Archive for the ‘black mothers’ Category

Why Should Black Women Marry?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I don’t ask this question lightly. I’ve been asking myself the question for the past two days here at this historic conference on marriage and families. How does marriage benefit black women? I see why and how marriage benefits children (of course I mean here a “healthy marriage”). I even get what men get out of marriage. But what’s in it for women? Especially educated, upwardly women who don’t have to worry about being hurled into abject poverty if their husbands leave them.

Let me back up:

I’m here at the National Summit on Marriage, Parenting, and Families, a historic gathering that’s being held on the beautiful campus of Hampton University. More than 100 of the most diverse, influential leaders working in the area of marriage and family issues are here to witness the unveiling of the National Summit on Marriage, Parenting and Families which will be headquartered here at Hampton under the black familydirectorship of Dr. Linda Malone Colon (chair of the Summit). The summit is being touted as a groundbreaking public conversation about marriage and families aimed at increasing the national conversation on the declining status of today’s marriages, especially marriages in the black community and the importance of healthy, effective parenting.  I’ve met some really great people while I’ve been here, people working in the trenches to help families in crisis and children who don’t have a strong family safety net.

You can catch Wednesday’s sessions live on the web at

It’s a great meeting with lots of provocative dialogue. I’m here because i was invited to participate on the religion panel where the discussion centered on questions like “What does God say about marriage and family” and “What can communities of faith do to transform marriages, empower parents and strengthen families in our country.” Except for knucklehead here and there who their own agenda and didn’t want anything to do with dialogue, it was a good panel.

Yeah, yeah: I’ve noticed that not a peep has been said at these proceedings about same-sex marriage. One look at the major sponsors for the conference tells me why. I get it.

There’s no denying the research that says that children raised in homes headed by their biological parents who are wedded are more likely to succeed than those who grow up in households where the parents never married or divorced early on.

Here are a few things I’m taking away from this conference:

  1. Marriage is a vanishing institution in the black community.
  2. Divorce and unmarried childbearing increase the chances of poverty for both children and mothers.
  3. Children raised in single parent households are more to have problems in school, to get involved in drugs, to enter the juvenile system, and to live without medical insurance. Not only are our children at risk, but adult single men are more likely to engage in risk behavior than men who are married (e..g, take drugs, drink too much alcohol, unprotected sex with multiple partners, reckless driving).
  4. When it comes to attitudes about marriage, one of the biggest difference sbetween those under 35 and those over 35 is that younger people think you should postpone marriage until your career or finances are stable enough to bring a spouse into the equation. Their parents grew up thinking that it’s easier to build and accumulate wealth in marriage than it is as a single and that marriage gives one the stability and inner fortitude needed to endure the vicissitudes that come with building a career.
  5. Children want their parents to stay together –even if for their sake.
  6. Men who are religious tend to make better father and husbands than those whowant nothing to do with religion.
  7. Young black people use finances, career, and emotional readiness a lot as excuses for postponing marriage. but they don’t seem equally vigilant about postponing having babies out of wedlock, cohabitating, and entering into joint economic ventures with lovers (things normally associated with marriage).
  8. It is important for the church to affirm the ideal of married couples rearing their children, while at the same time affirming the possibilities for self-actualization and purposeful, emotional healthy live for those not married.

I get all of this, but again I ask: what do black women get out of all this? How do black women benefit from marriage when you consider the high ratio of women to men (and men’s likelihood of cheating on their wives) and when you consider that many times women are better educated and better employed than their men?

Happy Mother’s Day

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Grandmama's Hair

What Will Happen to Our Black Alma Mater(ere)?

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

desegregated girlIt’s that time of year. When college admission envelopes arrive in the mail. It’s also that time of year when high school students are taking advantage of spring break by visiting college campuses with their church youth groups. Hoping to get a head start on deciding on the school of their choice. Thanks to a friend  in DC who agreed to take her in for the week, the teenager in my house is, as I type, on her way to visit Morgan State University in Baltimore. Yesterday she visited Hampton and Norfolk State. Tomorrow she visits Howard University (her first choice) and from there Georgetown University (her father’s choice). Her mother attended an Ivy-league white women’s college back in the 70s, but the daughter has decided she will not be denied the experience of  black homecomings, step shows, marching bands, black sororites, and standing in long registration lines at the beginning of the semester.

There’s lots of debate about whether Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have outlived their usefulness. Even in the best of times, historically black colleges are barely able to keep up. In hard economical times, many of them are operating on such bare bones budgets that they’re like the walking dead. With news earlier this year of Clark Atlanta laying off faculty and staff in the middle of the year, Spelman eliminating staff positions, and Morris Brown which has already lost of its accreditation struggling to pay its water bill, you wonder if going ahead and pulling the plug on the weaker schools is the kindest thing that can done for some of these schools.

black campusA few years back, black students from a certain HBCU in my city stood out on the streets with buckets in hand begging drivers for donations to pay the heat bill on campus so they could avoid freezing in the dorms.  Students shouldn’t have to worry  whether their dorm has heat.  They have financial worries of their own. Resources for students at HBCUs have shrunk dangerously. More than 60% of students at HBCUs rely upon Pell grants which typically go to students whose family income is less than $40,000 a year and other federally sponsored programs to get through college. Initial reports about the president-elect’s stimulus package suggest that President Obama knows the plight of HBCUs and has earmarked more than $15.6 billion for Pell grants which are crucial for the often low-income students of these institutions, many of whom are first generation college students. Unfortunately, contributions from black college graduates to their alma maters are never enough to keep the college afloat.

