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Why Black Women Are Choosing Careers Over Marriage

No husband? No problem.

Workin' Girl

I grew up with examples of married couples all around me: my parents, grandparents, and the majority of my aunts and uncles on both sides of my family were together since I was born. As a 10-year-old child who was predisposed to seeing marriage as a normal part of life, I never considered the interworkings of how one comes to be married, but rather, I was conditioned to believe it was something that just kind of happened when you were a grown-up. Fast forward twenty years later and here I am a successful Black woman who has no husband.

While I don't personally feel like I'm missing out having never been married, I can say that it's caused me to do some serious soul-searching, and research, on why some women are choosing to delay the date, rather than save it.

Marriage Trends Among Black Women

For decades, scholars have studied the marriage gap in the United States. It's no secret that marriage rates in the Black community lag in comparison to those among other races. A study by R. Kelly Raley, Megan M. Sweeney, and Danielle Wondra compared the marriage patterns of Black, white, and Hispanic American women. They discovered that Black women married later in life than both age groups and were overall less likely to ever marry. Additionally, Black women's marriages tended to have higher rates of "marital instability." Finally, the study revealed that Black women had higher divorce rates than white women, at all stages of life and ages. And it seems that the more educated a Black woman is, the less her chances for finding a husband who shares her income or educational achievements are.

Additional sources agree that college-educated black women are less likely to marry than any other group. But all is not lost. It's not that Black women don't want to be married, but it seems that Black millennials, in particular, are redefining the ideals of marriage to fit their terms, opting for cohabitation relations or what is known as the beta marriage. Likewise, there may be another trend that offers a glimmer of hope for those still dreaming of wedded bliss. The most dramatic trends are that of interracial dating and marriages with Black women accounting for 12 percent of the US population, according to data from Pew Research Center.

Societal Pressures & Expectations Of Women’s Roles

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Considering the seriousness of such a commitment as marriage, it baffles me to understand the pressure that comes from people like our family and friends, as kind-hearted as they may be, to almost make you feel at fault for not making the trip down the aisle sooner.

I believe that never marrying or taking time to decide on a life-long partner is an admirable choice, but it seems that people would almost prefer you "try" even if it means you fail at marriage and having kids than to "not try" at all. I can't help but get the feeling that what people really want to say is, "It's all right to try and fail – but goddamnit, you'd better try."

If you grew up as I did, then you likely saw your parents married and grandparents married for the duration of their lives. Because children are a product of their environment, they often live what they learn. And the Disney fairy tales we grew up watching only reinforced the idea that it was our duty as little women to wait for Prince Charming to save us from an unenchanted life rather than to pursue one on our own.

Popular culture and classic films, such as Sleepless in Seattle would also have you believing that singlehood is the worst thing in the world and that your fate would end in one of two tragic ways: becoming an old maid or an increased chance of, get this, being killed by a terrorist. Luckily, for single women, that myth has been thoroughly debunked, but the inscription of the old maid remains forever sketched into our subconscious.

Career Vs. Relationship: You Be The Judge

There have been public discussions over the years that point to reasons for the "single, Black woman". In 2010, ABC hosted an all-star panel to figure out, "Why A Successful Black Woman Can't Find a Man". Some of the reasons included stereotypes, unfaithful partners, and availability of quality mates of the same race, to name a few. Unfortunately, for single sisters out there, the odds of finding a decent Black man are scarce, although not completely exhausted.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 2018, Black males accounted for 34 percent of the total male prison population. But for women who are willing to look beyond the color lines, scholarly studies show promise for those who are open to exploring romantic relationships outside their race. When given the odds of finding a suitor that matches your educational, aspirational, and ethnic criteria, one could argue that a longer wait time is the only choice.

Finally, there are economic factors. I would be remiss not to include the fact that sistas are more financially independent than ever before. Although most research maintains that the pay gap is still dramatically lower for Black women than any other group, including Black men, that hasn't stopped us from starting new businesses and flourishing at a rate higher than any other demographic. Gone are the days of being dependent on a man for economic support. While women may not be actively rejecting the onset of a relationship, we are certainly selecting the procurement of the bag.

What Does It Mean To Be A Strong Black Woman?

Black girl magic is nothing new. We know that Black women helped build the foundation that this country stands on today and we continue to contribute to society through our leadership and business ventures. And while this is a good look for us, economically speaking, I'm curious as to what it implies for Black women personally.

For our mothers and their mothers, being a strong Black woman has meant we were caretakers. Not only to our children but also the children in the community and sometimes, other people's children for whom they were paid to care for to make a living.

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When you recall the slave experience of Black women who were forced to perform wifely duties for men that weren't their husbands, the idea of marriage may be somewhat disenchanting. Having to cook and clean and launder their clothes for little to nothing in exchange, should it be a surprise that more women aren't jumping at the chance to (jump the broom) enter into a union that never really served them? Sadly, this experience isn't just limited to Black women. History documents decades of women being regarded as inferior to men and limited to subservient roles in relationships.

For single women today, being a "strong Black woman" often means having to step into the role that tradition has deemed as "masculine" or "dominant" to provide for her family if there isn't a male figure present. As single mothers, Black women take on the responsibilities of both mother and father, breadwinner, and primary guardian, for not only her children but also the aging family member, leaving little time for herself, let alone time to nurture a romantic relationship.

In this regard, I can't help but wonder if black women are choosing this option because they see it as their only choice. In the same breath, Black women may not necessarily be choosing their careers, entrepreneurship, or anything else... maybe, just maybe, they're finally choosing themselves.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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