‘Be Like Barack and Michelle. Get Married.’

michelle-obama-speech-democratic-national-convention

One of the more puzzling aspects of Obama’s win has been the extent to which people have argued that the symbolism of his presidency will remove some huge psychic encumbrance from the souls of black people and compel Negroes to “do better.” (At that Princeton lecture shani-o and I went to, a white guy asked Michael Nutter if Obama’s prominence would mean an improvement in the sholastic performance of black boys.)

Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution makes another argument along these lines, by positing that the Obamas could make marriage a more attractive option for black people.  

In 2006, The Washington Post published an op-ed essay by writer Joy Jones with the provocative headline “Marriage Is for White People.” The headline didn’t reflect Jones’ views; it repeated “what one of my students told me some years back when I taught a career exploration class for sixth-graders at an elementary school in southeast Washington.

“I think I’ll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing children,” she told the class. ” ‘Oh, no,’ objected one student. ‘We’re not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers.’ And that’s when the other boy chimed in … ‘Marriage is for white people.’ “

That sixth-grader was likely reflecting his environment, which may not have included many black married couples. While 62 percent of white adults and 60 percent of Latino adults are married, only 41 percent of black adults are.

The Obamas are already burdened by the baggage of cultural expectations, but I’ll go ahead and add another sack to their load: Here’s hoping their presence on the national stage will erase that sixth-grader’s wrongheaded notion. Marriage is an equal-opportunity institution, no matter color, creed or sexual orientation.

“I was really excited when I saw the Obama family on the [TV] screen [on Nov. 4] because I meet so many young African-Americans who, frankly, have never seen an intact family like this,” said Leah Ward Sears, chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and a board member of the Institute for American Values, which promotes marriage. “I’m hopeful [the Obamas] will be a brand-new model of what the ideal is, even if many, many of us will fall short of the ideal,” she added.

Leaving aside for a second that sixth-graders probably make for shitty cultural barometers, there’s not a lot of evidence that black people are dramatically more likely than other groups to not want to be married. Tucker goes on to list some of the benefits of married life — more sex, higher wages, better monitoring of health, etc. — but those and similar benefits have been trumpeted over and over, and people still aren’t jumping the broom. That probably means those benefits are not, by themselves, compelling enough to make people choose marriage, so people need to come up with better arguments in its favor.

Barring that, the folks making this argument seem to conveniently ignore that the decision to marry (or not) is made using some complicated personal calculus. And it’s probably safe to say that there are likely structural reasons for such low rates of marriage among a population that is still generally so churched and socially conservative.

The Obamas were not the beginning, of course; the Huxtables were (and are still) championed as the ideal black family template in a lot of circles.  The logic in this idea is pretty flimsy, as Ta-Nehisi points out in his Time essay.

The belief in Obama as a force for moral reform rests on another shaky pillar — the idea that people should get their values from what they see on television. This goes for entertainers and Presidents.

More or less. If constant exposure to an idea via TV does result in a dramatic paradigm shift, there’s no reason to think it happens absent a lot of other factors, or that it’s even close to the biggest one.

38 thoughts on “‘Be Like Barack and Michelle. Get Married.’

  1. Big Word November 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm Reply

    I think the matriarchial nature of communities are the reason why a lot of us don’t choose to be married. Being a mother has a lot more relevance to black women and poor women in general than being someone’s wife. Arguments like the one Tucker makes seem more and more to me like an excercise in specious logic. Trumpeting marriage as an institution when just as many marriages are likely to be failures as there successes just makes no sense to me. People should look at successful relationships as gauges no matter the makeup.

  2. robynj November 17, 2008 at 5:33 pm Reply

    Beyond exalting the Obamas as the model for all (black?) marriages, my issue with this article is that it assumes that either you’re a married parent or a baby mama/daddy. However, we know that there are many parents who live together and are in happy, stable relationships, but just don’t happen to be married. Where are they in this discussion? Is there a difference in child outcomes when, everything else being equal, there’s no marriage license? This seems a little thin to me.

  3. G.D. November 17, 2008 at 5:39 pm Reply

    Robyn: this is a great, overlooked point. There are any number of permutations of a stable family, and this one — father-husband, wife-mother, and kids —- is still held up as the default model, even as American families look increasingly less like that.

