Stanford Law Professor Argues Black Women Should Cross Race Barrier For Marriage Partners


Publish Date:
September 11, 2011
San Jose Mercury News
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Professor Rick Banks spoke with Lisa M. Krieger of the San Jose Mercury News about his new book, “Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone” and explained how black women are the most unmarried group of people in our nation.

A provocative new book by Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks examines why black women are so unlikely to marry — and proposes a solution that is arousing controversy in the African-American community: Cross the color line.

“Don’t marry down. Marry out,” says Banks in his campus office, busy with phone calls, emails and preparation for the new semester. The shared experience that once bound blacks together — segregation — is gone, he asserts. “So it all coalesces around this …: whether black women will continue to be held hostage to the failings of black man.”

“It’s a good thing to get married, I think, if you find someone you want to be with,” says Banks, who attended elementary school with Eberhardt in inner-city Cleveland. “I did find that person.”

He speaks from personal experience; two of Banks’ three sisters — “intelligent, beautiful and educated” — are unmarried. In fact, black women are the most unmarried group of people in our nation. They’re only half as likely as white women to be married, and more than three times as likely as white women never to marry, according to his analyses.

“Black women face the thinnest pool of same-race partners of any group in the country,” he says.

It wasn’t always so. Through the middle of the 20th century, about nine out of 10 black women married. Now black women are about half as likely to be married as their 1950s counterparts. White adults are also more likely to be single today than in the past. But marriage has diminished more among African-Americans than among any other Americans.

And when they do marry, black women are more likely to marry men with substantially less education or less income, Banks says.

“It’s not an advice book,” he cautions. “The goal is to enable a conversation that has been squelched. And expand the freedom of black women to make choices that are right choices for them.

“A Stanford student will find more in common with the guy sitting next to her in a seminar, than some working-class guy in Oakland,” he says.

“But there is a lot of policing of black women,” he adds, “controlling them through pop culture messages — that you should ‘stick with the black man first,’ that ‘the black man needs your help.’ That leaves people feeling less free than they need to be.”

Oakland-based L. Jeanine Phillips, 28, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology, a passion for reading and a rewarding career as an operations manager for an upscale firm, says Banks’ analysis rings true.

“I have dated and even married a black man in the past,” says Phillips, vice president of the Bay Area chapter of the Sistas Book Club. “After endless bad relationships — all seeming to stem from black men’s egos and inability to keep their penis in their pants, also coming from broken homes — I have decided to go on hiatus from black men and only date out of my race.

“And thus far it has been a success. I am currently dating a great white man” with a degree from UC-Davis, she says, “who seems to appreciate me, respect me, and we match equally educationally and culturally. We have the same religious beliefs. And it’s a major bonus that we share the same family values.”

“I want them to be happy, whoever they’re with,” Banks says. “It’s hard to make a relationship work. Compatibility now is more about class and background and experiences and aspirations and values than about race.”

“I’d tell them: ‘If you find someone who is purple, and it works, go for that.’ “

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