Is Marriage For White People?
Even with an African American couple in the White House, the fate of the black family in America has never been so precarious. That's the message behind Is Marriage for White People?, a new book by Stanford Law professor Ralph Richard Banks.
Researched and written over the past 10 years, Banks' book explores the unpleasant — and often unspoken — contributors to and consequences of declining marriage rates among African Americans. With 70% of all black children now born to unwed mothers, the consequences have never been clearer. As for the solutions, Banks provocatively suggests that black women begin looking beyond their own race for marriage material and potential fathers of their children.
Is Marriage for White People?, which comes out on Sept. 1, examines the little-explored intersections of race, gender and class among African Americans, but the same issues — regarding marriage, inter-marriage, children — exist among most groups in the U.S. TIME.com spoke with Banks about "marrying down" and why filmmaker Tyler Perry has it all wrong.
TIME.com: Your book focuses specifically on marriage patterns within the black "middle class" of educated professionals. Why focus your research so narrowly?
Banks: Because this is a demographic that has traditionally been overlooked by demographers. When scholars study marriage, they usually focus on white people, yet when they focus on African Americans, they usually study the lower classes. There is very little serious data on other segments. Plus, the black middle-class is the community I am a part of — and I've personally witnessed the decline of marriage among African Americans.
Your book almost exclusively focuses on the experiences of African Americans. Why should white people read it?
Sure, the book is rooted in the black community, but the themes — marriage, children, inter-marriage — resonate across group lines. Plus, there are many white people who have black friends or co-workers who see that their lives are different from their own, but aren't sure how to talk about those differences. They see unmarried black women around them and wonder why they are single. These are topics that black women regularly speak of amongst themselves, but would never discuss in front white people.
With so much talk of unmarried women, fatherless children, economic insecurity, your book feels kind of grim. Where is the hope here for the women you claim to care about?
The hope here is that black women will be able to shape their own lives and not be victims of circumstance. That these women won't be sidetracked by the lack of black men on one hand and white racism on the other. That they will open their eyes to possibilities they might not have previously considered — and this transcends to women of all races. This is a hopeful book, but not a relentlessly upbeat book because that would have not been true to reality.