  4. NinaG November 17, 2008 at 8:00 pm Reply

    i agree with robyn & G.D.; there is way too much focus on marriage as a solution to certain problems within (but not limited to) black communities and not creating and sustaining healthy relationships and families

  5. e. November 18, 2008 at 12:01 am Reply

    hmm i’m gonna have to disagree with you guys on this. Yes, a stable family can be more than a married man and woman and child but a marriage is the most stable, even moreso than a couple that’s been cohabititing for years. there’s research to back this up. from what i’ve read, which is a lot (trust me), marriage almost “ups” all the benefits of non-married or cohabiting relationship, and is much more beneficial to everyone in the family.

    and g.d. black women are the least likely of all women to ever be married, so i think marriage in the black community is cause for concern. the obama’s may be a model but they are certainly not a cure.

  6. G.D. November 18, 2008 at 1:09 am Reply

    “black women are the least likely of all women to ever be married, so i think marriage in the black community is cause for concern.”

    e:

    What about marriage, specifically, makes it such an unalloyed social good that its relative infrequency among black folks is ’cause for concern’?

    if so much research points out the benefits of marriage (link?), what does it say to you that black people are not marrying in spite of those purported benefits? And is it possible there are other avenues to those same benefits?

  7. robynj November 18, 2008 at 10:34 am Reply

    E: So there is data that demonstrates there are significant differences in the outcomes of children of married parents vs. co-habitating parents? Can you share some links?

  8. simply scott November 18, 2008 at 11:10 am Reply

    no, you do not have to have a marriage certificate to have a stable family, but it helps. nevertheless studies have shown that marriage (the family unit and its stability) are beneficial in many ways — monetarily, healthwise, etc. i don’t know if it has anything to do with ‘social good’. it’s about personal good. an unmarried couple with kids who all cohabitate, or the same couple who work closely together and support each other should get those same benefits.

    and let’s don’t forget that stable couples, married or otherwise, generally leads to homeownership or some other kind of stable home environment, which in turn leads to community contribution and interaction, and so forth and so on. get married? why not? logically, it does help everyone.

    as for the question about why blacks are not marrying more despite the purported benefits, consider in what situations you see most married blacks. are there more married black couples in city neighborhoods or in the suburbs? are married blacks generally financially better off, or is it about even? i don’t know the answer to those questions, but i think there are some smart people here who can probably answer why it is that marriage, or the semblence thereof that i mention above, is not more prevalent.

    the real issue here, i think, is not that more blacks need to get married, but that there needs to be more emphasis on family (and that goes for the white community, as well), which translates to better support all around. if the Obamas can display all the positives of the family unit (even marriage) to single black men and women, then hopefully that depressing term “baby daddy” will go away. (my kids don’t live with me — i’m divorced, but i am the father, not the “baby daddy”, meaning i am responsible for the upbringing and welfare of my children).

  9. G.D. November 18, 2008 at 11:35 am Reply

    scott: “the real issue here, i think, is not that more blacks need to get married, but that there needs to be more emphasis on family (and that goes for the white community, as well), which translates to better support all around.”

    No disrespect, but this is one of those sentences that gets people’s heads nodding, but doesn’t really mean anything. Why the assumption that there isn’t an emphasis on family in black communities, or that there needs to be more of it? (I think this statement works only if you’re defining ‘family’ very narrowly.)

    I’ve argued before that marriage is not the cause of family stability, but an indicator of some other stuff that helps foster stability. We know that people with more education marry later, make more money, are less likely to get divorced, and will have fewer kids (who will have better educational outcomes). It seems like a stretch to say that a stable marriage is the catalyst for all those other things, and not the other way around.

    It’s the ‘personal good’ thing that is weirding me out, tho. If the benefits of marriage are only personal, why is there such widespread clamoring for so many black people to arrive at the same conclusion regarding this personal choice? This sounds an awful lot like a conversation about social values masquerading as a discussion of pubic health.

    If a higher incidence of marriage for black people is beneficial for the larger society, no one in this conversation has explained why that would be, nor has anyone explained why marriage is the best or only way to achieve those ends.

