Rick Banks and his controversial question: “Is Marriage for White People?”


Provocative author (Photo: Natalie Glatzel)

My friend Elaine Ray has an interesting recent post on Rick BanksIs Marriage for White People?, a book that, with a title like that, has obviously gotten a lot of attention.  She did a short Q&A with him here.

These days, “black women are about half as likely to be married as their 1950s counterparts,” he writes. “Marriage has also declined among black men, fewer than half of whom are husbands.”

Elaine’s interesting blog, My Father’s Posts, honors the journalism of her father, Ebenezer Ray, who emigrated to the New York from Barbados.  He died when she was 13.  Last month would have marked her parents’ 63rd wedding anniversary.  She describes her parents’ courtship and marriage this way:

I don’t know if my parents had planned to get married anyway or if the pregnancy [with Elaine’s older sister] forced their hand. There also is the possibility that my mother’s father, John Henry Brown, a  piano mover who is said to have been around 6’4″ with a shoe size in the vicinity of a 13 EEE, might have offered a bit of “encouragement.” My dad was 5’4”.

My father was a printer by trade; and though he was quite erudite, I don’t think he had a college degree. My mother, a social worker and teacher, did.  Until my dad’s death, their 19-year marriage seemed sturdy and stable. For most of their life together, before my father took ill, they were able to live on his salary. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, an arrangement my father preferred.

Faced with the same set of circumstances today, would my parents’ marriage have survived?  Would they have even gotten married in the first place?

Her own story is a quick review of some of the social dynamics within the African American communities decades ago.

Banks says he is offering no advice in his book, but he does conclude that black women might find their professional and intellectuals equals in other races.  Hence, the uproar. I guess I don’t quite understand.  Hasn’t interracial marriage been happening for some time now, in both directions?

One excerpt from Elaine’s interview:

ER: What kind of reactions have you gotten from black men to your book?

Ebenezer's daughter (Photo: Photo by Rachael Behrens)

RB: The reactions range from very positive – Kirkus Reviews described the book as “Triumphant”– to very negative. I’ve been called a “racial pimp” who is trying to “profiteer” off black women’s difficulties with “sensationalized bullcrap”  In addition to my “reprehensible title” I have been told that the book “relies on haphazard, shabby research and unsubstantiated theories wrapped in hollow, sophisticated rhetoric to make you give it a good look.” Of course, these comments are all from people who I know for certain haven’t read the book. 
 Those people who have read the book are struck by its candor, insight, and writing. My favorite response is from a New York Times editor who told me it was “unputdownable.”  One of my aims with the book is to promote a national discussion about the obligations of black women to black men.  The issues are complicated and emotionally fraught, and are perhaps best captured in the question of one CNN viewer: Do black women deserve better than what black men have to offer?

Aside from Kirkus, I think the reviewers were black men. Others are supportive, even if they don’t like, as my brother-in-law put it, “giving the white man a hunting license to take the black man’s woman from him.” “Brothers done lost so much,” he said, “now the woman going to be taken away too!”

I bristle a bit that men still talk about women this way,  as if women were objects without agency, to be passed or ceded from one party to another.  I know, I know, he’s only quoting.  Still I bristle.

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One Response to “Rick Banks and his controversial question: “Is Marriage for White People?””

  1. Elizabeth Jetter Says:

    AS far as I am concerned, if black women are not marrying it is because they are smarter than the average woman. Why should they marry any man who is actually their inferior? In fact, all men are a woman’s inferior. Marraige is not what it is cracked up to be. Dr. Joyce Brothers once took a survey of Happiness among the rour groups of people; Married and unmarried Men and Married and unmarried women. The happiest were married men, the next happiest were single women, then next happiest were married women and the unhappiest were single men. One can easily see from the results that men benefit from marraige the most. My two sisters and myself divorced our husbands and never got married again. Once was enough. One learns that obsequiousness is not a good model for happiness and that is what men require from the women they marry. They ofter shame each other by telling men that they are “not controlling their wives like they should be.” I blame religion for this demard that men should terroize and bully their women. “When a girl, a father shall have dominion over her and when a maid, her husband shall have dominion over her and when an old woman, her sons shall have dominion over her. A woman shall never be without male domination” is a quote from the bible. A stupidity right out of the bible.

    Matriarchies are the best solution to a family’s/society;s happiness. Children who are raised by single women are the most well-adjusted citizens according to a recent survey. There is something about that biblical attitude of men towards women generally, but especially within a marraige that negates the well-being of people. Patriarchal religion teaches that women are less than men. How can one have a good society when it suffers from that kind of testosterone poisoning? Look around you and you can easily see that men have made a huge mess of the world. Your solution does not address the damage that religion has had on the relationship of women and men. Men should never be in charge of anything.