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Skipping the broom


Romantic relationships are in a weird place right now. Statistically things are shifting, but the numbers are particularly stark for Black Americans. In the last 50 years, the percentage of Black women who have yet to walk down the aisle has more than doubled; now 48 percent haven’t jumped the broom. Professor and author Dianne M. Stewart argues that there are policies in place keeping Black women from partnering, resulting in what she calls forbidden Black love. Could policy shifts have a major impact on the marriage rate? And why does marriage even matter in the first place? 

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Black Women, Black Love: America's War on African American Marriage 

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
We have a lot going for us in Fall River, Massachusetts. Great bird watching and an Amazon warehouse with health care on day one and free technical training programs. Good for employees. Good for Fall River. Amazon. Every day better. Support for this show comes from The Regime. Academy Award winner Kate Winslet stars in the new HBO original limited series, The Regime. From executive producers of Succession, HBO's The Regime premieres March 3rd on Max. This is the weeds. I'm John Glenn Hill. And romantic relationships are in a weird place right now. Sure, I have anecdotal evidence, like I could open up my phone right now and see a dating app horror story in one of my group chats. The numbers support this. Statistically, things in our society are shifting. According to Pew Research,
Back in 1980, about 6% of Americans 40 and over had never been married. Now, it's about 25%. If you've been watching this video, please subscribe to my channel. Looked at the op-ed pages of any major newspaper, you've probably seen the hand ringing about this falling marriage rate. If you open social media, turn on the TV, or if you've recently talked to someone who isn't in a relationship, this isn't surprising. But one thing that did surprise me, just how much lower the marriage rate is for Black people. It's always been lower, but the gap seems huge now. In the 70s, almost 30% of Black women had never been married. As of 2020, it's nearly 48%. So why do Black people get married less, and why does marriage matter in the first place?
Today on our latest installment of our Black Women And series, we'll answer both of these questions. And to help us do it, I called someone. -My name is Diane Stewart, and I'm the Samuel Andler Dobbs professor of religion and African-American. And studies at Emory University. - She's also the author of Black Women, Black Love. War on African American marriage. I wanted to lay out the stakes so I asked her, What's the big deal about marriage? Marriage is a transgenerational institution that is expected of adults in most, in all societies. I mean, I have never heard of a society that does not expect marriage of adults. It provides protection. For elders, for children. It helps to regulate inheritance. It provides companionship.
And in America, in this culture, which is heavily premised on the nuclear family unit, you know, we haven't preserved kinship networks in many ways. Respects that are more welcoming or incorporating of the single adult individual. I mean, this is a culture that truly rewards marriage in our tax laws, in our cultural expectations. We expect it of adults. Marriage has been such a norm in human culture that I think it does become. An issue of concern when we see the numbers dwindling. And the truth is, they're dwindling for all. I mean, certainly women and... Are not getting married as early as they did one, two, three generations of them.
But beyond that, the numbers are dwindling in general across racial and ethnic groups in America. Diane says that American policy doesn't support Black people finding partnership like it does for... White people. The core of her argument centers around this idea that for a long time, Black love in this country was forbidden and that it still is. It's a provocative statement. So I asked her to explain. The capaciousness of this issue spans centuries. What I do in this book is address what most people have not been addressing in conversations about how...
Marriage is, particularly for black women and black people overall, today in America. And I address it by starting with the period of slavery and the slave trade. We have to begin there because that's where the problem begins, right? So I identify... Structures and systems that have undermined or compromised or actually made marriage, love, coupling impossible, difficult, delayed for black people. And it really does begin in the era of slavery and slave trade. I would also love for you to explain this framing you use that marriage is a civil right. And you know, I think I think that's something at least I've taken for granted in a post-loving post-O'Bergafell. World, like this idea of marriage is more than just this social thing or, you know.
Getting ready to go to your friend's wedding, but there's a civil right involved here. - That's right. And if we wanna look at contemporary movements and struggles that remind us that marriage is a civil right, let's look at the LGBTQ movement. I mean, that is a civil rights movement. And the movement was to gain the right to marry. We also have to remember that African Americans, although many married, the stable marriages were just not possible in the context of slavery. Those marriages were still not legal or official. African Americans had to gain the right to marry in 1865 with the passing of the 13th Amendment. We also have major Supreme Court decisions, over a dozen.
