It was the publication of Joy Jones' article "Marriage is for White People" in the Washington Post in 2006 that, for me, marked the emergence of the "decline of black marriage" as a topic of note in the cultural zeitgeist. In the article, the author pondered the reasons behind the decrease in marriage rates among African Americans and asked what, if anything, the institution could possibly do for her and similarly situated black women (over thirty, career-accomplished).
Present also was a sense of longing and sadness that came to define most pieces on this "crisis." ("My time never came," Jones said.) Complementing the article was a photo of a lone black woman, captioned, "declining marriage rates among African Americans hit women the hardest."
A few years later, some friends circulated via email a Washington Post profile of Helena Andrews, promoting the publication of her memoir Bitch is the New Black. In the Post's telling, Andrews was "desperately in search of love in the city" and emphatic that successful black women only appeared to have it all together. I was most struck by how the pitiful tone of Andrews' profile was so powerfully disconnected from the witty irreverence of her memoir.
Since, there have been Nightline specials. Nationwide roundtables. Steve Harvey's and Hill Harper's books. Barack Obama's election. Tyler Perry's joyless version of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide... All of which, in some way or another, inspired commentators to ruminate further on the state of black relationships, and more specifically, the sad singlehood of many African American women.
More recently, Beyonce announced her pregnancy on the VMAs and the blogosphere exclaimed that she "did it the right way" by waiting on marriage before becoming pregnant. This occurred shortly after her husband's album Watch the Throne, which included the song "That's My Bitch," debuted at the top of the charts. While I admire Beyonce's talent and beauty, aspiring to her life is unrealistic for several reasons, one being that I could probably never make the intellectual compromises that she may have to justify the misogyny of many of her husband's lyrics and the damage they could have done to the collective consciousness.
I also can't shake the feeling that implicit in all of this discourse is an underlying message that most black women have been going about things the wrong way (becoming pregnant while single), or prioritizing the wrong things (careers, education, personal development).
A family member nearly articulated as much at my thirtieth birthday party last December. In his toast welcoming me to this new decade of life, he said "I hope you find a good man, get married, and have lots of babies." Of course he meant well, but I couldn't help but think that the profundity of the present moment didn't seem matter as much: that just to enjoy each other and celebrate me, family and old friends had traveled across multiple coasts and time zones to attend my party in the sleepy southern town of my birth.
That night, someone also asked whether I considered having family of my own as much as I did the development of my career. I will always reply kindly to those sorts of questions, but I do believe that my self-actualization is as important as increasing the population, and I don't see a feasible way in which I can achieve the latter without the former.
When I came home to New York after my birthday, I buried myself in work for many months and received a promotion. I spent a week in Paris eating a lot, then another sunning on a pristine Bahamian beach. I ended an unsatisfying relationship, then fell in love with a not-so good guy. I danced to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. It's been, by far, one of the most fulfilling years of my life.
All of that is not to say that I am living some clichéd fabulous single life and am the black Carrie Bradshaw. Nor am I saying that I have no desire for a husband and kids in the future. What it does say, and what is missing in most of chatter about us, is that my life, our lives, are valid as they are.
The panicked tonality reverberating through the discourse about us does not inspire; it interrogates, castigates, and condescends. It is an assault on our collective psyche, and I reject it on behalf of all of us who are just trying to be ourselves every day. It undermines us and, creating a climate of fear, exacerbates the very problem it claims to bring to light. It is the certainty in your worth as you are that gives the wherewithal to self-improve, leave bad relationships, heal, trust your intuition, and maybe even get married.