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Think. Discuss. Act. Family

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Review: Marriage Is For White People

Joy Jones. (26 March 2006) “Marriage is for White People,” Washington Post.

Summary

Marriage is a declining tradition, especially in Northwestern Europe and North America. The writer of this article, Joy Jones, is an activist, an active church-leader, educator and writer. 

This article comes from her experience teaching sixth-graders in Southeast Washington, DC.

Two-parent families were the norm as Joy Jones was growing up, and she enjoyed a close relationship with her father. Then, divorce became much more commonplace. Now, particularly in the Black community, the writer sees marriage “dispensed with altogether.”

But as a black woman, I have witnessed the outrage of girlfriends when the ex failed to show up for his weekend with the kids, and I’ve seen the disappointment of children who missed having a dad around.

I made a conscious decision that I wanted a husband, not a live-in boyfriend and not a “baby’s daddy,” when it came my time to mate and marry.

My time never came.

Some years back, the author relates, she was discussing future careers with her six-grade class. It was nice to hear one boy saying that being a good father was a more important goal than making money or having a fancy title.

Pleased, her response was “That’s wonderful! I think I’ll invite some couple in to talk about being married and raising children.”

Oh, no,” a student objected. “We’re not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers.”

Taken aback with a pause, another “boy chimed in, speaking as if the words had left a nasty taste in his mouth:”

Marriage is for white people.”

Jones has to admit the boy is right-statistically:

  • The marriage rate for African-Americans has been dropping since 1960.
  • Today, African-Americans have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group.
  • According to 2001 US census, 43.3% of black men and 41.9% of black women have never been married.  This contrasts to 27.4% and 20.7% respectively for whites.
  • African-American women are least likely in US society to marry.
  • Between 1970 and 2001 the overall marriage rate in the US declined 17%; for blacks, it fell by 34%

The author continues:

Although slavery was an atrocious social system, men and women back then nonetheless often succeeded in establishing working families. (According to historian Eugene D. Genovese):

A slave in Virginia chopped his left hand off with a hatchet to prevent being sold away from his son.

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.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. How difficult is it for you to read this article? Shouldn’t it be for all of us?

2. Do you share this writer’s concern? How would you have written the article differently-or what questions or comments do you have for this writer?

3. Recognizing the valiant efforts of many single mothers, what problems do families without married parents cause the children? And what possible problems to the community and educational system?

4. If you see the decline of African-American marriages as a problem, what part of that crisis has been caused by systemic pressures from outside the black community (historically and at present), and what part is from reactive responses within the community?

5. In a family discussion, in a classroom, or in a youth group, how might you address this issue? How might you discuss it among your peers?

Implications

1. Ever since The Moynihan Report, 1965, (http://www.blackpast.org/?q=primary/moynihan-report-1965) it has been very difficult to deal publicly with the issue of the Black family. A powerful documentary by Bill Moyers (“The Vanishing
Black Family”) has not been reproduced to my knowledge. It interviewed unmarried parents in Chicago who saw no purpose or gain from marriage, and provided an excellent basis for discussion. To avoid difficult issues is to lost opportunities for positive action.

2. Here, and in other writings of Joy Jones, is a place to begin important discussion.

3. Jonetta Rose Barras’ Whatever Happened to Daddy’s Little Girl: the Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women, is a poignant description of negative consequences of serial substitutes for marriage. On the other hand, Andrew Billingsley’s Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: The Enduring Legacy of African-American Families provides a historic reminder of “the determination of black families to live their lives together.” Harriette Pipes McAdoo’s Black Families is a classic, interdisciplinary text in its 4th edition covering many aspects of the African-American family. Finally, might be mentioned, Dr. Willie Richardson’s Reclaiming the Urban Family: How to Mobilize the Church as a Family Training Center, describing how one Philadelphia church has reversed the statistics of the article above.

Dean Borgman
© 2017 CYS

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