Is Marriage Really for White People Gina?

For my paper, I read Ralph Bank’s “Is Marriage for White People?” Banks is a legal scholar and professor at Stanford University.

This text is crucial in terms of the “Middle class Black women can’t find a man” discourse because it is both a scholarly book and because it has been reviewed widely in the popular press. In the book he provides research on Black women and marriage and he also cites his his own findings from interviewing middle class heterosexual Black women from across the US.

He essentially states that middle class heterosexual (MH) Black women are the most unmarried population in the US, that middle class Black women will marry someone who earns lower wages than they do, but they are reluctant to marry outside of their race. He states that across race Americans are less likely to be married now than they have been historically. In looking at Black women, he says that we can see how “Black people  are at the center of a social transformation  whose reverberations encompass us all”.

He concludes that MH Black women may want to consider marrying outside of their race because Black women’s dating market is highly segregated and when MH Black women marry outside of their race “the Black gender balance becomes a little less severe”.

Historically, marriage has been an economic, legal, familial and property arrangement. This is not to say that Black women are wrong for desiring it, as it is not my place to say. I will, however saw that I am very skeptical at this particular moment of any narrative that delves into the lives of Black women, that is not told by Black women.  I am not saying that Black women offer a “truth” as Black women, as I believe in the heterogeneity of Black women. We are not the same. I am also skeptical of narratives that do not explicitly acknowledge the context in which they exist.

While the book does acknowledge how labor an employment opportunities may shape marital statistic a more indepth conversation about labor and gender roles would have been useful. Our economy both in the US and globally is undergoing a major restructuring and I posit that this is having a major impact on the choices that heterosexual middle class Black women make. Changes in educational attainment for women across race, changes in technology and how technology shapes employment and the global movement of capital impacts all of our lives on a day to day basis. These social forces are impacting the lives of all adults, so they impact Black women as well.

There are some interesting tidbits in the book.

First he states that while popular media discourse paints MH Black women as “too picky” he has found that MH Black men are the ones who are in fact picky. He makes this statement for two reasons. First, the variety of women that the MH Black men have access to makes it less likely that they will desire marriage as they may want a woman who represents a combination of all the best attributes of the women that they currently date. This is a profound point.

His second tidbit is that MH Black men are less likely to think that their sexual life will improve with marriage. Sexual politics within monogamous and non-monogamous relationships are dynamic, negotiated and vital.

The third tidbit is that both many Black men and Black women assume that Black men are the only option for MH Black women. According to his interviews, Black women want to marry a Black man, so that they can have Black children. They see partnering with Black men as “fighting racism” because “we should never give up on our Black men”. However statistically, MH Black men have not been committed to marry MH Black women. And there is the rub gina.

The fourth tidbit is that Black women who date white men report more acceptance of their natural hair from their White male partners. I thought this was really interesting. I would like to see a conversation online about this!

The fifth tidbit is that he cites research which states that lighter skinned Black women tend to marry higher earning Black men, in comparison to their darker skinned counter-parts. In terms of erotic capital, I find this finding fascinating.

There are three things that could have been done in this book that were outside of the scope of the project as it stands today, but it would have made a more richer discussion.

It would have been interesting if he devoted a section of the book to looking at MH Black women who have been both married and divorced. Hearing them speak about the current discourse around Black women and marriage, having been married gives them a vantage point that could make for a much more nuanced and richer conversation.

The second thing that I would have liked to have seen explored more is the decline of the middle class in the US and the low marital rates of MH Black women. Place their marital options, choices and patterns within this context would make for a more nuanced conversation.

Many of the women he interviewed are either middle class, or high income earners. Statistically these African-American women are likely to be  “the only one” within their companies. As Black women they deal with both racism and sexism, and depending on their class background classism as well. It would have been interesting if he opened up a conversation about how middle a middle class or high income earning Black woman shaped her willingness to get married. Or to put it another way, how does navigating racism and sexism at work, the loneliness of this space impact Black women’s desires to marry. Giving the health statistics of around Black (and Latina’s) health in the academe, I wonder to what extent does navigating work issues of race and gender shape Black women’s desires to marry.