Since the late 1800s that affirm marriage as a civil right. And that includes the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia, where the focus was on interracial marriage. It's a very inspiring case. It's a powerful case. It feeds into, I think in many respects, some might say the ideals, others might say the mythologies of America, of a right to freedom, to love, to dignity. It feeds into all of that. At the same time, black women who prefer to or want to marry black men do not have that right in many cases. On paper, it would seem that they--
But in practice they really don't. So Levin v. Virginia outlawed anti-miscegenation laws, or basically said anti-miscegenation laws throughout the nation are unconstitutional, making the right to marry across race, ethnicity, constitutional, legal. And yet, in the 21st century, we see Black women in situations where they love, literally cannot marry black men into the millions. Into the, it doesn't mean every black woman wants to marry a black man, but there are millions who do and cannot. People are getting married less and I do wonder, is that inherently a bad thing? Should we be thinking about... Than you know encouraging people to get married should we be encouraging people Societal norm, like how we raise our families, how the single adult, you know, interacts
with society, are we focusing on the right aspect of this? - It's interesting, I've been asked that question. And one of my responses has been, I'm personally not interested in taking on the institution. It's been here for a very long time. I don't think it's going anywhere. The question that I find more useful or helpful is-- Should we change how we marry, how we practice the institution? Should we make the institution more flexible? And I think that's what LGBTQ struggle with. For marriage have already opened up for so many. What we need to do is make room for the fact that it's not the norm. It's not the ideal for everybody. It's not the goal for everybody. And what does it mean? to value individuals who choose not to marry? What do they bring to kinship networks and family networks?
I think it's a matter of understanding that our societies are changing and the roles that we're playing as adults in family networks are different. And I think that's what's needed is an opening up of how we understand the way adults couple or don't couple or marry or don't marry, I think that needs to change. I feel like when we Have these conversations around marriage. It's treated very either or, like it's treated like, are anti and they want to abolish marriage and all of these things. Or it's treated as every single person needs to couple up. What it means to live in a society. And yeah, I feel like there's a lot of things There's so many different ways to exist and for all these different people to coexist in being in community with one another. And I don't think that's something that's
Really explored or talked about as much. I think you're right. I think you're absolutely right. And I think we need that in our community building. We need that for sure. For example, people might. And never have kids. I read an article last year about the single auntie and the role of the single auntie. - Oh my gosh, let me tell you, single aunties hold it down. Single aunties, that is, single aunties got me to college. I still call it the single aunties. - Yes, it's so important. And it's really interesting because the kind of book that I wrote, which focused on a problem.
And it's not a problem because everyone must get married. It's a problem because many black women want to. And I don't want to problematize that. I don't think that we should problematize the fact that many black women want to marry. What's wrong with that? There's nothing wrong with that. I think we often-- ourselves to the fact that there aren't nearly enough men to marry and then we start making other kinds of decisions and adjustments. Why is it that we're not tackling the fact that there aren't nearly enough men to marry? So for me, I am totally
For the kinds of conversations and adjustments in the conversation that you're talking about. But I also want to be clear that it's okay for women to want to be married, for Black women to want to be married, even with the obstacles that we face. I think sometimes feel that. People feel that because of the obstacles, we shouldn't want to be married. Well, then let's just be happily single. I think we should be that too, 'cause that's beautiful too. I mean, there is some joy and beauty in single life. I mean, I have certainly enjoyed it over my years when I've been single. So I think that those conversations need to be there as well. and the kind of...
Of relationships that Black women are developing with one another in singlehood. That is incredible, amazing, very important way to model what it means to be a responsible adult, enjoying life for our girls, for our boys. I think that's really important. But I also don't want to lose sight of the fact that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be married, right, and therefore addressing the fact that there are systemic and structural barriers that prohibit it. Haven't seen that and identified that we're not addressing those structural and systemic barriers. - Up next, we talk about. Those barriers.