Should we simply let the economy weed out the weak(est) ones and try preserving the remaining strong black schools (e.g., Howard, Spelman, Morehouse, Hampton) for those students who want to attend and those who thrive best in a predominantly black college environments? Let’s face it: attrition and racism are not the only reason many of these schools are on their last leg. Many have resisted adjusting and adapting to modern times, and their reputation outside the African-American community has grown worse as the schools declined to open themselves to the sort of healthy criticism and public debate that can lead to growth.

My experience at a HBCU was not as a student, but as a faculty member. From 2003-2005 I served as William and Camille Cosby Visiting Professor in Humanities at Spelman College.  Those two years proved to be the best years of my teaching career. Prior to Spelman, all of my striving and thriving as an adult had been done in the white academy.

My first day on Spelman’s campus I thought I had died and gone to black woman heaven. Young black women in every hue and hair style, walking alone or in 2s, and 3s, strolling across campus with confidence and purpose, laughing, talking on their cell phones, or listening to their ipods. And then there was time I stepped off the elevator and before I could get the key into the door of my office my friend Dr. Gloria Wade Gayle, a righteous sister and someone I knew from years earlier, yelled from the other end of the hall,  “Renita, girl. Come join me for lunch. I’ve got some turkey wings.” She’d brought lunch from home and wanted to share it with me.

Turkey wings? Turkey wings? I tell you Reader, in all my 20 years of teaching on predominantly white campuses no one had ever invited me to a lunch that featured real food, a lunch that reeked of garlic and butter, and the sounds of women’s laughter.

Graduates of black colleges will tell you that their success comes from the supportive community they found in black schools. “I received one-on-one attention,” says one graduate I know, “It was a family atmosphere, where people wanted to know how you were doing.” This compared to the sink or swim attitude black student (and black faculty teaching at white institutions) often run up against at majority universities. Black colleges play a very important role in the lives of their students. The term “alma mater” means “nourishing mother (of studies)” which is precisely what these institutions have meant to many of their graduates.  Without their “nourishing mothers” (e.g., professors, administrators, kitchen and housekeeping staff) many of them  would never have finished school. They needed the nuturance and “tough love” they found there tbefore heading out into the real world.

When my appointment at Spelman ended in ‘05 the school invited me to come on board as a permanent member of the faculty.  But I declined. God had other plans for me.  Despite the many frustrations that come with teaching on a black college campus (and believe me, Reader, they are many!),  after two years on a black woman’s college campus it was impossible for me to return to the sterile, lifeless world of teaching at a predominantly white institution.  I couldn’t go back. Leaving the suckle of a black mother for a white….Nah.

Our First Family Needs our Prayers

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

First Family

History demands that I include here on the blog this lovely picture of our new First Family-Elect.

Beside every great man is a an even greater woman. Obama’s remarks on election night about his wife Michelle, who by the way has a style of her own, were moving and inspiring.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation’s next First Lady, Michelle Obama.

And a father’s promise to his little girls that they were finally going to get the puppy they’ve been wanting surely made hearts across the country melt. (Especially those you who are dog and pet lovers.)

Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.

It was a wonderful moment and an inspiration to beleaguered black families everywhere.

Now I should warn my readers: I am not a gawker and I don’t swoon. I am not one of those who put pictures up on her blog of celebrities or famous people and swoon about how pretty, lovely, or good-looking they are. I have had my questions about how much Obama’s mixed looks played in to his appeal to certain groups of women and have encountered  captions and comments about him on other websites that have bordered, it seems to me, on the erotic. I’ve watched as women swoon over snapshots of Obama and read comments about how fine he is. What does a man’s looks have to do with his character and what kind of leader he will be? Come on sisters.  Folks gush over how “good looking” the Obama family is.  And they are. But what family isn’t? As a matter of fact, what does a ugly family look like? With the right make-up, outfit, and hair style  every family can look like the fantasy family and everyone can be made to look respectable and acceptable.

My point is, let’s keep our deification of our new First Family to a minimum. Let’s not let our fantasies run amok. As desperate as we may be for black family role models, let’s give the Obama family the right to be a human family. I know it will be difficult, but let’s not make them out to be the Uberfamily of what some are calling a post-racial America. Yeah, right. As black people, let’s resist holding the President-elect up as the standard of black malehood and fatherhood, his wife Michelle Obama as the role model of black femalehood and motherhood, and the wee Obamas the example of what black children should look like and behave like. (Brace yourself everyone for the coming wave of black babies born in America with the names Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Mia. Beam me up Scotty.)  Believe me, you and I don’t want to be the Obamas.  Take my word for it: you don’t wanna be married to a man who wants to be the President of the United States. You require too much of his time.  Besides, most of us would wilt and expire under all that spotlight and criticism. Remember: “To whom much is given, MUCH is required. ”

Instead of idolizing the Obama family, pray for them. Pray for the First Family’s health, sanity, and continued safety.

While you’re on your knees pray that the Obama marriage grows stronger and doesn’t crack under the weight of governing, pray that their children don’t grow up hating their parents, don’t grow up rebelling too much, and don’t grow up hating people in general because of the unreasonable expectations placed on them at such an early age.

Finally, it’s heartening to hear so many black men in the last few days talk about how much President-elect Obama and the speech he gave on election night inspired them as men and as fathers. I caught radio talk show host Michael Baisden saying yesterday on his show as I rode in a taxi to my hotel that listening to Obama’s election night speech inspired him as a father and a man living with his girlfriend to be an even better father and an even better man living with his girlfriend.  Michael, if you or your people read this: marry the woman!! That was the point, ne-gro!

Pray church, pray.