The Spinster's Tale

Melissa Harris-Lacewell tackles Nightline's silly entry into "It's miserable to be a black woman" series:

Like other discussions in the genre, the Nightline special began with the Disney-inspired assumption that marriage is an appropriate and universal goal for women. Any failure to achieve marriage must therefore be pathological. With this starting assumption panelists were encouraged to offer solutions without needing to fully articulate why low marriage rates are troubling. 

Perhaps marriage is shorthand for describing loving partnerships. In this case the problem is that some African American women have a pressing and unfulfilled desire for emotional attachment, companionship, and love in the context of committed heterosexual relationships. This is reasonable human expectation. It is one that many men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds share. In a nation where we assert that citizens have an inalienable right to pursue happiness we might even argue (although it is a stretch) that this desire is essentially newsworthy. 

However, given the distortions of or absence of black women in most mainstream media outlets we are skeptical that Nightline was primarily motivated by a desire to address the human needs of African American women. Instead, we suspect marriage is a trope for other anxieties about respectability, economic stability, and the maintenance of patriarchy. Which social issue appears on the public agenda is never accidental. In this moment of economic crisis, social change and racial transformation it is meaningful that black women are being encouraged to exclusively embrace traditional models of family and to view themselves as deficient if their lives do not fit neatly into these prescribed roles.

My thinking is that much of mainstream media is ill-equipped to discuss race as its actually lived by actual people. It's very hard to deal with the fact that if you stop thirty black women on the street, in thirty different areas of the country, and ask them about their dating life, you will get a span of answers that make it hard to construct anything resembling a narrative. Confronted with that, media simply takes the latest socio-economic stats, convenes a panel of talkers and tries to get at some kind of truth.

I always find that living as a black male is much easier than listening to other people talk about how hard it is to live as a black male. I suspect the same for black women. I don't mean to minimize racism or sexism, but engaging societal forces from the perspective of entertainment just doesn't help. I feel bad. I liked Steve Harvey.