I recently finished a book by former Washington Post bureau chief for southern Africa, Jon Jeter, “Flat Broke in the Free Market: How Globalization Fleeced Working People.” Well-researched and well-written, the book not only provides a factual analysis of the deindustrialization and privatization processes, but follows Jeter’s travels around the globe as a black American reporting on his own first-hand experiences and eyewitness account of the impact of neoliberal economic policies on the lives of everyday people.
To me, one of Jeter’s most fascinating portraits is his depiction of a young black woman from Chicago named Sonia, who is both struggling to complete her education and advance professionally while simultaneously seeking Mr. Right. I think you will agree, after reviewing excerpts from the book in red, and my responses in black, that Sonia presents too many sisters with a sad cautionary tale:
“. . . I am thirty-three years old and I am ready—no, let me say I want to be married and have children, just like my mama was when she was my age and her mama was when she was my age. Why is that so hard nowadays?”
Here in the United States, wealth for African Americans is, on average, about $.58 for every $1 in the hands of whites. But . . . a black married couple has about $.88 for every white couple’s $1 . . . All of which is to say this: to truly get ahead, Sonia needs a man.
Doesn’t sound like Sonia is the one who needs convincing. Then again, does Sonia need just any man?
Childless and a year into a Ph.D program in education at DePaul University here in Chicago, Sonia would seem to have a lot going for her. She lives in the largest black community in the country. She owns her own home, a car, and even a small apartment building . . . she is a catch: petite, personable, and pretty. With blonde highlights in her hair she resembles Mary J. Blige. She makes a mean vegetable lasagna. “A brother could do worse than me,” she says . . .
But does a brother agree?
For blacks in Chicago, marriage is approaching obsolescence. For every one thousand adult blacks living in the city, twelve people were married in 2006 (emphasis added). That’s six marriages, a rate that is comparable in Port-au-Prince, Washington, D.C., or the Gaza Strip.
Well. It appears that a brother does not agree.
For every one hundred black women in Chicago between the ages of twenty-two and thirty-four, there are only sixty-eight black men in circulation [alive, unimprisoned and not in the military] . . . Nationwide, more than half of all women are single; for black women, the ratio is two in three. Forty percent of all black women have never been married . . . Paradoxically, the marriageable pool of women has been enlarged for young, single professional black men (emphasis added), who recognize that their prospects put them at a premium and allow them to cast a wider net when searching for a wife. Eligible black men have seemingly limitless choices, and not just among black women. Black men enter interracial marriages at a higher rate—9.7 percent—than any racial or gender group other than Asian women. That’s twice the rate of black women, who intermarry with other races less than anyone else in the United States.
Gee—faced with this set of facts, what should Sonia do?
“So here are your choices if you are a black woman,” Sonia says. “I can share a man because he’s dating another woman and she may be black, or Mexican, or white, or Asian . . . Or I can try to make peace with a blue-collar man who resents my education and always wants to know where I’ve been and who I had lunch with today and who might hit me or even kill me one day if the answer is not what he wants to hear. I can maybe date a white guy, but chances are not good that he will want to marry me. White men might want to fuck us, but they ain’t usually trying to take a sista home to meet Mama, especially not a sista like me who is darker than Halle Berry. Or I just go solo, maybe adopt or have a baby without a husband and raise it by myself.”
There you have it. Lady Sings the Blues: the A capella version. If you date a BM, be prepared for a lifetime of racio-misogynistic DBR drama. If you date a WM, he’ll just screw you, but never marry you, unless you can pass the brown paper bag test—i.e., he’ll treat you just like DBRBM do. Your best choice is simply to adopt, alone. Or do something, alone. Above all, accept being alone.
. . . Sonia is not necessarily opposed to dating a white man. She dated one a few years back, and a few others have approached her on campus. But it’s been her experience . . . that white men fetishize black women and other women of color. “I know that in talking to my girlfriends who have dated white men, and in my own limited experience, white men typically seem to have this image, this fantasy of a hypersexualized, almost animal-like black woman . . . ”
My. That sounds downright scary. What woman wants to be perceived as “animal-like”? I may be sappy, but I just love it when my husband says things like “you’re just so soft and sweet and beautiful.” I assume that’s how every woman wants her man to feel about her. Of course, hubby can say some naughtier things too (smile); but if this has been Sonia's experience, no wonder she’s afraid!
On the other hand, it doesn’t sound like her experience with “brothers” has been too hot either—Jeter recounts a tale of a parolee warehouse worker masquerading online as a telephone repairman—still a catch, the elusive “BMW.” The only reason that one didn’t work out is because that “brotha” lived in a half-way house in Boston and didn’t have money for airfare to fly to Chicago, i.e., HE rejected Sonia. He also describes a man who took her to see Dreamgirls and then back to his clearly-decorated-by-a-woman apartment. In other words, thirty-three years of run-of-the-mill DBRism doesn’t seem to have turned Sonia permanently against BM, nor even to have made her more wary of the cads among them. Why the double-standard?
“I know this is not how every white man is, but from what I can see, white men love them some white women, and that’s why most black women love them some black men. They don’t all love us black, but most brothas don’t really have any alternative . . . ”
So this is the gist of it—in Sonia’s mind, WM just love WW, and most BM have no choice but to settle for BW. So BM it is! So much for “loving her some black men.”
“. . . People don’t want to own up to reality, but when you get right down to it, don’t nobody want black people, and especially black women, for any reason other than to fuck them in some ungodly way.”
This is so heart-breakingly sad, there really are no words. But isn’t this, at root, what many BW believe—that we are the bottom of the barrel? That the only men who want us are men who have no other choices, men who are worthy of nothing better, or those who want to practice perversity in the dark of night? Isn’t that why so many of us accept babymamahood and the mantle of embittered muleship?
So our dear Sonia stays in an on-again/off-again relationship with Anthony—a self-employed ex-con exterminator, who managed to wean himself from drugs after over a decade of addiction, but who can’t cure his bruised ego of the discomfort of dating a better-educated, more conventionally successful woman. After two years, he still won’t marry Sonia because he wants a stay-at wife, but doesn’t have the resources to afford such a luxury.
Jeter titled the chapter of his book devoted to Sonia’s saga “Things Fall Apart” after the Achebe masterpiece. But what has really collapsed are the sad and flimsy internal defenses that the many Sonias out there have constructed around their hearts and souls, the rationalizations with which they’ve convinced themselves that they are bereft, hopeless—that they have no choices. That nobody wants them, that they are essentially “ungodly.” Once you believe this, where is your hope? What are your chances? You've doomed yourself. Wherever she is, I can only thank Sonia for her candor, and hope that other sisters recognize that the only reality that you have to own up to is the one you make.