Warning: This will be a tough read for some.
Continuing the article written by Koritha Mitchell, I suggest you read yesterday’s article as well. You know sometimes it’s good to just read and understand instead of telling an entire culture/people/race what to think, how to feel, and what they should do. I think this type of approach comes from a feeling of authority and slave master mentality. The invalidation of our thoughts, religion, feelings, emotions, experiences, perspectives and knowledge is alive and well today. I do think at times it’s subconsciously done. Yet, still problematic. Instead, I think some should learn to simply listen, assist and work with other cultures, races, and communities. “Seek ye first to understand and then to be understood”- Steven Covey. Clearly, there is not enough seeking of understanding, let alone any seeking of truth.
Article beings here:
Those who care about Black families and communities sometimes hesitate to celebrate Black marriage. Praising traditional marriage can contribute to the overall devaluation of queer intimacies. It can also align with the routine vilification of all households that do not fit the heteronormative nuclear family mold, with its male breadwinner and financially dependent wife and children. As important, highlighting Black marriage can easily feel like another attack on single Black women in a society with self-help franchises and religious cultures based on scolding Black women for not properly preparing themselves to be “blessed” with a mate.
And yet, the hesitation to celebrate traditional Black marriage, of which there has never been a shortage, also amounts to erasing the degree to which African Americans do, in fact, choose each other.
Ever notice how examples that contradict dominant assumptions fail to gain traction? Many understood that it mattered for Barack Obama’s credibility among African Americans that Michelle Obama was brown-skinned, but the couple’s prominence has done little to change the impression that Black people rarely choose each other. American culture is built on presumptions of Black pathology even though, as Coates puts it, such characterizations should ring false “in a country whose existence was predicated on the torture of Black fathers, on the rape of Black mothers, on the sale of Black children.”
It is no accident that Americans of every background struggle to recognize how thoroughly the Obamas represent, in Coates’s words, “Black people’s everyday, extraordinary Americanness.” That is, African Americans often embody exactly what the nation says it respects. Their doing so is common, but it is also exceptional because they must reach every goal while the nation robs them of every public resource, including safety. Against the odds, African Americans create and nurture life-affirming and community-sustaining bonds of affection—bonds that are distorted, diminished, or ignored.
Black Americans have always cared more about cultivating intimacy than about specific domestic configurations (like the heteronormative nuclear family), but whenever they achieve what dominant culture praises, white violence emerges to put them back in their “proper” place. That “proper” place has been enforced with physical violence, but it has also been reinforced with discursive violence, including how Black people choosing each other is assumed to be most palatable when the woman is light, bright, almost white.
Keeping African Americans in their “proper” place also involves excluding traditional Black households from the nation’s family portrait. The quintessential American family is always assumed to be white and middle class, no matter how often white people prove to be less than committed to that model. And this is the case even as the United States provides white people with resources like safety—not having to fear that police officers or civilians will kill their loved ones without consequence.
Marriage relies on and bolsters economic standing, and the United States has always deprived African Americans of the financial resources to support their unions. Despite these formidable obstacles, marriage has not been rare among Black people, but it has been ignored. As Hunter shows, in the early 1900s, African American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois and other elites insisted that traditional home life would dramatically improve Black people’s social, political, and economic prospects, but “somehow they missed the fact that most Black families conformed to the very behaviors they wanted to indoctrinate,” given that “by 1900, marriage was nearly universal for adult African Americans still living in a mostly agricultural society.”
Then and now, American culture ensures that few would ever suspect Black people’s consistent, stable history with marriage.
In this context, it is worth noticing that representations of Black family life have not changed with Michelle Obama’s prominence as not only a mother but also the wife of an affectionate husband. Indeed, her success in these roles has been simultaneously ignored and attacked. Attacks came in the form of asserting that she hurt the feminist movement by calling herself “Mom-in-Chief.” Meanwhile, her becoming first lady—woman of the nation’s house—was ignored in that it did not inspire popular culture representations of African American stay-at-home moms. Instead, The Help became a runaway hit, suggesting that Americans did not want to be reminded that Black women are homemakers, but they would relish seeing Black women pretending to be 1960s maids in 2009 (when the book was published) and in 2011 (when the movie was released).
That was not enough, though. In 2016, 63 million Americans voted to move the United States “From Mom-in-Chief to Predator-in-Chief.” The message was clear: African American marriages and traditional families may exist, but they will be excluded from the nation’s portrait of itself. Black women are acceptable as house slaves and housekeepers, but not as homemakers. That has always been the American way. Meanwhile, and nonetheless, Black people keep loving each other.
Koritha Mitchell is author of the award-winning book Living with Lynching and the new book From Slave Cabins to the White House: Homemade Citizenship in African American Culture. She is also an associate professor of English at Ohio State University and a Society of Senior Ford Fellows (SSFF) board member. Follow her on Twitter @ProfKori.