  10. simply scott November 18, 2008 at 1:26 pm Reply

    well, then my question is simply this: would a higher incidence of marriage (or cohabitating loving couples of any gender) and the resultant family unit be beneficial to black people in general? if so, would that not benefit the larger society? if not, what would it take?

    admittedly, a good “community” is probably the best bet for any group of people, but at the end of the day (literally), kids want to come home to mommy and daddy, don’t they?

    as for the ‘personal’ health benefits of being married (which would contribute to the couple, the children and the community as a whole), i offer this link:

    http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20041215/health-perks-of-marriage

    in 2004, the CDC reported that married people tend to be healthier in general than any other group and those who co-habitate do not share the same healthy benefits as married couples. there were 127,000 people studied from 1999-2002.

  11. Ralph H. Manningfield November 18, 2008 at 2:14 pm Reply

    “This sounds an awful lot like a conversation about social values masquerading as a discussion of pubic health.” -GD

    That’s exactly what it is. It’s just part of this new clandestine conservatism. Frankly, I think a lot of this pro-marriage talk is no more than an argument for keeping up appearances. It all goes back to the “Daddy In The Home” argument parroted by many conservative blowhards. They posit that many of the problems facing the black community are the result of black children growing up without a father or positive male role model in the home. Now, of course we know this is due to post-slavery psychological conditioning and not some predisposition to love ’em and leave ’em which is the veiled accusation. Hundreds of years of forcefully breaking up families lead to the disarray we see today. The irony present here is just mind-blowing.

  12. quadmoniker November 18, 2008 at 2:24 pm Reply

    SS: These arguments ignore one simple rule of any kind of inquiry: correlation does not necessarily equal causation.

    The Web MD article doesn’t address causation. It could be that marriage somehow promotes healthier lifestyles. Or it could be that the kind of person who opts to marry young has a healthier lifestyle, or that someone who opts to stay single longer makes less healthy choices (and hangs out in singles bars and smokes.)

    It also ignores the thousands of dollars in benefits per year given to married couples in the form of tax-breaks and cost-sharing. A married, non-working spouse doesn’t have to worry about losing his or her health insurance, and the working spouse can add him or her to an employer-based policy at reduced cost.

    Likewise, to G.D.’s point, it could be that marriage is an indicator of stability or health rather than a cause. I don’t think anyone would deny that there are probably some benefits to having more than one adult (and therefore more than one wage-earner or guardian, etc.) help raise kids, but no one has really yet made an argument as to why it is that marriage itself, as recognized by the state, it’s so important. It’s also a pretty specious argument to argue that children are necessary worse off when raised outside of marriage and other factors are controlled for.

    And it’s not as though marriage is stable in this country. With a pretty steady divorce rate of about 50 percent, it seems pretty unstable.

    I’m like Robyn, I think the big, ignored point is that fact that plenty of people choose never to get married in their lives. Those people are effectively penalized by tax policies designed to promote marriage. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A03EFDC1F39F936A15752C0A9629C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1

  13. glory November 18, 2008 at 2:54 pm Reply

    I think that many of the benefits of marriage are anecdotal and/or a result of social conditioning as opposed to something that’s been scientifically proven. Faith communities and to quote Ralph, “conservative blowhards” are the main ones behind the social conditioning I’m talking about. Nevertheless, I personally think that marriage or promoting marriage is more positive than negative, no matter the agenda involved, based on my personal experiences (there goes that anecdotal evidence, again).

  14. ksolo November 18, 2008 at 4:34 pm Reply

    sorry if i’m restating something that’s already been mentioned as i haven’t read all of the comments.

    i think one of the reasons for a lower rate of marriage among black people has to do with the primary reasons most folks get married in the first place – finances. there’s a huge financial motivation for marriage in the form of combined incomes, tax benefits, etc. but in the black community (unlike other races) it’s more likely than not that the female of the duo is the higher earner (i have no links or documented data to prove this, but a stroll around any of the companies i work for as a consultant offer enough anecdotal evidence – professional black females typically outnumber males by 3 to 1). with other races, it’s much more likely that the male is the higher earner, or that the income disparity between the male and female is not as great.

    so now, you have a situation where a female with a significant degree of financial independence sees the institution of marriage in its traditional form, and says to herself, ‘what’s my motivation?’ or, in the worst scenario, you have a dynamic where the male and female are both resentful of each other’s relative financial contribution to the marriage.

    so, it’s no wonder that you see black males and females either remaining single and separate or opting for some non-traditional pair-bond – e.g., long-term cohabitation without marriage.

