During a mentoring session a teenage Black girl asked me a question that temporarily rendered me speechless. A group of us were speaking to Black high school students about college and career. We individually discussed our background then of course made the requisite pitch for higher education. Requisite not because that’s what we were supposed to do as guest mentors rather because higher education for Black people in the United States is a must for many reasons. When it was my time to talk I highlighted the education I’m so proud of and noted how almost every success I have started with someone telling me I can’t. Usually a White teacher or boss were the ones uttering those words. Afterwards we broke off into smaller groups. In that group a senior who was in the midst of applying for college asked me a very serious question I had to stop to ponder.
She didn’t disagree with the idea of higher education or even having a career and taking care of herself. The question she wanted an answer to was if she attained success did that mean she would significantly reduce her chances of getting married. At the age of 17 most of us were thinking about boys and secretly planning our future weddings. Her question was so much more than that. She cited the statistic that Black women are the least likely to get married. Additionally she said that having a child out of wedlock was not for her. She had no interest in being a single parent by choice. What she was really getting at is does her choice to pursue success in her chosen field relegate her to a life of single-hood. At her age she saw a romantic personal life and a successful professional career as mutually exclusive. She talked about the Soledad O’Brien special on CNN where it talked about the majority of Black women will not be married.
This awakened me to the fact that young Black women are seeing the dynamics of our culture and are feeling they have to make a choice between success and happiness. While I thought about an answer to her question I realized that this may be a deterring force behind young Black women being inordinately focused on men perhaps contributing to the high rate of single parents within the African-American community. Everyone wants love; more than that everyone needs love. Essentially what she was asking is does she have to give up love in order to have success as a Black woman.
When I formulated my answer I of course told her no the two aren’t mutually exclusive. There are plenty of successful Black women in loving marriages. But I also told her she may have to expand her horizons and consider dating outside of her race. For good or for bad, Black men date outside of their race more than any other ethnic group. Statistics dictate that if Black women are the highest demographic enrolled in higher education that most professionally successful Black women will not find their “equivalent” if that’s what they desire. Also, there is nothing wrong with dating outside of one’s race if it’s done for the right reasons. If one dates outside of their race for the purpose of exclusion that’s an issue. If someone simply falls in love that’s very different. For Gen Y and Gen Z dating outside of one’s race is less of an issue than it is for Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers.
This was a tough conversation to have. But it got me thinking about how many young Black women are out there thinking they can’t have both. How many are out there playing dumb or under-selling their success? Recently Shonda Rhimes, creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, responded to a critic who wrote an article entitled “How To Get Away With Being An Angry Black Woman”. It supports the point this young Black Chick was trying to make. Shonda Rhimes unmitigated success was reduced to a stereotype. Why was Shonda’s race even a factor in the critique of the show?
At the end of our discussion I’m not sure I gave this young sister much hope but I certainly encouraged her to pursue her professional success. That’s the thing she can control. The reality is she can pursue romance and marriage, but that doesn’t guarantee it will last. Black women are at a tipping point in their personal and professional lives. There is a shift underway. Black women can have both but it may not look like the fairy tale we have in our minds. There is an EVEolution afoot. Black women are a force of nature with which to be reckoned. However it begs the question, what will become of the Black family as we’ve known for the past 60-70 years?
What are your thoughts? Do you think young Black women are deterred from success given the statistics for marital bliss are against them? Do you believe it’s a choice? Comment below and share. We want to hear from you.
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