Depending on whom you ask and the specific circumstances, it can either be an ugly situation that perpetuates fear and anxiety, or a beautiful, healing experience that ushers a man or woman into a healthier phase of adulthood.
One fact that anecdotally seems to be the common thread in either circumstance? No one treks giddily to the justice of the peace, Turks and Caicos or their hallowed church with the idea floating around in their subconscious that their “forever” relationship will eventually end in strife, resentment, or resigned nonchalance.
Over the years, I have witnessed marriages based on nothing more than sexual attraction disintegrate under the slightest duress like ancient papyrus; I have also witnessed some relationships splinter, yet, remain intact, based on unconditional love and support.
One marriage that has evolved into a tragic caricature of its former glory is the collective marriage between Black men and women. Forged in the fires of shared historical pain, it is a relationship that we have allowed to smolder, crash and burn in a society designed for its failure.
Which leads me to ask the question: Should Black men and women divorce?
Let me be clear: I am not an advocate for a narrow description of marriage. I believe, with no hesitation nor reservation, that two consenting adults, regardless of ethnicity, religion, creed or gender, should have the basic civil right to legally enter into a binding contract with each other. Anything less than that is a flagrant violation of equality that should spark anger throughout every single subset of society — not just the LGBTQ community. Just as miscegenation laws banning interracial couples from marrying were eradicated after the landmark case of Loving vs. The Commonwealth of Virginia, so to should any laws that perpetuate discrimination.
But I’m not speaking about legalities today; nor am I examining the necessity–or lack thereof–in a single religious ceremony that neither defines nor preserves love. I’m referring to the marriage of ideals, culture and traditions that shape our diverse interactions with men and women who share our heritage.
“Black men and women don’t need to officially “divorce” and probably never will,” says Dr. Boyce Watkins, founder of the Your Black World coalition. “What we do need to do, however, is rethink relationships and marriage in a way that is consistent with our circumstances and cultural context. White folks don’t need to tell us how to love one another and don’t have the right to judge the way we interact. At the same time, we must judge ourselves harshly for the fact that we’ve allowed ourselves to become so confused and hostile toward one another.”
Dr. Joy Deguy, author of the provocative book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome – America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, addresses the seismic historical oppression of African slaves and the current societal dregs that continue to poison men and women of African descent. After over a decade of research, she points to racist socialization (internalized racism), defined by Dr. Deguy as “learned helplessness, literacy deprivation, distorted self-concept, antipathy or aversion,” as an overwhelmingly crippling symptom of P.T.S.S. and the cause for hatred of the following:
- The members of ones own identified cultural/ethnic group,
- The mores and customs associated ones own identified cultural/ethnic heritage,
- The physical characteristics of ones own identified cultural/ethnic group.
Does that sound familiar?
After meticulous research in a ground-breaking study, Dr. Ivory Toldson of Howard University and Dr. Bryant Marks of Morehouse College were able to report that eighty-eight percent of all black men who are married are married to black women. Even though those numbers are reassuring to some, Dr. Toldson and Dr. Marks do not ignore the unhealthy nature of the marriage between Black men and women as a collective and illuminates the antagonistic tone that many brothers and sisters seem to adopt with each other:
“…Black women and the media have accused black men, directly and indirectly, of betrayal, insolence and worthlessness. Meanwhile, black men have trivialized black women’s legitimate concerns, while idly and passively allowing researchers and pundits to manipulate numbers to insult their character and integrity,” the report states.
This study is putting down in black and white what is evident in living color. The misogyny in entertainment, Hip-Hop specifically, still runs rampant, Black women, once unwilling to settle for being valued any less than priceless, are now content with being ‘dimes,” and disastrously, our young men and women are emulating this behavior and we have no one to blame but ourselves. In a vulnerable essay for Madame Noire, journalist Alexis Garrett- Stodghill makes the startling claim that it took a white man to make her feel beautiful as a black woman.
What have we done to each other?