  15. simply scott November 19, 2008 at 8:41 am Reply

    yikes, i seem to have become a “conservative blowhard”. well, maybe; maybe not. i can only look at my personal experience coming from a broken home and now totally alienated from my parents, then look at how difficult a time my kids have had since my divorce. perhaps my experiences are unique. i find that hard to believe.

    it seems that the vibe in this thread is very much against the idea that more marriage and/or, as i have stated at least twice, ‘cohabitating committed unmarried couples’ could be beneficial to blacks in general. it’s interesting that the sense i get from many of the remarks in this thread is that “marriage is for white people”.

    what’s more interesting is that i live in downtown Baltimore in a fairly diverse community, although admittedly the black population is mostly yuppies. the poor people are the Latinos, who have come mostly from South America, and they mostly do not speak English. they work in all the restaurants in the kitchens or grab jobs where they can (a pickup full of them go hither and thither every morning). BUT oddly enough they are almost all family units with little kids. they live together, go to church together, go to the grocery together. they support each other. there are A LOT of businesses run by Latinos in Fells Point. they are friendly and are often always in the park playing with their kids or walking or playing soccer. i’ve never seen one incident on the neighborhood crime blotter involving a Latino man or group of men in my neighborhood — not once. something seems to be working for these people — maybe it’s not marriage or a stable home or a good church. maybe it is. maybe it has something to do with their values.

    ksolo: good point with regard to black women in the workplace. there are lots of black women in my company (i work at the National Security Agency), but not nearly as many black men.

  16. robynj November 19, 2008 at 9:33 am Reply

    SS: So much here.

    First, where’s the ‘marriage is for white people?’ implication here? Point it out. It’s funny that you get ‘marriage is for white people’ when I get that we’re trying to explore the premise that marriage (and more of it!) is the cure to what supposedly ails the black family.

    Also, the subtext here…

    BUT oddly enough they are almost all family units with little kids. they live together, go to church together, go to the grocery together. they support each other. there are A LOT of businesses run by Latinos in Fells Point. they are friendly and are often always in the park playing with their kids or walking or playing soccer. i’ve never seen one incident on the neighborhood crime blotter involving a Latino man or group of men in my neighborhood — not once. something seems to be working for these people — maybe it’s not marriage or a stable home or a good church. maybe it is. maybe it has something to do with their values.

    … is offensive and the argument, specious at best. So you’re saying that because these people are MARRIED with families, they don’t commit crimes? And better, their ‘values’ are what keep them from engaging in this behavior? So those who do — the pink (or black) elephant in your argument — are more… morally corrupt?

  17. quadmoniker November 19, 2008 at 10:07 am Reply

    SS –
    Side question: Are you allowed to tell us you work for the NSA? Lol.

  18. rakia November 19, 2008 at 11:23 am Reply

    I haven’t had a chance yet to read all the comments, so I’m probably throwing myself into a raging fire here. But what the hell, I’ll jump anyway.

    I would be mortified to have kids outside of marriage. Absolutely mortified. My only brother and two of my five sisters have done this very thing, and I wanted to strangle them for it. My parents never married and they had me when they were young. Mom went on to marry and have more children. Dad had two more children with two different women, only one of whom was his wife. (I’ve always believed “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” was written with my dad in mind.)

    But I grew up with a loving mother and an uncommonly loving and committed stepfather. I grew up in a two-parent household. We were a family unit. Yet it always nagged me that my own pops was, well, rolling. And it bothered me that my father never married my mother. To me, marriage was the ultimate commitment between a couple. And the fact that my parents never shared that commitment made their union seem less valid to me. I felt loved by my parents. But I also felt like I was a constant reminder of a mistake they’d made.

    Not every love child will feel this way, of course. But I bet a lot of us do. It probably stems from societal pressures yada yada yada. But that doesn’t make the want any less real.

    Re: the Obamas, I hope their marriage inspires black people to do more than shack up. (Yeah, I went there.) I can understand why a couple wouldn’t feel the need to. Not wanting to conform to the norm. Not needing a piece of paper to tell them what they mean to one another. But for me, that piece of paper means something. *shrugs* Sue me.