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I wanna dig into what the barriers are that keep black women. From marrying, what are these systemic issues that are keeping it from happening? - I looked historically, as I said, I went from slavery to the period of social media. And I saw repeatedly the separation of Black couples and families. Racist, sexist, misogynoir, jurisprudence policies. And legal transactions. And another thing about policies that became clear to me, it's not just what kinds of policy, whether policy violence is being inflicted on Black women or Black communities, broadly speaking. It's also how policies are executed, because that can also put Black folks at a...
Disadvantage because of local racist bureaucrats and how policy, there might be great intentions at the federal level, but once the policy gets executed at the local levels, different things happen. So whether it was in slavery, where, for example, once the closing of the international slave trade happened in 1807, And took effect January 1808, we have more than 30% of enslaved families being disrupted because of the boom of the domestic slave trade. And in addition to that, close to a million people being dislocated from their homes as a result of the domestic slave trade, being moved from the Upper South to the Lower South and then being moved westward. That disruption of Black families was urgent. Devastating. When you look at what's going on in the late 19th century, whole slavery...
Even into the early 20th century, it was said that you could be hearing, notice this red in churches of-- Still looking for their family members lost in slavery. Unbelievable. - How is it showing up now all these years later? a few generations removed from slavery. - Yeah, it shows up at the intersection of policies. It shows up in how government housing projects, how mass incarceration, how welfare, how they all reinforce one another, how they intersect to actually destroy Black family life. So, for example, when we look at Black women who finally were even able to enter welfare programs in massive numbers in the late 1950s and 1960s, that's exactly when we began to see the development of these very...
Rigid, austere regulations that emerge. We don't see it when it's primarily white women. But once it gets brown and black, we begin to see it. So we begin to see it. The regulations like Man in the House. Literally, this is what it was called. Man in the house, substitute father, and suitable home. Ultimately, what these policies did is regulate and control black women and men's sexuality and intimacy. Because if black women received welfare benefits, they were forbidden to have relationships. There was no policy that said that, but ultimately, in effect, that's what happened. And what would happen in many cities is the government housing projects, the authorities there, would come... In and snoop around their house, investigate, ask questions, look for evidence of male consorts, and therefore remove women and their children from welfare rolls. What we're talking about here is a weaponization
Of the idealized view that male patriarchs are financially responsible for the income of the household and for caring for the needs of their families. All of these laws and regulations are This is how African descendants were socialized by missionary societies, educational institutions, other voluntary societies, the Freedmen's Bureau after slavery. Now you are the patriarch of your family. With no 40 acres and a mule, with no reparations, with nothing, you are the patriarch of your family and you, black man, are responsible for what's happening in your family. So once we get to welfare and your presence is in the home, we don't need the state. We don't need the state anymore. Black men were expected to be patriarchs immediately after slavery and to be the master.
Of the home and to finance everything for the home. And that is one of the problems. And that's what I mean in terms of our expectations. Of even marriage. Do we have enough flexibility to see marriage as partnership rather than patriarchy? And a lot of us do not, and I think that that's harming us. How does class factor into this? Because I just wonder how, you know, if there's a single parent making 35 Thousand dollars a year versus, you know, an unmarried black woman with no kids making one fifty a year. Are they both still. Struggling with marriage? Are they like, what, how does, how does class factor into this? - The barriers might look different. They might show up differently, but they're facing the same forbidden black love barrier.
There was a study done in data, a large data set from the 1990s, thousands of participants, and what they found was that whether Black women had no high school diploma or GED, had high school education, had college or post-college education, they're pretty much in the same. For all the burials, previously married, married now, divorced, for all the burials, the bar is literally sitting at the same line. So we are experiencing forbidden black love. Maybe it shows up differently. We know, for example, for low-income black women, many of them have been impacted by welfare and mass incarceration. For middle-class, I think, Upper-class black women, there is the concern that black men are not keeping a pace with where they are in terms of educational attention.
