Who would have thought that being a single black woman would be all the rage? If you’ve clued-in to the blogosphere over the past few weeks, you probably have noticed the trend. From Helena Andrews’ forthcoming book and film Bitch is the New Black to ABC’s Nightline segment on single black women, I am starting to feel like the “it” girl. Everybody seems to be talking about me and I’ve never been more ready for my close up. After all, there are serious issues at play that could really use the airtime.
As an underappreciated beautiful black woman, I hope that you would understand my trepidation over being haphazardly catapulted into stardom. For those of us who know, being single isn’t always cute and certainly isn’t something to exploit. It can be lonely and desperately painful but can be an unfortunate reality for so many black women.
Although it was not without flaw, I am comforted when I see television specials like that of the ABC segment. The largest blemish was Steve Harvey’s perpetuation of binary gender roles and antiquated irrelevant advice that only further contributed to the rhetoric of assault on women. The relationship advice in his book, which he predicates his comments on, encourages women to constantly be altering their physical and emotional selves to fit the male gaze. Apart from this disappointment and some problems with the numbers (the eligible numbers should have included black male college graduates, but I suppose they didn’t want us to hurl ourselves off of the Brooklyn Bridge and should have subtracted gay black men), I felt solace in hearing other black women facing what I am. It makes me feel as though I am part of a community grappling with a common struggle and ultimately as if I am not alone. However, not all black women share this sentiment. If Essence’s relationships editor Demetria L. Lucas could, “she would climb under a rock…to avoid the onslaught of articles, primetime TV segments, books, and countless blog discussions.” While Lucas very eloquently iterates her frustrations with the white constructed “Black Man Shortage” narrative, I don’t see what we have to gain from hiding from this reality. I do not deny that major networks do in fact pull out this story ever so often to sensationalize the issue but I wonder if we can start using these specials as a springboard to discuss what is really going on in our community. Many black women and men ask why we are still talking about this. To them I answer, because it continues to be a dire circumstance with no trace of getting any better.
Many of my black college educated male peers are disheartened and even angered by this discourse. It is almost as if they feel as though their masculinity is being challenged. I can’t tell anyone how to feel but I wish rather than get insulted, educated black men reflected on these reports as heavily as educated black women do. Admittedly, I am coming from a privileged perspective and I cannot speak for every community. I don’t know any black men in my age group who are not in college, even fewer who are not at the best institutions in the country, but I wonder why my peers and even some of my friends are, as the school counselor Chato Waters lamented, juggling four quality women in rotation. As blessed as I have been to be amongst what I perceive to be intelligent company, with it comes a sense of arrogance. My fear is that as young black men are patting themselves on the back and brushing their shoulders off, they are missing opportunities to codify healthy relationships with black women and even perhaps sleeping on the possibility to pull up even younger legions of black men. I would be foolish not to acknowledge that this is symptomatic of the behavior of many young men regardless of race but with a lot of things, black folks have to hold themselves to a higher standard. We don’t have time for games. Our community is hanging on by tiny threads of overworked black women. I appreciated a recent video I saw posted by Christopher Johnson but as one of my friends saliently noted; while he makes a plea for the good guys, he never really tackles the issues at hand. He never even addresses the numbers.
There are a host of problems that perpetuate this issue. Black women continue to have minimal representation in the media especially in all of our diverse hues, hair textures and body types. We all know that we very rarely see dark skinned women, full figured women and women who sport their God given hair. This contributes to a socialization that is hard to break yet we continue to watch and support the very mediums that do not reflect who we are. I just saw the preview for Jennifer Lopez’s next film The Back-Up Plan. I am always amazed at her ability to consistently attain romantic comedy movie roles where she plays opposite a white male lead—the subject of her race never being the focal point of the film. In fact, the same seems to be true for other women of color yet there continues to be black people who want to shy away from the specificity of our plight. Interracial dating is often suggested but for many black women, especially those who find themselves on the margins of celebrated beauty norms, this is not an easy task.
Additionally, young black men need mentors. I heard a young girl call into the WBGO Newark Today radio program to voice to her mayor, Cory Booker, her concerns about her brother who she feared was no longer attending high school but out on the street hustling. Over the course of the hour, Booker and other Newark residents made a plea, particularly to older black men, to become mentors. We need more black men teaching black young men the importance in loving black women.
I could go on and on about our problems as a community. We have lots of them. The fact that too many black women are single is only the tip of the iceberg but by engaging the issue rather than hiding under a rock, we could pick away at the glaciers. We could turn this single black woman talk into a discussion and ultimately a solution to the underlying issues.
Unfortunately you can’t really get over something that is still there. You cannot jump over a barrier that has not yet been knocked down. We can pretend but smacking that wall sure will hurt. What we can do and what we should do is use this ongoing hysteria to our benefit all the while highlighting the surrounding issues we face as a community. After all, Americans have a short attention span, being the “it” girl won’t last forever.