Ralph Richard Banks, Stanford Law professor and author of "Is Marriage for White People?" gave a talk in Oakland last Thursday night. When I first heard about his book, I rolled my eyes thinking not another black woman can't get a man if she paid him with a signed blank check from Oprah book. Then I really lost interest in the book after his KQED interview caused a few non-black men to ask my opinion of black women and dating. Even my white-male coworker questioned me down for 30 minutes about many black women's reluctance to swirl, which led to questions about "the hair thing" and if I saw "Something New." In all fairness to him, I'd rather someone ask than make silly assumptions. So, why did I go to this Thursday night event? I was bored at home, the event was free and I had to meet the man who has the reason behind my giving a mini black women history lecture at work.
Here's the kicker about Prof. Banks' book. He said most of the book doesn't cover black women dating interracially. It's generally about the decline of African American marriages. Even the flyer about the event didn't mention black women and interracial dating. Prof. Banks said that one part of the book is what the media focused on. The author really got my attention when he said, "Trends we see among African Americans that may seem extraordinary…are representative of the American experience." For instance the marriage rate is low in ALL of the country, but the black marriage rate falls under the average. Or, unemployment may be record high for the country, but the African-American community gets hit even harder. I did not read the book, but based on what Prof. Banks and the panelists at the event said, the major causes for low marriage rates in the black community are socio-economic circumstances surrounding black men (i.e. incarceration, high unemployment, lack of education, having the dating advantage in the male/female population ratio, women out earning men etc.).
Prof. Banks is an academic and likes numbers. The book initially was supposed to be analyze marriage stats and be titled something like "Race, Inequality and Marriage" (zzzzzzzzzz, yawn, snort). He began speaking with black female friends and colleagues about the book, and they shared their experiences. The book's direction changed.
"Marriage is about relationships not stats," he said.
Darrick Smith, a panelist at the talk and center director for Learning Works, agreed with Prof. Banks research findings about social and economic circumstances affecting black men are major factors in how relationships have changed between black men and women. But he also expressed that the book was lacking context on how black men arrived to their current state (i.e. institutionalized racism).
My only complaint about the event was the other panelist. Out of respect to her I'll call her JC. She is a member of the church that co-sponsored the event. She was very outspoken and I disagreed with her a lot. Our difference in opinion wasn’t the issue. JC talked so much that the audience only got a couple of questions in at the end. There were a lot of people in the audience foreign to the topic and I wanted to hear from them too. Some in the audience were digging her, but JC annoyed others. She was the only black woman on the panel. The diversity of opinions from black women was missing.
Prof. Banks argues in the book that because of the male/female ratio black women should explore their options. JC told the audience she was not opposed to interracial marriage. She said that black women marrying out is not the answer and we can't progress "until the issue is with addressed with educating black men and making them not feel inferior because they have a job that pays less [than a woman's]." Have you ever heard of anyone say Quincy Jones, Reggie Bush, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Idris Alba, Omar Epps, my friend's cousin, my male friends from college, Skip Gates and the Old Spice Guy shouldn't date ANY non-black women until we save the black community"? Are black men ever told that? But my sheets should turn to glaciers and my eggs may have to harden into stones to save the race. As if a black woman can't date whomever she want and give back to her community simultaneously (i.e. Josephine Baker, Maya Angelou, Lena Horn, etc.).
"I don't think black women should bear that burden," Prof. Banks responded to JC. "Black women should have the same freedom that other women take for granted." That's deep. That's true. Black women should have the right to be beautiful, feel beautiful, treated with respect, love regardless of race, explore and have high standards if they so please.
I spoke with Prof. Banks afterwards and he's great to talk to. He said his next book might look at reasons for the growing national trend of women outperforming men. Or he may look at why so many African-American boys are trailing. I really want to know why we’re seeing this growing national trend of women outperforming men.
Oh and in case you're wondering, and I'm sure you are, Prof. Banks’ wife is black.