And so they're not able to find black men who are marrying, who are what some would call marriage material. Right, in their socioeconomic bracket. You know, that's definitely a factor that impacts middle and upper class black women. There's another factor. Too, while black men, and this is in terms of black women who want to marry black men, while black men do marry. Based on the latest statistics I've seen, twice as much as Black women do outside the race. What I found, and I'm doing more research into this right now, is in the upper-middle class, upper-class ranks, Black men marry three times as much outside of the race. -That's interesting. -Yeah. So, you know, the barriers might look a little different, but in terms of the percentage of how--
many are married, it's looking pretty much the same across the board. They're still showing up at that same 25 to 28 percent. I mean, the Difenyo census for 2010 showed that we had 20 percent. 29.4 black women married at time of survey. For 2020, it showed 28.5. So if the numbers are showing anything, it's not getting better. And white women usually end up at 20 points higher than black women. - Yeah, Andrew Sherlin is credited with this idea that marriage is now treated as a capstone rather than a cornerstone. You do sort of at the beginning of adulthood, but it's something you do once you feel like, okay, I'm settled. We have money. We've done these things. And I wonder how that plays a fact.
Especially for those middle class and upper middle class black people navigating this. - I think it does definitely play a factor. It's definitely happening. One of the things, and I'm hoping to learn more about this, I... You know, we just don't have enough studies. But one of the things that I think is interesting is that upper middle class black men. When they do marry later than their white male counterparts, And so you would almost wonder, like, you have the financial stability. Let's be clear, not necessarily the wealth stability. And social scientists have talked about wealth spread amongst upper class or upper middle class blacks, where, you know, they have to pay aunties rent and they have to pay for this, you know, sibling going to college. And so their wealth is not their own. And so you wonder if that is part of what's going on.
Happening across American society. And it makes sense that blacks would do the same, that we know that we need stability. Many blacks who are now middle class did not grow up middle class and they saw their parents struggling. They, you know, they're feeling, Let me do this in a wise way and get settled. It's stable. One of the factors you mentioned in your book as a barrier is colorism. Can you lay out what colorism is? What colorism is, what exactly it is we're talking about, and also how it factors into Black women finding partners. Discrimination or bias against people with dark complexions, right, and the privileging of people with lighter complexions or light complexion. But I'd like to add phenotypic
Because, and stratification just means creating a hierarchy of value, in this case, the closer one is to white phenotypic features, the higher one is placed on that stratification ladder. So I like to talk about phenotypic features. Typical stratification overall, because colorism tends to make people focus on skin shade. But we should also look at hair texture. We should also look at the shape of people's facial features and body features. All of that weighs into how colorism, what we've called colorism, has taken shape in American society, and particularly within Black cultural and social formation. Yes, it's a major factor. A 2009 study showed that for women under 30, light complexion black women married twice as much as dark complexion. Black women. And data show also that light-complexioned black women are able to...
To marry Black men within their socioeconomic class at much higher rates than dark complexion Black women. So colorism does play a role in the quality of relationships that Black women are able to secure. And sustain over the course of, you know, whether it's a non-marital relationship or a marriage relationship. Curious in another factor you mentioned, which is sexual violence. What role does that play in black women's and trying to find love. - When I talk about sexual and reproductive violence, I'm really talking about the rape and coercive sexual activities that black women were forced to endure during slavery. And then, and reproductive violence and control, right? The control of black reproduction during the period of welfare, like massive entrance into welfare programs. You cannot have intimacy. You cannot have a boyfriend. You cannot have...
Or children. I mean, that is control. That is a kind of violence as far as I'm concerned. But today, one of the things that I think is very troubling that does happen is that because... The stakes are so dire for Black women who do want to marry Black men, they can off-- Lower their standards for what they're willing to accept in a relationship. And what can happen is black women can subject themselves to relationships that are demeaning, are abusive. And I think one of the things that is happening in some of the people that we see advocating for or being very involved in. I don't know if you've heard of the divestment movement. Oh God, yeah. Sorry for the reaction, but yeah. Can you explain what the divestment movement is? This is the movement that I feel
you can find out about primarily online. But it's groups of Black women who have said that they are fed up with the inadequacies and the traumas wrought by Black men, that Black men are hopelessly unfixable, and they are no longer investing in Black men because the payout is pain, trauma, unfulfillment. And there is nothing that can be done that is worth being done. And so they are looking elsewhere. And no one really says this, but what's being held up by... I think, kind of the leaders of this movement is white men. And it's an idealized version that white men are going to put you on that pedestal that you deserve. So a lot of it plays into... These older Victorian patriarchal notions of womanhood. It's really white womanhood,
always been excluded from, but they play into those notions and they put their new hopes on white men. And there's actually quite a bit of discussion-- About hypergamy, like how to marry up, how to, yes, how to make sure you. Marry a man of much higher wealth and class in this movement as well. - Yeah, it's very, it is so interesting when talking about dating because. I think one of the solutions that's often given is like, oh, date out, like don't. Black men like do this blah blah blah and all the men can be bad. Like there is no like, you know, it's just because they're from a certain Background or look a certain way does not necessarily mean that he will treat you any better. Anybody of any race or gender. Or age can play in your face. Like it's just, it's unfortunate. It's part of the game.
