All The Single Ladies
Professor Ralph Richard Banks and his book "Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone" are mentioned by Katie Bolick of The Atlantic in an article reflecting her own personal experiences and her hesitation to get married.
In 2001, when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was (and remains) an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track relationships, were bewildered. I was bewildered. To account for my behavior, all I had were two intangible yet undeniable convictions: something was missing; I wasn’t ready to settle down.
The period that followed was awful. I barely ate for sobbing all the time. (A friend who suffered my company a lot that summer sent me a birthday text this past July: “A decade ago you and I were reuniting, and you were crying a lot.”) I missed Allan desperately—his calm, sure voice; the sweetly fastidious way he folded his shirts. On good days, I felt secure that I’d done the right thing. Learning to be alone would make me a better person, and eventually a better partner. On bad days, I feared I would be alone forever. Had I made the biggest mistake of my life?
In his book, Is Marriage for White People?, Ralph Richard Banks, a law professor at Stanford, argues that the black experience of the past half century is a harbinger for society at large. “When you’re writing about black people, white people may assume it’s unconnected to them,” he told me when I got him on the phone. It might seem easy to dismiss Banks’s theory that what holds for blacks may hold for nonblacks, if only because no other group has endured such a long history of racism, and racism begets singular ills. But the reality is that what’s happened to the black family is already beginning to happen to the white family. In 1950, 64 percent of African American women were married—roughly the same percentage as white women. By 1965, African American marriage rates had declined precipitously, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan was famously declaring black families a “tangle of pathology.” Black marriage rates have fallen drastically in the years since—but then, so have white marriage rates. In 1965, when Moynihan wrote with such concern about the African American family, fewer than 25 percent of black children were born out of wedlock; in 2011, considerably more than 25 percent of white children are.
“If you’re a successful black man in New York City, one of the most appealing and sought-after men around, your options are plentiful,” Banks told me. “Why marry if you don’t have to?” (Or, as he quotes one black man in his book, “If you have four quality women you’re dating and they’re in a rotation, who’s going to rush into a marriage?”) Banks’s book caused a small stir by suggesting that black women should expand their choices by marrying outside their race—a choice that the women of Terry McMillan’s novels would have found at best unfortunate and at worst an abhorrent betrayal. As it happens, the father of Chantal’s child is white, and Denean has dated across the color line. But in any event, the decline in the economic prospects of white men means that marrying outside their race can expand African American women’s choices only so far. Increasingly, the new dating gap—where women are forced to choose between deadbeats and players—trumps all else, in all socioeconomic brackets.