Single Or Taken: The Battle Of The Relationship Status Is Tearing Us Apart

Love & Relationships

We all do it. We take into account the consistent experiences we've had and we create digestible categories.

Too many failures at work will have you believing you can't cut it. Too many encounters with ignorant people will convince you that an entire culture is ignorant. And too many bad experiences with dating can create a bias against the whole concept.

The perception of relationships tends to be either romanticized or villainized - we either ache for it or reject it entirely.

It's not hard to understand why so many black women have a fear of commitment. Between men who think sex is owed to them, men who seem like a financial risk, men who can't keep it in their pants and men who don't pull their fair share of weight in relationships - the pickings feel slim. What concerns me, is that it's gotten to the point of putting each other down, by criticizing each other's personal choices. It seems like no matter what we do, there's someone nearby side-eyeing our decisions - sometimes the one giving the side eye is us.

When Tracee Ellis Ross took to the stage at Glamour's Women of the Year summit last year, and defended her right to be a woman in her 40's with no husband or children (and no plans to have them soon), she made a beautifully necessary statement and women everywhere applauded. But principally, this message was no different than Ciara's unsolicited advice to women who seek marriage, or Beyonce's choice to stan for Jay despite his long-time infidelity.

All of them are doing something women could not do a hundred years ago - whatever the hell they want.

And that should always be applauded. But too many times, it's not.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be married.

Today, marriage represents legal partnership, two families coming together, and the beginning of something that will hopefully last a lifetime. It also represents whatever you want it to represent. When done well, it creates a foundation of balance and stability for children. If you're religious, marriage has spiritual connotations that may make you feel more connected to God. What marriage is not, is required. Telling a woman that she is volunteering to be stifled, or settling because she's marrying a man she loves, is just as bad as telling a single woman she should find a husband before they all run out.

According to Pew Research, 88% of people who get married, do so for love. The same reason we get giddy when we see photos of Angela Bassett and Courtney Vance or Will Smith and Jada Pinkett - because love feels (and looks) good.

Couples like that remind us how beautiful black unions are, the children they produce, the legacy of self-love and support it can provide. But when the harsh reality of love comes into view, our flight or fight response kicks in. We love looking at love, but not embracing the fact that lasting love comes with pain. You can't convince me that a 20-year marriage is free of infidelity, lies, emotional neglect, disappointment, and the desire to give up and walk away. Your favorite "Relationship Goals" couple was fighting in the car this morning, I promise you.

Married or single, people are people - flawed, misinformed, and trying. It may not be plastered on someone's Instagram page, but marriage is saddled with its share of downs.

But no grass on either side is greener.

When I was single, I caught shade from married women.

I was flailing, seeking something, or kidding myself if I tried to convince them that my status was by design - not by accident. It was as if the single women I encountered believed absolutely everything TV teaches us about marriage. Between Real Housewives and The Bachelor, it's portrayed as a bit of a sham that looks good in pictures. But, marriage is just like any other choice you make, you go into it with the information you have, and you hope for the best. Sometimes the information changes. But that doesn't lessen the sanctity of someone's choice.

It also doesn't define a woman. It can, but it doesn't have to. Women are running companies and countries - most of us take that same ownership and confidence into our relationships.

When I was married, I caught shade from single women.

I was settling, aligning myself with patriarchy, and letting go of my identity. Between single and married there is a spectrum of possibilities and it seems like no matter where we are on that spectrum there is a peanut gallery of naysayers ready to tear us down.

But those naysayers are us. We are doing this to each other and to ourselves.

Now, I'm somewhere in between. Not married, not single - but happily partnered with a man I love and adore.

I've had women tell me, mid-sentence, that I couldn't possibly understand their plight because I have "a man at home." As if I've never gone on a few (or a dozen) Tinder dates that ended in irritation. As if I won't one day perhaps find myself single again. Nothing is guaranteed - no marriage, no commitment, no choice is without its risk. So why are we so attached to our relationship status in the first place? Our perception of love as black women has been under attack for generations. But it seems our most current enemy is in the mirror. It's time to change the narrative about black women and love.

Repeat after me:

"I am not my relationship status. I am not single. I am not taken. I am me, simply and happily."

I think single women have a lesson to teach partnered women, and it has nothing to do with judging their choices. In a partnership, sometimes you can forget who you are. The lines start to blur a little and you may need a reminder that who you are has nothing at all to do with who you're with. Hang around a confident single woman for a day and you'll remember. She's probably not talking about why her man leaving the seat up sends her through the roof. But she will ask you about your career goals, your fitness goals, your hair goals. Things you might forget to focus on if your world has become your partner and your home life together.

Partnered women have a lot to offer single women. Sometimes it's nice to have a reminder that not every boy is a f-boy. Some men are capable of being partners, trying their best, being consistent and offering much needed support - and that having that can feel liberating in different ways. A woman in a caring, committed relationship might be the boost of faith you need. But we can only be there for each other if we leave judgment at the door.

Whatever choices we make as black women, those choices have a much better chance at success if we support each other. You don't have to celebrate another woman's marriage in order to be supportive - but you can celebrate the fact that it was a choice in the first place.

Featured image by Giphy

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.


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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Featured image by Shutterstock

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