I’ve been preaching a series on marriage at our church, and in preparing for the series I stumbled across this book on Amazon. Like you the provocative title caught my eye, and so a few days later I found myself immersed in its pages.
Ralph Richard Banks has written a disturbing assessment of the African American family. A professor at Stanford University, Dr. Banks has provided us with a heart breaking diagnoses on the state of the Black family. For example, he writes:
“Over the past half century, African Americans have become the most unmarried people in our nation. By far. We are the least likely to marry and the most likely to divorce; we maintain fewer committed and enduring relationships than any other group. Not since slavery have black men and women been as unpartnered as we are now” (p.2).
Of course any diagnoses of the crises in the African American community would have to deal with the absence of strong Black men:
“Black women of all socioeconomic classes remain single in part because the ranks of black men have been decimated by incarceration, educational failure and economic disadvantage. In recent years, two black women have graduated college for every one black man. Two to one. Every year. As a result, college educated black women are more likely than college educated women of other races to remain unmarried or to wed a less educated man who earns less than they do” (pages 2-3).
The fifty-percent failure rate in marriage has become a popular statistic, but in the African American community the divorce rate is close to two-thirds! It’s no wonder I found myself at various points in Dr. Banks’ book fighting back tears.
As the book progresses Dr. Banks dives into the question of why? Why are strong homes particularly rare in the Black community? The absence of strong men, interracial relationships, the educational and therefore the economic disparity, the disproportionate amount of available women to men, have all swung the pendulum in favor of the few viable African American men. Aware of this power, Dr. Banks offers, these available men play the field, sadder still, the women allow themselves to be played.
The result is devastating. Dr. Banks notes that, “Most alarmingly, almost half of all Black women have herpes” (p.64).
He goes onto write:
“According to incidence rates provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women are nearly fifteen times as likely as white women to be newly infected with HIV. And they are more likely than white women to have contracted the disease through heterosexual contact. Estimates are that more than three out of every four HIV+ black women have been infected through sex with a man. And because women may pass the virus on to their newborns, African American children comprise nearly two-thirds of all HIV+ young children in the United States” (p.65).
Sadly, everyone knows that a tributary of the marriage crisis is abortion, and that is heightened even more in the African American community:
“Years of national abortion statistics reflect troubling racial disparities. Black women have a disproportionate number of abortions in the United States, as a black woman is four to five times as likely as a white woman to have an abortion in any given year. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans, who constitute 13 percent of our nation’s female population, have more than one out of three abortions. Each year black women abort have a million fetuses. That figure exceeds the annual number of African Americans who are sent to prison, drop out of high school, or are victimized by violent crime” (pages 80-81).
Is Marriage for White People? provides the reader with a simple diagnoses, it’s just an Xray, with no real solutions being offered. Problems are exposed, yet help is not suggested. In an ironic sense I felt myself both devastated and inspired as I pored over the pages of Dr. Banks’ text.
Marriage is the first institution God created. Before government or the church, there was Adam and Eve. He planted this married couple in the garden and gave them authority to exercise dominion, and to be fruitful and multiply. Years later, as Israel was about to go into the Promised Land, Moses instructed them in the great Shema passage that the primary vehicle of influence in this pagan place was to be the family (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Dr. Tony Evans was right when he said that the primary venue for the transference of faith from one generation to the next is the home. Of course I am not pitting the church against the home, but it’s undeniable that Jesus, Paul and the leaders of the early church understood that there was an inextricable connection between strong churches and strong families (Matthew 19; Ephesians 5). Our churches need a steady diet of teaching on the family. Crisis counseling is not enough. Our people need to be shown consistently, from the Scriptures, God’s hopes and dreams for the home.
Is Marriage for White People? not only inspired my preaching, but my living as well. By God’s grace I want to be an example of an African American man who loves his wife for life. I want to love Korie as Christ loved the church. I want to show up for my kids, and uphold the vows that I took before God and the presence of several hundred witnesses on that warm Southern California July day in 1999.