Book Review - Where did black love go?

A new book of essays offers 44 answers on the state of marriage among African-Americans

When it comes to the state of marriage, mainstream media would have us believe African-Americans are statistically screwed. (And in this rare reference, getting screwed is not considered a plus.) The declining rate of matrimony in the black community has been thoroughly documented and debated in recent years. Meanwhile, the successful commoditization of dysfunctional black relationships continues to rule reality TV at the same time that a picture-perfect black First Couple occupies the White House.

Somewhere between that absurd paradox lies a deeper truth, which is what makes the book Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African-American Community such a conversation piece. Edited by longtime journalist Gil L. Robertson IV, the collection of personal essays takes a step back from the onslaught of depressing stats by giving voice to a wide range of experiences in love, marriage, divorce, and single life. Of the 44 contributors — which include 11 Alive’s JaQuitta Williams, “60 Minutes” correspondent Byron Pitts, and renowned poet Jessica Care Moore — NPR’s Jimi Izrael, host of the Barbershop segments on “Tell Me More,” attacks the topic with the kind of sarcasm and humor that could only come from surviving two failed marriages. Even the shortest paragraph of his essay, “Marriage is a fine institution. Like Rikers,” drips with irony. But the lessons he imparts aren’t all tongue-in-cheek, as he reflects back with equal parts bitterness and vulnerability. His take on relationships makes it seem as if it’s black men, not women, who have the hardest row to hoe.

When he attempted on Nightline’s 2010 town hall special “Why Can’t a Successful Black Woman Find a Man” to debunk the popular theory that the sisters are suffering from a shrinking pool of eligible brothers from which to choose, he got shut down by the mostly female audience. But in our own man-to-man convo, he kicked his version of the conventions and myths that are most threatening to the institution of marriage among African-Americans, while explaining why he thinks black folk still can’t afford to give up on it.

A lot of lessons in your essay are funny but practical, like “Love don’t pay the rent or fire ambitions.” Which really hits at the heart of the marriage shake-up in the black community, where the decline is usually blamed on economics and black women increasingly becoming the breadwinners. How do you feel about that?

The Ozzie and Harriet model for black people has never worked because black women have always been more employable than black men since Antebellum times. Not because they’re particularly industrious — although I’m sure that’s true as well — but that doesn’t mean black men are lazy, it just means black men are considered dangerous.

I take it that you probably don’t subscribe to that theory in mainstream media about black women having a shrinking pool to choose from once the gay, imprisoned, and educated black men are subtracted?

That’s bullshit. There’s not a shrinking pool for black women — if anything there’s a shrinking pool for black men. That whole idea is ridiculous. I wrote a whole book debunking that called The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can’t Find Good Black Men.

Why do you think black men suffer from a shrinking pool more than black women?

Just because you are female and you have all the right plumbing and you actually work for a living doesn’t necessarily make you a good catch as a woman. Women don’t know what it means to be desirable. They believe that as long as they are women and can hold a job, or not — maybe they’ve just got a big butt and a propensity to give it to you for a hamburger — that that makes them wife material. It doesn’t. That doesn’t make you wife material. And the whole idea, which is kind of antiquated now, is from the ’50s and ’60s. Back then the meme was that men should be more selective. And now men aren’t supposed to be selective; we’re just supposed to get with any woman. That’s ridiculous. Men have standards too, and it’s like men kind of suspend their critical mind for some pussy ... .

The women that really have it going on are losing. It’s really the battle of the good women versus the chicken heads — and the chicken heads are winning that big time.

Do you think marriage is an institution we need to continue to champion in the black community, or is it time to rethink the tradition?

We need to keep trying to champion it. Marriage is a wonderful institution when you do it right. It’s a partnership of two great souls when it’s perfect. But it’s an imperfect institution.

And it’s like real talk, we need to get the family back. We need to get the mama, the daddy, the kid, the dog — all living under the same house, building a community, building a tax base, building a political center. That’s why black people are fucking up; we don’t have that. Other minorities figured that out a long time ago. As fucked up as shit may get, we’ve got to keep our families together.

Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African-American Community. Agate Bolden. $16. 240 pp.