In September 2003 the
Brookings Institution released the report, Work
and Marriage: The Way to End Poverty and Welfare. The
first specious premise of the report is that advocates of the
poor have spent too much time demanding increases in public assistance
funding instead of demanding increases in employment. It is news
to me that activists have not asked for full employment. It has
been a constant rallying point for progressives for decades.
title of the report also gives away its second premise, that
the poor need to get
married more often. We could have dispensed with the Great Society
programs, the War on Poverty and years of debate about how to
help the poor. More trips to the altar would have been enough.
keeping with the simplistic nature of their work the authors
make the case that
there are enough men to go around in order for this oh so simple
plan to work. But there is just one hitch, and that is the propensity
of black men to die young or go to jail. We have ruined the author’s
argument that there are enough men for every woman, which is
apparently the magic bullet that supersedes any and all social
or economic problems that cause poverty in our nation.
a few exceptions, we find no shortage of unmarried men
for these women to marry.
The major exception is within the African-American population
where there is a shortage of potential mates in some age
and education categories. This shortage may be the result
of the large number of young minority men who are incarcerated
or dead or
it may reflect the difficulty the Census Bureau has in finding
and interviewing minority men in lower-income communities.”
The dead and incarcerated
are hard to find? These think tanks will certainly make you think.
As I pondered the problem of well intentioned but useless studies
I made a discovery that caused me to retract some of my criticism.
The Brookings Institution at least acknowledged that serious
problems make family formation difficult in the black community.
Of course they neglect to tell us how to keep young black men
from being incarcerated or killed prematurely but they recognize
the problems exist. Thank goodness for small favors.
On September 17th a
group including prominent conservatives such as Pennsylvania
Senator Rick Santorum held a press conference on the subject
of family life. Santorum recently made comments comparing homosexuality
with bigamy, polygamy and incest.
Some of those in attendance would not ordinarily be associated
with Santorum and the right wing. Walter Fauntroy was one of
those people. Fauntroy is an ordained minister and former Washington,
D.C. delegate to the House of Representatives. He was also a
founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rev. Fauntroy
has joined forces with Santorum and other social conservatives
on the issue of gay
Fauntroy has become
a spokesperson for a group called Alliance
for Marriage. Thanks to the foresight of the Alliance for
Marriage and the wisdom of President Bush, October 12th through
the 18th has been declared Marriage
Protection Week. I had no idea that marriage needed to be
defended but apparently it does and so like school lunches, small
business and volunteerism it needs its own week as well.
According to the Alliance,
not only is marriage under assault, but the assault has worsened
because some gay people want to get married. As you will see
on the Alliance web site, we need a constitutional amendment
to prevent gay marriage and we need awards,
lots of awards. If we just had more award ceremonies celebrating
marriage, then the black family unit would be in great shape.
My parents recently
celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. It was a wonderful
affirmation of their life together and the blessings we have
shared as a family. However, I was under the impression that
the stresses unique to black life and the struggles that all
couples face worked against their commitment to maintain a strong
family unit. It did not occur to me that their long life together
was ever in jeopardy because of gay people.
have looked long and hard to find issues that would make
their ideology attractive
to black people. I never believed that these efforts to
include blacks were ever more than window dressing used to
right wing causes. The Alliance for Marriage is no exception.
Its website is quite illuminating. It never passes up an
opportunity to show smiling black families or to mention that
Fauntroy is “former
D.C. coordinator for the March on Washington for Martin Luther
King.” Those are impressive credentials to be sure. I
do wonder however, if conservatives ever embrace connections
with Dr. King
under any other circumstance.
found it interesting that this effort features black families
so prominently. Conservative
opposition to gay rights efforts is well known. Why do they need
black faces in the picture? Once again we see the twisted mind
of American racism at work. The mistreatment of black Americans
is accepted as the worst example of injustice in our country.
The struggle of every aggrieved group is compared to that of
black people. If black people can be placed in the forefront
of efforts to prevent gay marriage then obviously it isn’t the
civil rights issue its supporters claim it to be.
social changes and subsequent challenges that began in the
1960s are still being
dealt with today. Unfortunately our Puritan heritage prevents
us from confronting these changes in any meaningful way. It often
causes us to disavow things we enjoy, things like divorce. We
are quite happy to dispense with the social pressures that kept
unhappy couples together, but believe we shouldn’t feel that
way. So we keep divorcing but feel guilty about it. The result
is Marriage Protection Week. Those Puritans have a lot to answer
here we are with high divorce rates, increasing numbers of
single parent families,
and gay people coming out of the closet. All of these trends
are difficult for us to confront for a variety of reasons. It
is not easy to accept homosexuality or divorce if one’s religious
tradition condemns them. Unfortunately the response to this discomfort
is to extol traditions many of us have already rejected because
they no longer work in our lives.
issue of gay rights is one that has been particularly
troublesome for black Americans.
We are less likely to accept even the existence of homosexuality.
We now have the phenomenon of men who regularly have
sex with other men but don’t think of themselves as being gay. That incredible
degree of denial is partly responsible for disproportionately
high rates of HIV and the perpetuation of attitudes in our community
that are extremely harmful to us all.
Brookings Institution study and many others before it clearly
show the benefits of
stable two-parent families. I will give the conservatives a nod
and admit that many people resist acknowledging these benefits
because to do so seems retrograde and well, too conservative.
I hope that the Alliance for Marriage also addresses the fact
that while marriage increases family income, the effect is far
less pronounced for black families. Are the prominent blacks
chosen for the Alliance web site going to talk about how institutional
racism causes economic and social problems that contribute to
the weakening of the black family? I look forward to that press
conference and I hope that Senator Santorum is in attendance.
is the second Freedom Rider column written by Margaret Kimberley. It
will appear weekly in . Ms.
Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City. She
can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected]. You
can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com/