    Marriage is no guarantee that the union will last. I’m realistic about that. But it seems like married couples try a little harder to stay together even when things go poorly. And that’s a good thing for most families.

  19. glory November 19, 2008 at 12:01 pm Reply

    RobinJ: Isn’t it possible that married/coupled/parenting people feel like they have more to lose than unattached people, and so they might be more careful about not getting locked up? Also, don’t values (not intrinsic good or evil, but what someone holds in high regard versus other things, for example, staying legit to stay with your kid instead of risking your freedom to get money) have anything to do with whether or not people get locked up? I agree you though, that the comments are about “explor[ing] the premise that marriage (and more of it!) is the cure to what supposedly ails the black family,” not saying it’s for white people.

    raprilc: what you said really sounds like my girlfriends who didn’t grow up with their dad and resented their dads for not staying with their mom. even so, if your parents had stayed together and had the same kind of commitment that’s assumed of married people, but without the paper, i wonder if it would have made a difference to you if they were married.

    my parents are married, 34 years, but i don’t think their longevity is because of the marriage license so much as they didn’t want to throw their commitment away. i’m aware of how this sounds, but i’ve always been proud to have married parents and to have been raised by my dad in the same house. i didn’t have to watch my mom struggle alone, date a revolving door, or bytch about not getting child support, and i didn’t have to watch my dad making kids with a whole bunch of women. i think besides their commitment, it’s also their reverence for the concept that marriage is a promise that you make before the Creator and you just don’t break it, even though they’re not very religious people. i want marriage, before kids, and commitment throughout, like my parents, and i do think my kids will be better off because of that.

    but i don’t think the license is necessary to have a good and functional family of any ethnicity. at this rate, i’ll take commitment and two-income households in the black community any way i can get it, married or co-habitating, ’cause parents with more financial means can provide for their children better in various ways, and i think kids with models of a good relationship are more likely to have good relationships in their own households one day.

  20. G.D. November 19, 2008 at 12:54 pm Reply

    jesus christ, SS. where is anyone arguing that marriage is “for white people”?

    “what’s more interesting is that i live in downtown Baltimore in a fairly diverse community, although admittedly the black population is mostly yuppies. the poor people are the Latinos, who have come mostly from South America, and they mostly do not speak English. they work in all the restaurants in the kitchens or grab jobs where they can (a pickup full of them go hither and thither every morning). BUT oddly enough they are almost all family units with little kids. they live together, go to church together, go to the grocery together. they support each other. there are A LOT of businesses run by Latinos in Fells Point. they are friendly and are often always in the park playing with their kids or walking or playing soccer. i’ve never seen one incident on the neighborhood crime blotter involving a Latino man or group of men in my neighborhood — not once. something seems to be working for these people — maybe it’s not marriage or a stable home or a good church. maybe it is. maybe it has something to do with their values.”

    where does one even start with this? Your argument is basically: “black people should be more like the Latinos I’ve seen in passing in my town and whom I’ve made all sorts of assumptions about in my limited dealings with them.”

  21. robynj November 19, 2008 at 1:40 pm Reply

    glory: Let’s make sure we’re speaking the same language, here. I’m questioning whether there is a difference in children’s outcomes between MARRIED co-parents, AND NON-MARRIED co-parents (assuming they live together and all else is equal). So those who are ‘unattached’, which I take to mean non-custodial — are not a part of the discussion for me. I mean, can we really call someone who’s in a stable relationship and co-habitating with their co-parent, unattached? That seems really unfair.

  22. Ralph H. Manningfield November 19, 2008 at 2:04 pm Reply

    SS, I have dated many women who have “daddy issues” so I know the lack of a father can be detrimental to SOME women.

    Also, stop, stop with the romanticizing of the hard-working, God fearing Latino stereotype. It is not only offensive to the black people you are insulting by comparison, but to the Latinos whom you have reduced to singular-minded automatons.

