Friday, February 09, 2007

Raspberry Worries that Black Marriage Past the Tipping Point

Longtime Washington Post columnist William Raspberry was at Centre College last night. In his public lecture he talked about the efforts he has made to promote strong homes to help children learn. He has started a program called Baby Steps in his home town of Okalona, MS, and he promotes the idea elsewhere. He did not elaborate in his talk on what he means by strong homes, so I asked him afterwards. In particular, I wondered what he thought about the extraordinarily low African-American marriage rate today.

Raspberry shared my concern that there is a crisis today in black marriages. In fact, he went further than I would. Raspberry fears that there are not enough African Americans in the younger generation who have made strong marriages like his. He says it appears that black America may have gone past the point of no return on establishing a strong marriage culture.

The two main points that he main in his public lecture were (1) we all partly agree with the positions we oppose, and (2) people who disagree with us are not necessarily knaves or fools. With that wisdom in mind, it would be proper humility, I suppose, to think that perhaps the black marriage pattern is not all that bad. Maybe, contrary to what I think, the low black marriage rate is not as bad for African Americans as a similar rate would be for other ethnic groups. And maybe, contrary to William Raspberry's fears, young African Americans have not gone past the tipping point, but will create a revival of marriage.

I wish that prominent African Americans who have made strong marriages would go on the stump to promote such a revival. I have applauded Bill Cosby for doing so in the past, for which he has taken much heat.

I think it would help if Bill Raspberry himself took a leading role in the movement.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post - I appreciate my vicarious experience of this talk.

I teach Family and Society with a textbook that is accurate, but relentless, in presenting differences by race and social class within each chapter: sexuality, marriage, childbearing, work, divorce, remarriage. The statistics are always so bleak for black families. By the end of the semester, I almost want to say, "Oh, just let it rest!" It begins to feel almost racist to report the situation from so many different angles.

Early in the text, of course, the author presents to information on female kin networks, their strengths and their weaknesses. But this is not continued.

It seems clear that 2 parent families are best for children. Among an ethnic group that tends not to make strong marriages at a high rate, though, I wonder if we might not be helping children if we found ways to support the kin networks that ARE formed and maintained. I'm of two minds (at least) about this.

Gruntled said...

I agree with you entirely. It is, of course, good to make the best of a bad situation; it is better to make a good situation in the first place. There are strengths to women's kin and fictive kin networks, which are especially well developed among black women. Nonetheless, there is NO REASON that African Americans can't get married, and it would be better for everyone if they did.