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Making the case for teaching our boys to ... `bring me home a black girl'.
Essence ^ | Nov 2002 | Audrey Edwards
The first time I saw my stepson, Ugo, make a move on a girl, he was about 7, and so was she--a dark-skinned little cutie standing at the juke-box in a Brooklyn family diner looking for a song to play. In a flash, Ugo was at her side, shy but bold at the same time. He pretended to be looking for a song, too, but he was mainly just looking at her, instantly in puppy love. "That's right," I said to him, fairly loudly and pointedly. "When it's time to get married, I want you to bring me home a girl just like that--a Black girl." The girl's parents, sitting at a table nearby, looked at me in surprise and then suddenly beamed. Ugo's father, sitting with me, just nodded and grinned.
"Bring me home a Black girl." It's one of those commandments Ugo has heard from me most of his life, right up there with "Don't do drugs," "Finish school" and "Use a condom." Over the years he has rolled his eyes, sighed in exasperation, muttered that I was racist or been mortified whenever I'd blurt out things like "Dark, light, shades in between--it don't matter to me as long as she's Black." But Ugo has also grown up to be very clear about what that edict really means: Don't even think about marrying a White girl.
I myself became clear about this--or clear about a mother's role in imparting to male children what's expected when it comes to marriage--when I interviewed the son of a Black magazine publisher ten years ago. The publisher had three sons and a Black wife who had made it clear to her boys that they were not to bring home any White girls. "We could have them as friends," the eldest son recalled, "but we were definitely not to marry them."
In all the grousing and hand wringing we do over brothers' marrying outside the race, it had never occurred to me that the issue might be addressed by something as simple and basic as child rearing. We tell our sons almost every day what we expect when it comes to their behavior, but we seldom, if ever, tell them what we expect when it comes to that most serious of decisions: choosing a partner. Oh, we may ask vague, cursory questions about the women they bring home: Can she cook? What work does she do? Who are her people? But rarely do we come right out and make the case for marrying Black. Truth be told, we're much more likely to make the case for marrying "light" or marrying someone with "good hair" so we can have "pretty grandbabies." Or we might argue, shouldn't people be allowed to marry whomever they want? Wasn't that one of the goals of integration?
If we were playing on an equal field, yes, we'd all be free to marry anyone. But the fact is, we're not. For Black women, one of the inequities on the current playing field has been the rate at which Black men are marrying outside the race. While most Black men still marry Black women, according to a joint survey by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of Black men marrying White women has increased tenfold in the last 40 years, up from 25,000 in 1960 to 268,000 today. That's more than double the number of Black women who marry White men.
Where Black people are concerned, the increasing numbers of interracial unions could eventually lead to what sex therapist Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant, Ed.D., calls annihilation through integration, a weakening of the culture and economic resources of the Black community. So the question becomes, How do we ensure our cultural and economic survival as a people? One way is to start early and plainly telling our boys to marry Black girls. We need to put the emphasis on our boys because they are more likely than our girls to choose a White partner. Add to that the fact that men still take the lead when it comes to choosing a marriage partner, and it becomes obvious that molding our boys' attitudes is critical.
Of course, we may first have to get past what we think telling Black boys to marry Black means. "Somehow Black people are taught that to be ethnocentric is to be racist," says Grant. "But to want to be with people who share your values, religion and culture is very normal. It is not anti--anybody else."
Indeed, it seems almost anti-self to want to mate with someone from a culture that has historically denigrated, despised and oppressed you--and continues to do so. "People don't consciously say, `I don't value myself, so I'm going to seek an image outside my culture,' but the choices you make reflect what you believe," Grant explains. "This is why images are so important. Our children must see themselves positively reflected in the world, and if they don't, they start valuing the dominant culture. And when you worship the dominant culture and pay no attention to your own, you're not making choices for your highest good. You're confused."
As Maxwell C. Manning, an assistant professor of social work at Howard University, points out, "If you look at strong cultures, like the Jews, you'll find they have a high rate of marrying within their group. That's how they remain strong." Manning, who says he would be surprised if his own 21-year-old son "walked in the door with a White woman," notes that when as a young man he dated several White women, his parents were very upset. "That told me I should never think about marrying White," he recalls.