Any and everybody could play in your face. And so I don't know why that's considered. A solution. You said it better. I mean, you know, I can just put a period on that, that statement. I think you're absolutely right. And let me be clear. I don't have a problem with Black women saying, you know, maybe I've always just been-- Taught like that yeah you just marry in your race and I really haven't given consideration to opening myself up to dating men of other races and ethnicities. Maybe I should. I don't see anything wrong with that. I think people should be able to date and marry whomever they want and explore as they see fit. But when, like you said, when is--
Touted as this is a solution. I think it's misguided for all of the reasons you just laid out and then some. So I couldn't agree with you more. And I think it leaves unaddressed this systemic instruction. That impacts black communities in more than one way, beyond even just marriage and coupling. After the break, could a policy shift help you find better first dates? Maybe. We have a lot going for us in Fall River, Massachusetts. Historic charm, great bird watching, and... An Amazon warehouse. MJ works there. She got healthcare on her first day. - For me and my kids.
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For example, I've heard about baby bonds, which are, you know, of course, the publicly funded trust accounts that children would receive. But yeah, what would be the policy fit? Believe it or not, it has to start with reparations and wealth building. Period. Policies regarding wealth building... About Derek Hamilton's Baby Bonds, which is getting more and more traction every day out there. And I think it's a very strategic and smart way to present it, because he knows that reparations is controversial, and it shouldn't be, really. Like, how much do you want to say that black people are not valued by making reparations? A controversial issue, wow. And, you know, once again, this nation does not love us, does not even want to tell the truth about us. It's reparations, it's a controversial issue. But anyway, so. Eddie Bonds goes to every child, but what I think is so brilliant about it is that it's based on the wealth of the family.
A baby that's born into a billionaire family might get one dollar of baby bonds. You know, and a child that's born... In a government housing project to a family that might be benefiting from welfare or might be very poor and have no wealth, might get 20,000 in baby bonds when they're born. So that's a way. Building project that supposedly when the child is a young adult they can take the bonds they can take the funds and use it for some sort of wealth building activity they can use to build more wealth, whether it's getting an education or starting a business or something else. So that's one example. But the economists are on this. They have been working on different ways to address.
Wealth building, that would make a huge difference in, I think, the marriage rates of blacks across the nation and in the opportunities that blacks have to secure healthy and holistic marriages that can sustain the ups and downs of the system. The tunes of, you know, just what the kinds of challenges that will come over the life of a marriage. It's not a fix-all. It can't do everything, but it would be a huge step. I think the reparations conversation is so interesting. And you know, my colleague, Fabiola Sinneas. Hosted this amazing series for our sister podcast, The Gray Area, that takes an in-depth look at reparations. But the political will just... Isn't really there, at least not right now. What other policies are--
there that feel more tangible, that feel like they could happen more quickly? Are there any that could help black people marry if they want to? Bye. You know, the government has been involved across the Bush years and the... Clinton years and even Obama years in these healthy marriage initiatives. But once again, we have to get to the foundational structure of the problem and one of those foundational structural issues as well. You can't do it through these bandaid solutions. Housing, housing insecurity, like solving that, helping to solve that for married couples, going back and addressing the policy violence
Blacks of certain benefits that they should have had over the years, which would include land grants, which would include the GI Bill. Going back and addressing the way policies excluded blacks, excluded blacks from the benefits that allowed whites in this country to build wealth across generations. Just doing that would be great. Even if they don't want to do reparations, what would it mean to go back and address dress. The many Black families that were excluded from the GI Bill. Like policy redress, I think could make a difference. And raising the question of where do Black families figure in all of these other policies, policies that have to do with education, healthcare, housing. Where is the black family in this? Where are black children? Where are black parents in this policy? Kind of intersectional questions that place the black family at the center of other policy decisions.
