By DENENE MILLNER
No less than five of my girlfriends sent me links yesterday to a New York Times story boasting a headline that made us all giddy: “Two-Parent Black Families Showing Gains.” It seems that the Census Bureau, in all its infinite bean counting, scratched up numbers showing that nearly 40% of black children in America now live with two parents, up from just 35% in 2004—a phenomenal gain, indeed. I swear, my girls and I were doing virtual high-fives over the piece; you would have thought it said, “Black Love Is Possible—Throw Your Ring Fingers In the Air And Say It Like You Really Care: ‘I’s Married Now!’”
For sure, these new numbers are a cause for celebration, no?
Well not so fast.
While the story lauded the stats as evidence of “an emerging black middle class,” it went on to use demographers to throw hella shade on the significance of the shift. Maybe, one said, the number increased because we’re including immigrants. They may not really be married—just shacking, another said. Well, yet another boasted, it might be higher now, but wait until the economy hits them in the wallet—those numbers will drop quicker than you can say, “I want a divorce.”
Well damn. They sure know how to slay a buzz.
It seemed that every crazy scenario they tossed up explained away the obvious one staring us in the face—that maybe, just maybe, there’s a remote possibility that black people are, oh, I dunno, actually falling in love, getting married, and raising their babies together. Is that at all possible?
I’m certain it is. I actually wrote about it not too long ago for TheRoot.com, as my family celebrated my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary. In the piece, I noted that I’m surrounded by loving, stable, married folks who live in wedded bliss (or pretty darn close to it).
But if you don’t spend a whole lot of time around a community of thriving, happy black couples, you wouldn’t necessarily know this, now would you? I guess if your introduction to the concept of black matrimony is through statistical surveys and news stories about the vast numbers of unmarried black women in single-parent families—if that’s all you know the black community to have—then it would be hard for you to conjure up images of newly black married couples out there, huh?
Blame the media (I don’t say this lightly, seeing as I am the media). Because all you ever see on TV and in the newspapers and magazines is a constant barrage of negative images of us—this constant message that the inner-city black experience is the common every day experience of all black folks. That this is the status quo—the default. That anything different from the image of black folks as poor/unmarried,/just-off-welfare/still on parole/under-educated scourges on society is, for sure, an anomaly, unless you’re talking about O.J., R. Kelly, Kobe Bryant, Bobby and Whitney, or *insert any other successful, dysfunctional black celebrity you can think of and their failed attempts at healthy relationships here.*
I can see how conjuring up images that fall outside the default is difficult for a lot of people, especially if all you have to go by is the aforementioned madness. With that as an image, it’s kinda hard to envision two happy and functioning black people finding each other and actually standing up in front of their aunties and cousins and mamas and them and saying, “I do.”
Dig it: In my world? The default is a happy marriage. Not taking anything away from my girls who are single or who are raising their beautiful babies all by their strong selves; I'm surrounded by sisters who are doing a fine job of raising their kids by themselves, and certainly making us married folk realize that there's more than one definition of "family." But I’m also surrounded by happily married black people. So it’s really easy for me to think of those new Census Bureau stats in a the-glass-is-half-full kinda way—to imagine that an increase in the numbers of children being raised in two-parent households means more black people are getting married. Or at least on their way to the altar.
For the demographers who dismiss the numbers: Take a good hard look at the picture up top. That’s black love.
We ain’t perfect, my Nick and I. But we’re trying—toiling in the trenches, doing our best to make this thing work.
That’s love. It has no color. And your explanations are no good here.
Photo credit: Alison Rosa