"I really wanted to be connected to my community," he continues. "Carrying the name and the culture is so important, and I think that would have been more difficult had I married a White woman." The expectations of Manning's parents no doubt influenced his choosing a Black woman when it came time to marry, just as his expectations for his son may well lead him to choose a Black woman as his wife.
How parents communicate to their children the importance of marrying within the group will vary, whether it's an in-your-face admonishment like the kind I've always given my stepson, or simply letting your child know, as Manning's parents did, that you're not pleased when he dates White girls. What's most important, says Manning, "is that we communicate to children what our values are. And one of the values should be to marry within the race to further our heritage and our culture."
But culture and heritage are only two factors in a complicated race equation. For me it's just as important that Ugo affirm the beauty and desirability of Black women by choosing to marry one. When he zeroed in on that little Black girl at the jukebox many years ago, he was displaying what I thought was natural--an instinctive attraction to someone who looked like him. But according to experts, by age 7, Black children have already been bombarded by media images that can negatively shape how they view themselves and the partners you'd think they would naturally be drawn to.
That's why it's so important that we constantly affirm our children, helping them to appreciate their own intelligence, beauty and strength. Whether it's in the artwork on your walls, the posters in your child's room or the books and magazines lying around the house, positive Black media images should be as integral a part of a Black child's life as the images coming in through television, videos and other media.
Fortunately for Ugo, his African grandmother and mother and his Afrocentric Black American father have all contributed to his being grounded in a strong Black identity. But that doesn't mean he hasn't also been shaped by seeing his two handsome Black male cousins have relationships and children with White women. So I try to be as relentless in countering the White-is-right images he's assaulted with as our society has been in perpetuating them.
Clearly, one of the most insistent images going is that White women are the most beautiful and therefore should be the most desired. If you buy into this notion, then Black women can never be fully prized--and this is the message we get every time a brother dates or marries a woman who is not Black. Maybe we shouldn't take such behavior personally, but it's damn hard not to. Black women are more likely than women of any other race to remain without a partner. So when Black men marry out of the race, it not only further diminishes the number of brothers available to Black women, but it also undermines our very confidence as desirable women. I don't want this to be a message Ugo ever sends out. He knows that if he wants to keep Mommy Audrey happy, he will bring me home a Black girl.
This is the message senior marketing executive Valerie Williams has also given her 15-year-old son. "I tell him I want to have grandchildren who look like me," says Williams, who is frank on racial matters. "I don't want to be sitting around the dinner table at Thanksgiving feeling I have to bite my tongue." Nor does Williams think it's possible to escape issues of race and White supremacy in interracial unions, no matter how great the love may be. "I don't care what anybody says," she argues, "there's not a White person in America who doesn't feel superior to a former slave. Why would I want my son to marry someone who will probably always subconsciously feel she's better than him just because she's White?"
We often forget that relationships are also built on economic foundations and that Black-earned money leaves the community whenever a Black man marries out of the race. This is what rankles whenever we see wealthy Black athletes, entertainers or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies choose to lay their riches at the feet of White women by marrying them. So I have no doubt what motivated the Black publisher's wife to insist all those years ago that her three sons never think about marrying out of the race. Her husband had spent half his life building a multimillion-dollar business, and she did not want the wealth he would leave to his sons to pass out of Black hands. The publisher's wife was very clear about that. And her sons all married beautiful Black women and gave her beautiful Black grandchildren who look like her and will keep the money where it should be--in the Black family. In the Black community.
Last spring, while touring with Ugo the predominantly White college he would attend in the fall, I felt a moment of panic. Too many of the White girls, it seemed, were grinning in his direction. He is 19 now, strapping, handsome and a magnet for women of other races who find Black men as irresistible as we do. "Ugo," I instinctively blurted out, clutching his arm. "Please. Bring me home--" "Don't worry," he interrupted, putting his arm around me with calm reassurance. "I will."
Audrey Edwards is an ESSENCE contributing writer.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Essence Communications, Inc. in association with The Gale Group and LookSmart. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group