By and large the book is an interesting read, even if the title is in many ways sensational.

So, having written all of this I am left with a few questions.

When will he have a conversation about how dealing racism and sexism at work may or may not influence MH Black women’s desires to get married?

What does it mean that so many institutions are examining the marital desires of Black women?

Is this another way to call Black women deviant?

Pariah and Red Tails: Film Finance, Sexuality and Race.

I will be writing a series of posts about Pariah. This is the first of three or four.

Dedicated to @Very54. I missed you too.

The conversation around Red Tails and Pariah is interesting in it brings the politics of black stories and professional Black storytellers to the forefront. (Peace to James McBride for the language of professional Black storytellers.)

This post isn’t about the content of the films, but about how audiences perceive movies, the history of White hollywood and the politics of getting stories made and distributed that feature Black subjects.

George Lucas personally financed Red Tails, after the Hollywood establishment decided that a film with all Black leads isn’t viable.  Forrest Wickman in Slate writes,

George Lucas, who produced the movie, has said that he was forced to finance it on his own—to the tune of $58 million—when studios balked at the marketability of a film with all black leads.

Last week, after the release of Red Tails,  on John Stewart’s show, Lucas went on record saying that the Hollywood establishment did not know how to market Red Tails with an all Black lead casts.  Sofia Hernandez writes,

He continued, “They don’t believe there’s any foreign market for it and that’s 60 percent of their profit…I showed it to all of them and they said ‘No. We don’t know how to market a movie like this.’ ”

Unlike the Matthew BroderickDenzel Washington Civil War drama Glory or other films depicting black soldiers in battle, the World War II pic Red Tails does not feature a white protagonist, said Lucas, “It’s an all-black movie. There’s no major white roles in it at all. It’s one of the first, all-black action pictures ever made. It’s not Glory where you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fire. They were real heroes.”

As a scholar, I do the political economy of culture, which is a fancy way of saying that I examine the way race, gender and institutional power impacts how art (music and films and books) is made.

The fact that the overseas market plays such a huge role in determining whether or not the Hollywood film establishment would support Red Tails is significant.

Filmmaking is capital intensive and historically the domain of White men. For me, it would have been interesting if Lucas mentioned that movies featuring Black subjects have a hard time within the Hollywood establishment and went on to mention the fact that it is a miracle that Pariah has been made. This would have opened the space to talk about films made featuring Black people by a seasoned White male filmmaker and a new comer Black woman filmmaker. It would have opened the space to ask how does money, and race, and sexuality impact their films similarly and differently?

I’ve seen Pariah twice. The first time was at a screening with the producer, Kim Wayans, Dee Rees the director, Nekisa Cooper the producer and Adepero Oduye the star. The second time was with a nearly all Black sold out crowd at an art house theater.  I’ll see Red Tails next weekend.

Based on my notes from the Q&A on Pariah, the film cost approximately five hundred thousand dollars to make, and it took them 18 days to complete it. As of January 22nd, 2012 it made $497,579. This is a second career for the director/producer duo as Cooper and Rees met while they were both in corporate America, working a Proctor and Gamble. Cooper and Rees also fundraised and used credit to get the film made. Lastly, many of the crew members were willing to work without pay (temporarily) because they believed in the project.

Given the fact that the birth of film in the United States is largely thought to be “Birth of a Nation” it is in fact a miracle that Pariah was made in the first place.

What is interesting to me is that Reese and crew’s narrative has been one of we did it, come out and support, I have been working on this story for a while, no it is not autobiographical, but there are parts of me in here and I am glad we were able to make it.

So my questions are.

Why were Black folks in social media spaces and in comment sections of the mainstream press seemingly more willing to rally around Lucas’s film but not Reese’s?

Yes, the films are two different audiences, but they both feature Black casts, they both have awesome and interesting back histories in terms of film finance and they both feature stories that need to be told.

Is Black homophobia working here?

