SBW part 2 (or 3 or 4, I’m losing count)

SBWs (single/successful/strong black women) are in the news … again. This time the BBC’s Nina Robinson hops the pond to interview single black women in NYC and find out why there is a such a shortage of marriageable black men.

At first blush, Robinson’s report departs from most previous accounts because she focuses on the lack of marriageable partners for black women instead of presuming that something is lacking in black women.

The report attributes the shortage of marriageable black men to inordiate high school drop out and imprisonment rates. Black men who are college educated and economically stable tend to have a world of dating options available to them. They are also much more likely than black women (10% more likely) to date interracially.

We’ve heard this litany of statistics before. But Robinson does not take them as a pronouncement of black women’s inevitable solitude. She ends her segment with the assertion that successful black women have options and that they can have fun exploring them. She also suggests that black men and women confront the negative stereotypes they have internalized about one another.

While Robinson’s story is more even-handed than say, Steve Harvey’s unsolicited relationship advice, “The Occult of Single Black Womanhood” (nod to Ann duCille) is troubling in myriad ways. I could think of any number of “states of emergency” concerning black women: sexual violence and inadequate health care are two issues that immediately come to mind. Why, then, is there so much pronounced emphasis on black women’s marital status? I come away from most of these stories feeling that the media’s attention to black women’s purported “undesirability” is yet another psychic assault that–in combination with the white aesthetic that remains dominant in American culture–serves to reinforce (in case you didn’t get the memo) the message that black women are not valued. The devaluation of black women in part explains why many black readers of Essence magazine were so disappointed with the mag’s decision to hire a white fashion director.

The devaluation of black women extends beyond beauty and marriage markets, of course. Audre Lorde credits a “systematic devaluation of black women” for the historical abuse and sexual assaults against black women. Perhaps, then, we should redirect the conversation to the way the convergence of sex, race, and class impact black women’s well-being, despite our marital status.

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About jennifer williams

Jennifer D. Williams is a writer and professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies. She has published in academic journals and online at Ms.blog, PopMatters, among other sites. Jennifer is currently working on a book that looks at black women's urban literature between the Depression and the civil rights era.

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