  23. simply scott November 19, 2008 at 2:23 pm Reply

    well, i think it’s simplistic to say that my argument is that ‘black people should be more like Latinos’. (hell, if so, then white people should, too!) it was simply what seemed to me like a very good example of what a strong community looks like and what kind of stability can be found in a community full of unbroken families and how it benefits everyone. if we are looking for answers, can we not agree this sounds like a good place to look? yes these people are poor, but they’re immigrants who came here with nothing. give them a generation of growth togther, and we’ll see.

    and how that’s offensive is beyond me. maybe it was the last bit about values. values drive a person’s behavior (outside of medical conditions). look at the behavior of a community and you can determine what their overall values are. that doesn’t mean each individual shares the same values, but it does give a good overall picture. imagine any community or society, and you right away start guessing what their values are. the Latinos i mentioned obviously value community, family and stability. they are a minority, so they work together to provide for each other. they are also from “out of town”, so they have different values than people who have lived in this country longer. American values have strayed from “family” for years and moved toward “individual”. and i’m gonna say that that has a lot to do with what’s wrong with our country now: me, me, me. if it was “us”, life here would be different. i don’t think “togetherness” and “family” is “clandestine conservatism” (Ralph).

    perhaps i’m the only one who is willing to entertain the idea that marriage can be a good thing (although i’ve said already 3-4 times that there are other options), and that it can lead to a better outcome for the individual, the family and the community as a whole. i do not have any scientific evidence to prove it. i only have my observations. Leah Ward Sears (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/29/AR2006102900548.html) seems to think the same thing, although she provides some official data.

    having a marriage license is certainly not the end all/be all of a stable, long-term relationship, but instead of watching me tell you why i think it’s a good idea, tell me why you don’t. if not a stable family unit, then what?

  24. G.D. November 19, 2008 at 2:36 pm Reply

    “well, i think it’s simplistic to say that my argument is that ‘black people should be more like Latinos’. (hell, if so, then white people should, too!) it was simply what seemed to me like a very good example of what a strong community looks like and what kind of stability can be found in a community full of unbroken families and how it benefits everyone. if we are looking for answers, can we not agree this sounds like a good place to look? yes these people are poor, but they’re immigrants who came here with nothing. give them a generation of growth togther, and we’ll see.”

    SS: the reason why people are taking issue with your argument is that you’re resorting to stereotype to make it. It doesn’t really matter if you think you’re being complimentary toward Latinos in making the stereotypes. It’s wild condescending.

    You’re also arguing against a point that NO ONE has made: that marriage is a bad thing. What people have argued is whether there’s evidence that marriage is a better promoter of stability than other family arrangements, and whether marriage is some silver bullet for the myriad social issues that affect black people. NO ONE is arguing against family stability. (If so, where?)

  25. Ralph H. Manningfield November 19, 2008 at 3:32 pm Reply

    I live in NoCal and I hear this argument all the time. And I was not simplifying your argument. The passage GD referenced infers just that! Like most brash generalization–your argument seems to come from a place of ignorance as your view is abstracted. You are an outsider looking in with a bias towards the positive because it corroborates your point. I agree with GD about your comment being condescending as Latinos are just as nuanced and diverse in their thinking as any other race. Of course, there is popular strain that leans towards church and patriarchy, just like every other ethnic group! Well, with the exception being those lovely Scandinavians…

  26. the black scientist November 20, 2008 at 1:05 am Reply

    I don’t understand why so much weight is being put on a marriage license. As though the license itself harbors some super magic power, and not the various benefits (tax, health, or otherwise) that would increase anyone’s quality of life. In which case, shouldn’t those benefits not be contingent on “marriage,” as it exists today?

    Also, the glamorization of the nuclear family and this idea that kids want to come home to ‘mommy and daddy’ is unfounded. particularly in regard to the black community, alternative ‘family structures’ are not only prevalent but have been around for decades. To suggest that a family is “most stable” when there are two married adults seems like an overeager misinterpretation of stats that may well exist. i’m with quadmoniker — this could be a case of mistaking correlation for causation….

    To go back to the original topic of this post, look at Barack Obama. He lived with his grandparents for the greater part of his adolescence, and he doesn’t appear to be complaining, nor does he seem to be up in some pathology.

