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Why Real Depictions Of Black Marriage On TV Are So Needed

Marriage

"There has to be a time when someone gives you grace and there has to be a time when you accept it."


As I watched D. L. Hughley wrap up his thoughts on the latest episode of OWN's Black Love, it was this phrase that resonated me, because this phrase is what makes the person you choose to commit to for the rest of your life different from any other person you choose to have a relationship with.

The latest episode of the series, now in its second season, was titled "Accountability," and featured celebrity couples such as D.L. Hughley and wife LaDonna, rapper Styles P and his wife Adjua, as well as other black couples who shared their experiences with infidelity and rough patches within their marriages.

One husband Todd, who has been married to his wife Alicia for 26 years, accurately predicted that viewers would pass judgment referring to the couple as "Stupid 1 and Stupid 2" after the two shared how they survived his multiple instances of infidelity, one which led to the couple's house being burned down and Todd's mistress being murdered in front of him. The couples' stories are honest and real, and the beautiful thing about hearing them reflect on their marriages is that they tackle issues involving ego, insecurity, and the parts they played in some of the darkest moments of their marriage.

For the most part, the response from social media has been positive, as viewers have applauded the couples' growth and ability to overcome the challenges of infidelity, career setbacks, and children:

But of course there were a fair share of critics who didn't feel like the couples were overcoming their struggles as much as they were settling for unhealthy behaviors:

Now, I get it. Before I became a married woman, I was someone who was very clear about what I would and wouldn't put up with as a wife. As a child, I witnessed uncles who brought a new "woman they were going to marry" to the cookout every year and girlfriends who accepted their emotionally and physically abusive behavior just because they had children together. I looked at my Grandma who, years after her husband's death, still looked at him as a hero despite the fact that he'd disappear for weeks at a time throughout the marriage to spend time with his "secret" family that we all knew about it.

In my head I would proclaim:

"Older generations of women may feel they have to stay committed to bad marriages because they made vows or because their husband is the breadwinner, but life is too short to be unhappy."

But since I've made vows of my own and been in a relationship for 13 years and married for three, I must admit, the decision to walk away from a marriage ain't all that simple. And that's what I love about shows like Black Love and Black-ish: they depart from The Cosby Show narrative that's all Claire Huxtable giving Heathcliff bedroom eyes in silky TLC pajamas at the end of every show. They display that real marriages have hiccups, in fact, real marriages can get a bad case of acid reflux for months at a time, but that doesn't mean that the union is over.

So when I see judgment from folks that aren't married or have never committed to a long-term relationship about how quick they would be to leave in certain situations, I cringe a little. It reminds me of how self-righteous I used to be before I had a child about not having a TV in my child's room, not popping my toddler's hand out of frustration, or not ever allowing my child to sleep in my bed. As a mother of a three-year-old, I can now admit to doing all of the above at least once and it's made me realize that when it comes to parenthood and marriage, so many things are easier said than done.

The fact that I now regularly wake up to toddler feet in my face doesn't make me a bad parent, but it does make me a real parent who realizes I knew nothing about parenthood before I actually became one and was throwing out judgment based on zero experience. So when I see single folks going on and on about how infidelity is a deal breaker and they'd divorce their partner with the quickness, I can't help but wonder what marriage is really about for some people?

Can you develop a fair opinion about what people should do in marriage without actually experiencing one?

Call it a "slump" or the "three-year-itch" but even I can attest to a fact that when you spend so many years of your life with one person, eventually the routine of parenting and career can make you feel more like roommates than a couple. There have been weeks when everything from the sound of my husband chewing, to his beard hair in the bathroom sink made me want pack my bags. I never actually do it and those feelings don't necessarily mean that the marriage is over, but it does mean there's a slump, which all marriages will face at some point.

One of the most important lessons I learned when I first got engaged is that what makes marriage different from other relationships is that you don't always walk away when it gets hard, and that some issues can and should be worked through.

Everyone's deal breakers are different and while one or two instances of infidelity may not break a marriage, repeatedly being cheated on might require some reflection on if your union is nothing more than a title. But arguments will happen, and not just "You forgot to defrost the pork chops" arguments but "F--k you and your mama too" type arguments.

There will be weeks and sometimes months at a time where every attempt to get it right will end in insults and tears. It may even get to a point where you need to be under separate roofs for a while to find your way back home. Black love is a lot like the marriage I saw between my parents who just celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary. There were tough times that resulted in too much drinking that served as a temporary fix where honest communication probably should've been. There was silent treatment and sleeping in different rooms for a few days before apologies and accountability took place.

And what I've realized is that "put up with" and staying committed to your vows are not the same.

Marriage is essentially two imperfect people promising to give and take and survive the ups and downs together. Because the truth is, you will f--k up and irk your partner's soul sometimes and vice versa. And there will be problems that satin pajamas alone won't solve.

On one of the recent episodes of Black-ish there's a moment when Bow sits in bed with Dre and has the unfortunate realization that maybe their marriage is coming to an end and states, "I'm beginning to see that we look at the world differently."

But looking at the world differently is what often brings people together in the first place and brings out the best in one another. However, when those differences start to divide you, grace is what helps to get you through.

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Marriage is about growing with your partner and learning different ways to love each other through the changes and challenges.

And if ultimately you find you're unable to do that together, Dre makes a good point about how marriage can help you at least find yourself: "Relationships aren't just what happens when times are good. In some ways, the bad times tell us more about who we are and who we want to be with."

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissons@xonecole.com

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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Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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