If we take the statement “We need to support Red Tails because if we don’t the Hollywood establishment may not make anymore movies featuring us” then don’t we assume that we have more control over film finance than we actually do?

Why would a Black person in 2012 assume that they can control which films come out of Hollywood, when it is clear that “overseas marketing possibilities” have far more control, at least with Red Tails?

I love writing about movies the way I use to Love writing about rap music. I hope it shows.

Race, Class and Prostitution in the City: Washington DC’s Black Madam- Odessa Madre

For @AlaiaWilliams for continuing to remind me to write this. Readers are a precious commodity.

In the essay “Working for Nothing but a Living” Dr. Sharon Harley describes the life of  Odessa Madre, a dark skinned Black woman who became a Madam in the 1940’s because as a high school graduate, who as dark skinned and described as “not attractive, but smart” by her peers, being a madam was one of the major options available for her to make decent money in Washington, DC in the 1940’s.

Born in 1907 her mother was a seamstress and her dad and uncle operated a Madre Brothers barber shop and a pool hall.

During the 1940’s Madre was estimated to have had controlled six prostitution houses, employed twenty women and garnered a net annual income of $100,000.

What is fascinating about this essay is that Harley shows how even though Madre was born in a working middle class family, and that she went to Dunbar, and when she graduated from high school her parents gave her a car, Madre felt that the main job open for African American women- being a teacher was not an option for her. So she chose to become a madam instead. To be clear, Madre was not a member of the Washington, DC elite. However Harley theorizes that Madre’s skin color and looks would have prevented her from joining if she desired.

Color, race, class and the politics of the city are all at work here.

Harley describes Madre saying,

Odessa Madre was a prominent figure in mid twentieth century black Washington, D.C., underground economy. As a graduate of Washington’s elite Dunbar Senior High School, she could have found employment in the legal labor economy or lived comfortably due to her parents financial success….For good reason she recognized that the few professional and clerical jobs available to educated black women  were more likley to be filled by  light skinned, so called attractive women or to have a predominance of such women.

Skin color and earning power is central to my research. Recently I have been looking at the erotic capital of strippers. By erotic capital I mean the ways in which skin color and body size translates into higher earning power for women.  I am really interested in the erotic capital of video vixens and waitresses.

While erotic capital isn’t at work with the Madre’s own personal narrative. Harley does touch on it she writes about Ceclia Scott, a black businesswoman who operated a bar on U street next to the Howard theater. According to Scott,

 Attractive light skinned young women…were good for business because her patrons who spent freely on liquor and tipped handsomely, preferred such women. Indeed some of her friends approached her about hiring their daughters because as she stated she “paid a decent wage and because of the type of clientele we attracted- doctors and big time hustlers who paid large tips. Besides they knew we would take care of their daughters.

So parents sought out Scott, because their daughters, working as waitresses and barmaids would be compensated for their work. #Interested.

The line between legitimate and illegitimate business practices is being blurred here as well. Harley writes,

It is a story of how certain resourceful, ambitious, and courage Black women with limited legal economic opportunities resorted to criminal activities to earn a living for themselves and support kin and Black institutions- goals which they shared with their law-abiding neighborhoods and family members.

Another aspect of this narrative that I found interesting is how race relations between Madre and her young white male peers played a role in he ability work as a madam.

Madre was raised in neighborhood off  of Georgia Ave which was mixed with Irish folks on one side of the street and African Americans on the other.  The young Irish boys who were Madre’s playmates as a little girl went on to become members of the Metro Police Department, and they “proved invaluable to Madre’s eventual rise to the top of the underground hierarchy.”

Madre died penniless in 1983, having been in and out of jail for drug dealing and possession. African American’s in DC, remembering how Madre had historically shared with low income and impoverished families and children in DC- collected the money to bury her.

Did you know of Madre?

What do you think of the idea of a woman madam? Does it seem more insidious than a man who is a pimp?

Skin color limiting employment options? What do you think? Have your Aunts or Grandmother’s ever talked about how their skin tone shaped their job options?

She needs a documentary, doesn’t she?