  27. the black scientist November 20, 2008 at 1:08 am Reply

    insert *tangled* 🙂

  28. Ralph H. Manningfield November 20, 2008 at 2:09 am Reply

    Spot on tbs, alternative ‘family structures’ are quite prevalent in black society. Look at our past (gotta stop saying ‘our.’ I’m giving myself away)–we come from a legacy of familial destruction. The black family is a study in make-do family units. Now in no way am I implying that the ‘make-do’ structure is inferior to the status quo. If anything it proves how tenuous this so-called institution really is.

  29. simply scott November 20, 2008 at 9:18 am Reply

    well, i’ll just leave this alone then. the more i say, the more hot water i get into with everyone. it’s just fine with me that no one agrees. i speak in generalities, since i’m not a sociologist nor a scientist. i refer to a black woman in high office and her statements that support mine but they carry no weight here. i attempt to give an example of what looks to me like a successful community based on family, but that seems to only be taken as condescending. i provide links to stats, but they seem to hold no value. i am not here to prove that marriage or a stable family unit is good for the individuals and community, but i think i’ve done pretty well nonetheless.

    no one took up my challenge, per se, to tell me why marriage is such a poor model and why it won’t help, nor has anyone said what will help.

    as for our new president, Obama, despite being raised by his grandmother, has a ‘traditional’ family now. perhaps he also sees some value in such, thinking it’s the best way to live his life and raise his children. perhaps he even sees it as a good model for others or any race. perhaps he looks at Ralph’s view of the past (and “legacy of familial destruction”) as something that can be changed rather than just accepted (and blamed on someone else: “post-slavery psychological conditioning”). maybe he’s missing the boat, too.

  30. G.D. November 20, 2008 at 10:12 am Reply

    SS: we’re here for discussions, so stick around and discuss. If folks disagree, don’t throw a tantrum, just make a better argument. (We’re generally a reasonable bunch around here.)

    You point to Barack Obama’s ‘traditional’ family with his wife and kids as a model, while disregarding the fact that the family that helped shape Obama into the smart, thoughtful person he is currently consisted of a mother, a stepfather for a time, a half-sister, and two grandparents. That last part dovetails nicely with the points that folks have been making throughout this thread: that family stability is a good thing, that families take myriad forms, that it probably isn’t marriage by itself that makes families stable or healthy.

    I’ve got to say, you’ve got some interesting ideas about race. “i refer to a black woman in high office and her statements that support mine but they carry no weight here.” Um, what does this even mean? We’re supposed to give her opinion extra weight because she’s black and most of us here are too? Is her blackness supposed to make her more right? (Cynthia Tucker, whose op-ed piece sparked this whole discussion, is black too.)

    You don’t see why generalizing about Latinos or any group is bad form. But besides being condescending, it’s logically specious and pretty presumptuous. You’ve decided in your limited dealings with some Latinos near you what the rest of their lives must look like and what their values are. Stereotyping isn’t any less problematic because you’re doing it to be ‘complimentary.’

    this seems really elementary, but ‘we’ (or Latinos or First Americans or South Asians) are not monoliths. Not even close. If you’re gonna stick around — and we hope you do — please keep that in mind.

  31. shani-o November 20, 2008 at 10:29 am Reply

    SS: don’t let G.D. browbeat you into submission, lol. Stick around; just try to keep an open mind, and we’ll do the same.

  32. e. November 21, 2008 at 1:43 pm Reply

    GD told me to roll back over here and check the comments, so here I am.

    Marriage’s effect on child well-being – there is actually A LOT of literature on this. My focus is on fathers and fatherhood so my research mainly explores how fathers (or their absence) affects their children but at any rate, check out Family Structure and Child Well‐Being: The Significance of Parental Cohabitation(http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118756780/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0); Are Married Parents Really Better for Children? What Research Says about the Effects of Family Structure on Child Well-Being. (http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED476114&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED476114) or if you’re into books, basically anything by Michael E. Lamb (http://www.amazon.com/Role-Father-Child-Development/dp/0471231614/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1227292608&sr=1-10) and everything by Fragile Families (http://www.fragilefamilies.princeton.edu/publications.asp)

    Marriage and health/wealth/happiness – again a lot of literature on this as well. Bheck out Linda Waite’s “The Case for Marriage” or “The Ties that Bind Us.” Basically these are metanalysis on literature exploring marriage vs. cohabitation’s effects on both men and women.

