Single black women as scapegoats

Posted at 7:30 AM Apr 30, 2010

By Andrea Grimes

steve harvey book.jpg

Last week, Nightline aired a hand-wringing episode about single black women. Specifically, single black women who have not heeded Steve Harvey's advice to marry the first assbag who comes along lest they continue to be single and, by extension, continue to cause problems like the incarceration of black men, drug addiction in the black community, the slaughter of millions of kittens with ruthless force, etc., because we cannot be having all these single black women! The terrifying statistic: 43 percent of black women have never been married. Quelle horreur! Don't ask for any proof or sound reasoning about why this is a crisis, just believe Nightline when they tell you: single black women are bad.

The persons-with-brains-o-sphere responded in force, and there have been some brilliant single black lady critiques of the Nightline episode. In The Nation, Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Courtney Young note how Nightline failed to address any of the institutional, systemic issues behind these marriage statistics:

For example, the panel failed to address the reality that black boy infants are significantly more likely to die in the first year of life than are black girl infants, creating an immediate gender imbalance. The panel did not address the devastating effects of urban violence or mass incarceration on African American communities. The panel did not mention the systematic nature of inadequate educational opportunities for black boys or the continuing realities of employment discrimination effecting black men and women. These structural realities have an enormous impact on the shape and function of families.

Despite its role as a news program, Nightline failed to call on any sociologists, psychologists, historians or therapists who could have contributed context, statistics or analysis about the "marriage crisis" among African Americans. Instead, these delicate and compelling issues were addressed by comedians, actors, bloggers and journalists. If Nightline deemed this story to be worthy of coverage then it had an obligation to cover the story with as much integrity as another social issue. It is hard to imagine Nightline assembling a panel of actors and comedians to discuss the economy, the war in Iraq, the Catholic Church or any other relevant issue.

Over at the Black Youth Project, blogger Fallon Wilson responds to the "black women are the problem" idea with a notion of her own: maybe black men are also the problem.

... my blog is going to be a rant about how I think black men are the problems. Yes, I said they are the PROBLEMS. Okay, not the pen-ultimate problem, but definitely the problem when it comes to how they use their hetero-male privilege in romantic relationships with black women in particular black women like me who are not willing to put up with their shit cow dung.

... Of course, screwing does not lead to a lifelong commitment with the brother, but the point is that if we wanted to find one we could. So, perhaps our singleness, my singleness, is in response to not wanting to put up with hetero black male privilege. I don't believe in submission. I do not believe in making myself small so that you can feel good about your hetero-masculinity. And it has been my experience that men want black women who will cater to them, who will shut up sometimes, who will stay at home and raise the children (even though the fool will admit he would not want to stay at home), who will endure stress, abuse, violence, and sacrifice in the name of commitment. And I say once again, I ain't her.

I think one of the best responses to this so-called marriage crisis comes from Farai Chideya, who writes:

At moments of frustration with the narrative imposed on black women, I turn to the wisdom of multiply Grammy-nominated singer Ledisi. She sings, "Get outta my kitchen, telling me how to cook. It ain't none of your business. Ain't no need to look." I would turn that a bit and say, at the very least, if America is looking for a problem, there's plenty of folks whose kitchens we might want to take a look at.



Lovely Earth said:

I doubt nightline blamed black females for the destruction of the race but I agree with the fact that the story should have been analyzed in a better way. I think we should do more as a people to make sure black men become something great and stop blaming this person and that person.

As a single black female I feel that there are not many black men who are remotely interested in any sort of relationship (granted im 19 and I guess no one wants a relationship) But just the way I see SOME black males approach women is very disrespectful and rude. Seeing that type of interaction every day makes me realize why 43 percent of black women remain single.

( sorry if this comment is hopping around so much, trying to gather my thoughts)

oreowriter said:

This is such an interesting topic to me. In part because it's so complicated and really shows the country's racism and sexism.

First, marriage should not still be held up as some measure of success. I, for example, am a total statistic. Married relatively young and got divorced shortly thereafter. This is not an uncommon story and it shows that lots of marriages don't work...for all sorts of reasons...and as such, is really an arbitrary measure of success.

Second, I'm sure we all know plenty of men of color who are just fine. Who are lovely partners and gentlemen. But, because we've been told over and over and over and over and over and over and over again that they are not...we tend to believe it more when we see what stands up to stereotype.

Finally, PEOPLE are ill-equipped to be in relationships. Men, women, young, old, black, white. I am shocked at the number of my female friends who will flip out on a guy for not being letter freaking perfect. I had one friend get mad at her guy because he got violently ill one night (through no fault of his own) and couldn't go to a party. Another who flipped out because her dude bought a $10 bottle of wine instead of something fancier. And both of those women are "good" women by society's standards. Well educated, working, smart women.

But relationships are hard--for everyone. It's hard to put down your own ego and make room for someone else's deep needs. It's hard to sacrifice and change your life and style And it's hard to trust. Most of my friends are from broken homes, so what do we know about making a relationship work?

All that being said, the Nightline thing was pretty frightening in its terribleness. No real deep discussion, and yes, no psychological professionals to talk about real issues. Just rehashing the same inflammatory stuff.

a said:

I adore what Fallon Wilson said...that is all.. and yes expertise from comedians and actors...funny stuff...

D. Michelle Thompson said:

While every one else is asking why are we still single, let's focus on building SINGLE & WHOLE people regardless of race. People who proudly request Table for 1, Please! where you can find more JOY, PURPOSE & VICTORY...ready to maintain a table for two. We focus a lot on the singles never been married, but the divorce rate is higher...we gotta all be whole first then we can build a healthy WHOLE community. Check out more at

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