Could make a difference as well. - I guess one of the questions I have is, you know, where is love in all of this? Like policy can't create chemistry and it won't remember your... And it's not gonna bring you your coffee just how you like it in the morning. It's not gonna make like, policy is not gonna make. Date go well or like help you solve the conflict when you get into a stupid fight. You know, where is the love in all of this? It's a great question. We do need to relearn the value of love. And to relearn how to cultivate it. So you're right, love needs to be there and love should be there. It should be a foundation. We're losing our grip on that foundation in this culture, this culture of Busy, social media, lack of face-to-face connection.
We know what it means to look into the eyes of a baby. This is what helps your baby, the dopamine flow, and helps the baby develop. Pro-social values and pro-social affects that will serve them and the society for a lifetime. So what does it mean when we're denying ourselves face-to-face contact with the people? were claiming to be building relationships with. We need to relearn the value of love and the ingredients of love. That are so enduring in the most positive ways in our culture. In our society, we're losing it. The other thing that's really important to know, and it's a balance, lack of resources, lack of support networks, stress, anxiety, all of those things can chip away at love.
Problems can chip away at the foundational love upon which relationships are built. To end our conversation with posing a question to you that you often pose. And that's what happens when we place black love. And marriage at the center of our policy decisions. -What happens is we begin to address a wider network of problems no matter what, because if we support, if we find -- ways to support the healthy coupling and love and family building of black individuals, then we're supporting health care. We're supporting maternal health. We're supporting the education of black children, right? We're supporting their wealth building. That's what
Happens because what we're thinking about is how do we raise human beings who are equipped to keep a nation stable and healthy. How do we do that? And it really does start with the family. And if America is going to truly survive as It's a nation that lives up to its ideals of what it claims to be, what its character, what its soul supposedly is. It has to solve this problem. It has to solve the problem. Of forbidden Black love. - All right, Diane M. Stewart, thank you so much for joining us on The Weeds. - Thank you. It's been my pleasure to be with you, Jumqueline. If you're a person who wants to get married, stats like the ones we heard today can frankly be a bummer.
But people aren't stagnant. We evolve and change and develop new patterns and react to new circumstances. And along with people and circumstances changing, numbers change. The marriage rate is down, but it being down means that it was up at one point and If we approach things differently, it could go back to what it previously was. Around 48% of Black women have never been married. But another way to look at it is 52% have. Someone has to be in that 52%. And if you really want it, if that's your-- heart's desire, why not you? Next week, we'll be talking about race and healthcare.
The long history in this country, the disparities, and what we can do for better outcomes. - When Black immigrants come to the United States, their health status is on par with white Americans. But what happens is after one to two generations, their health status actually declines. To that of Black Americans. So what that tells you is that there is something very wrong with the forces that Black people are subjected to just living in this country that our health status could decline after one or two generations from that of white Americans to Black Americans. If you have an idea for an episode or series, send us an email to weeds@vox.com. That's all for us today. Thank you to Diane Stewart for joining me. Our producer, Sophie Lalonde, Krishna Yala.
Engineered this episode, Sabrina Topa fact-checked it, our editorial director is A.M. Hall, and I'm your host, John Glenn Hill. This podcast is part of Vox, which doesn't have a paywall. Help us keep it that way by going to vox.com/give. Roses are red, nowadays relationships lack quality. This is the weeds, so you know it comes down to policy. Are red, violets are blue. On the weeds we talk about policy. Turns out that impacts marriage too. That was so good.
That was so fun. We have a lot going for us in Fall River, Massachusetts. Great bird watching and an Amazon warehouse with healthcare on day one and free technical training programs. Good for employees, good for Fall River. Amazon, every day better. Support for this show comes from The Regime. Academy Award winner Kate Winslet stars in the new HBO original limited series, The Regime. From executive producers of Succession, HBO's The Regime premieres March 3rd on max.
Transcript generated on 2024-02-22.