    On selection bias – or the “does marriage make people healthier, wealthier or happier? vs do healthier, wealthier or happier people get married more often?” debate – well the literature is inconclusive. Some people find the marriage is the cause and others find that people who get married were better in these measures anyway. Personally I think it’s a mixture of the two.

    e.

  33. Judah November 23, 2008 at 9:47 pm Reply

    The difference between married couples with children and cohabitating couples with children can be summed up as “selection bias.” Marriage is not random, it is a planned commitment between adults. It’s no accident that happier, more stable couples tend to be the ones that wed, and plan children when they are best able to care for them.

    Sometimes, simple economic considerations, especially the ones that come up when a pregnancy accidentally happens, force a couple to live together, when, really, they’re not ready for that yet. So any commitment made in haste, and made half ass, is going to tend to be very different from one people agonize over for ages, and finally settle on without kinda stumbling into it.

    Better relationships lead to marriage. Period.

  34. gangbox November 24, 2008 at 8:14 am Reply

    “They posit that many of the problems facing the black community are the result of black children growing up without a father or positive male role model in the home. Now, of course we know this is due to post-slavery psychological conditioning and not some predisposition to love ‘em and leave ‘em which is the veiled accusation. Hundreds of years of forcefully breaking up families lead to the disarray we see today.”

    Brother Manningfield,

    Slavery 133 years ago has nothing to do with falling Black marriage rates – contemporary racist layoffs do!

    Actually, from the mid 1860’s (when we gained the right to marriage in this country) to the 1980’s, Black families were as likely to get married as Whites.

    But, in the 1980’s, Corporate America began widspread layoffs in unionized heavy industry.

    During the 1930’s and 40’s, Black men had finally been able to break into those jobs, thanks to the rise of the CIO unions (who had, among other things, broken with the old racist traditions of the American Federation of Labor).

    Those union jobs – at Ford, Chrysler, Bethlehem Steel, US Steel, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Eagle Electric, GE ect – had brought many Black families into middle income status, and made stable home life possible for several million Black families.

    Without those jobs, and the wages, health insurance, pension coverage and life insurance that came with them, Black family life became a lot more unstable.

    That’s when we begin to see the big statistical variation in Black and White marriage rates.

    Incidentally, many of those companies went out of their way to lay off Black workers because they felt (correctly) that Black workers were more militant and pro union than their White counterparts.

    This was especially true at Chrysler, where predominantly Black plants (in particular the company’s flagship factory, Dodge Main) were specifically targeted for closing, precisely because of the militancy that Black workers had demonstrated in those plants.

    Chrysler did more than any other corporation to destroy the African American middle income blue collar worker, and they also did much to wreck one of America’s great cities, Detroit, in the process.

    So, don’t blame the racist slaveowners of yesteryear for the problems caused by the racist corporate executies of today (in other words, it’s not the fault of the mythical “Willie Lynch” but the real life Lee Iacocca!)

  35. Terry November 24, 2008 at 2:13 pm Reply

    I just want to know, all these black women that everyone (including me) sees at their their jobs, but who are they supposed to marry if we aren’t seeing nearly as many black men at these jobs?

  36. Ralph H. Manningfield November 24, 2008 at 2:41 pm Reply

    I purposely did not mention the Willie Lynch speech because as you and I both know its veracity has been questioned (and I’m putting that mildly as not to open up a can). I appreciate your angle. It is one I regretfully had not considered. However, I do believe that the long-term psychological effects of slavery as well as a myriad of other factors — both internal and external — have contributed to the condition of black society. Of course it is popular in some circles to point the finger and in a perverted way celebrate our struggle as some sort of twisted legacy. How else can you explain the criticism levied at gays for invoking the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century? Apparently gays as well as other minority groups don’t understand that we own the Struggle? I mean you can be inspired by it, but when you mention it just be sure to drop us black folks a byline and express how your plight pales in comparison to ours. I’m of course being facetious with those last remarks.

  37. Zesi November 27, 2008 at 7:49 am Reply

    All I know is, if I’m wanting to get married to some man and he trots out some argument about culture and patriarchy and not needing a license, I’m going to be pissed to the highest degree of pissivity.

  38. […] touched on the idea (and the holes in it) before, but the meme — the Obamas as an aspirational model for black […]

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