state department of Jobs and Family Services is telling us how to run our relationships – ‘if you can’t afford to take care of your children; we’ll help you but you sure as heck can’t marry the daddy; better yet we don’t even want him living with you’. That being said, if this is all a child sees, there is no way that they would even think that marriage is an option or even acceptable. . So how are we (as individuals who have not given up on the dream of marriage) planning to revive our families as well as our communities?

  4. gjenea Says:

    Attempting to not be long-winded, like I usually am, I’ll make this comment brief.

    The dream is not dead to me. I still believe that I will be married in the near future. (near being 5-10 years) I’ve grown up around and have been surrounded by healthy successful relationships. (My parents just celebrated 33 years… and my aunts & uncles much longer than that) and I believe that eventually the same companionship will be for me.

    As for the dream being dead in the Black community as a whole, I still would have to say, no it is not dead. It might be on life support or in a coma, but not dead yet. Sticking with this analogy, the Black marriage just needs some really good doctors to bring it back to life. We need to understand and spread the importance – spiritually, mentally, emotionally – of maintaining/sustaining a healthy lifelong relationship to the survival of our community.

    God did not intend for man and woman to live separately or shack up without being married. Playing marriage is not the same. Common law marriage is not the same. Having a family, but not “worrying about a piece of paper” is not the same. There was a reason, aside from procreation, that God created the beautiful & sacred institution of marriage.
    In marriage you are to think more about your partner than yourself. You are to serve your partner, more than you serve yourself. Just as Jesus served the people. In serving your spouse & submitting to them spiritually you are in a way seeing a reflection of God’s love for you.

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