As a self-identified black feminist, I am always looking for an opportunity to engage in conversations about race and gender politics. So on Thursday night I attended a panel at Syracuse University on engaging men in violence prevention work. I was both intrigued and excited to hear how it was that each of these men got involved in anti-violence work and what were the particular trajectories that had lead them there. Since the panel was multi-generational as well as multi-racial I expected a range of perspectives would emerge. What I didn’t anticipate was the intensity of my personal reaction to the stories and things that were shared. Because we as women of color have endured sexual and domestic violence throughout our history, I would never dare call myself a surivor. To do so seems disingenious. But as I listened to one of the panelists recount his experience growing up in a home where his father perpetrated emotional abuse aganist his mother I felt pierced. I hadn’t realized until that moment that being my father’s daughter has been one of the greatest challenges of my life. For almost 15 years of my life he waged war aganist my mother and my siblings and I with his words. And every day my self-worth was diminshed a little more each day. Even more damaging is that he broke my trust in men. To this day my greatest fear is marrying a man that’s like my father. In many ways my relationship with father remains conflicted and unresolved but as I move forward I am humbled and moved by the work that men such as Don McPherson, Joe Samlin, Sacchi Patel, and Marc Peters are doing to end gender violence and reconceptualize masculinity. If as Raheem Mack said violence is in our homes then to all the fathers and men be careful, your daughters are watching you.
Tag Archives: race
I’ve recently begun to question much of the church’s doctrine and position on dating, marriage, and relationships. As an African-American woman whose been church-ed for all my natural born childhood, and adult life I am quite familiar with the “don’t be unequally yoked,”, “the man is supposed to find you”, and “just focus on God, the husband will come” rhetoric. The problem with the “just wait on God” mantra which the church espouses so liberally is that it doesn’t match up with real life experiences of many women of color who like me have done nothing but focus on God and their career and still aren’t married. In her article How the Black Church Keeps Black Women Single Deborah Cooper claims that black churches play a key role in keeping black women single and alone, waiting for Mr. Right, all the while taking care of the churches’ business. (Follow this link for Deborah’s article: http://survivingdating.com/black-churches-how-black-churches-keep-african-american-women-single-and-alone)
It’s that old “if you take care of God’s house, he will take care of your house” adage. And it’s not just traditional black churches which espouse such traditional notions about a single woman’s place in God’s house. Growing up in the Pentecostal faith tradition with mostly white congregations, I can attest to the fact that many of us are taught it is a man’s job to pursue us and our job is to wait–anything more smacks of and/or constitutes Jezebel or harlot like behavior in the eyes of the church. But what exactly are we waiting for? I hate to say it but I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr. Right is probably not in the church, at least not for educated and/or professional sisters of color. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the church and it’s perpetuation of traditional gender roles which does not jive well with the self-assured, independent “woman vibe” that a lot of women of color subscribe to. Gender equality is something that women of this generation demand. However, because the church maintains such rigid views on a man and a woman’s place in the marriage relationship, it causes ruptures and tears for many of us female egalitarian sisters of color sitting on the pews.
The other “elephant in the room”, is the “do not be unequally yoked” doctrine which presumes to tell us single gals that all we need to be concerned with is the spiritual state of our future spouse and as long as that is settled everything will be alright. I heard my Pastor say it this way “anyone whose not a born-again Christian, you can take them off the table”. Well, now that raises some interesting questions. If I can be unequally yoked with a man spiritually isn’t it possible that I can also be unequally yoked with a man naturally? In secular terminology we call it compatibility. Are you telling me that all us church-ed sisters need to be concerned about in a potential mate is his spiritual status without regard to his emotional, mental, and financial state? I submit that it is foolish to do so. My bible says that “a man who does not work should not eat”. (2 Thessalonians, 3;10, NKJV). I interpret this to mean that a man’s propensity or motivation to secure gainful employment is just as important a consideration as his relationship with God. Also, lets not forget about factors such as educational attainment, income level, economic stability, financial independence, socio-economic status, race, culture, shared interests, similar values, etc…which weigh heavily in one’s choice of a future spouse or partner. Would the church have us believe that none of these other things matter as long as we have Christ?
I find the “all we need is Christ” doctrine dangerous and think it does a major disservice to women of color and of faith since we have to negotiate most or all of these factors in our romantic relationships. This “all we need is Christ” doctrine also fails to acknowledge that such factors make us appear all the more or less attractive as possible marriage spouses. So, just because I might not regard race, cultural, or socio-economic differences as reasons not to date and/or marry someone in my church, does not mean someone else may not. And to illustrate my point, I’d like to share a story with you. During the spring of 2005 I was serving as a youth leader for my church youth group. It was my second year as a youth leader and I was absolutely loving it. One night after youth service when all the kids had been dismissed, we youth leaders were lounging in the café area having a lively discussion about relationships, dating, and marriage partners. A lot of people were talking about what they imagine their wedding day and/or partner might possibly be like. Suddenly, out of the blue, one of the white male youth leaders blurted out he would never marry a black or Italian woman b/c as he put it “I simply do not find them attractive”.
I felt stung and mortally offended. It was as if someone had literally stuck or stabbed me in the back with a knife. As a black woman of course his comment cut me deep but perhaps what was even more hurtful to me was that he had also offended a very good friend of mine who happened to be born and raised Italian and also a youth leader as well. My initial reaction was so quick. How can you say that? You don’t know who you will marry! I had always been taught that we don’t regard the flesh as Christians and it doesn’t matter what package the person comes in as long as they are the right person God intended for you to be with its all good. In utter shock and disbelief I protested vehemently along with several other women of color youth leaders and my Italian friend but to no avail. This youth leader proceeded to defend his racist statement to the ground. The intense anger I felt swelled. What if there had still been teens, especially black teen girls in the building who heard what he had said? How can he stand in front of a group of racially diverse teens every week and beckon them to enter into a deeply intimate and spiritual place in worship and harbor such racist feelings towards black and Italian women?
At the risk of not causing more strife among the youth staff I kept quiet about the incident but I’ve never forgotten it to this day. Sometimes, I wonder if the youth pastors deserved to know what kind of person they had serving on their staff but I digress. I share this story to show the flaws with the “Christ is all we need” doctrine when it comes to relationships. Obviously, racism exists in the church despite the doctrine and rhetoric about there being no “Jew or Greek” and sadly that extends to romantic relationships too. Perhaps, that explains why over the last nine years the last 11 weddings I’ve attended at my church have only been for young white couples in their early to mid 20’s. So as much the church would like us sisters to believe that white or rainbow man sitting on the pew next to us could be “the One” there might be ghostly matters of race, culture, and ethnicity lurking in the back of his mind that need to be addressed publicly and honestly.
In the end we educated/professional women of color and of faith are juggling our Christianity with our race, class, and gender, which is quite a balancing act. To assume that shared faith in Christ trumps all these identity markers is foolish, unrealistic, and insulating in many ways. We need partners Christian or no Christian who are willing to negotiate these issues with us and unfortunately I have not met any men in church that can do this. So, despite your protests I’m not “taking anyone of the table”. Sorry Pastor.
It’s funny how things happen but when all the signs point go west young woman it seems that you have no other choice. Two years ago, when I ventured into the challenging foray of race relations, dating, and relationships I didn’t think anybody but my sister girlfriends were talking about it. It refers to being single, financially secure and/or independent, professional women of color. A slight mention here and there in the scholarly literature about balancing family and work obligations but nothing substantial on the romantic experiences of professional women of color. Yet, in popular culture the evidence was everywhere, a conversation was being had in regard to professional women of color seeking or looking for suitable romantic partners. First, it was the movie “Something New” with Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker which caught my attention–in which Lathan plays a successful yet single corporate attorney who is torn as to whether to explore a relationship with a white landscape architect played by Baker’s character. Then anchor and journalist Soledad O’Brien came along with her “Black in America” series and literally blew the roof off this issue in her segment entitled the Black Woman and Family. In this documentary O’Brien profiles black men and women dialoguing with respect to intersections of race, class, and gender as it relates to dating/marriage. She talks to black women including the editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine about the difficulties black women face in their social and dating life…..and the beat goes on. Most recently, law professor turned writer Karyn Langhorne Falon wrote a book called Don’t Bring Home A White Boy and Other Notions that Keep Black Women From Dating Out, in which she discusses the stigma attached to black/white unions between black females and white males which prevent black women from dating outside of the race. And just last month R&B songstress Alicia Keys premiered her music video “Unthinkable” which traces an interracial black/white couple throughout several decades til present day. Keys and Chad Michael Murray of “One Tree Hill” fame play star-crossed lovers forced to deal with racial tensions and familial opposition to their love. The message: yes things have changed but sadly things haven’t changed that much. Interracial dating is not a new phenomenon, nor does it come as a surprise that black men/white women pairings are much more common than black women/white men ones. Perhaps what is surprising is how popular culture and social media have managed to crack this topic wide open in a big way. As I troll the internet reading blogs it seems like the number one question on everyone’s one’s mind including my own is why are so many successful sisters single?