Unmarried, accomplished black women are an anomaly to mainstream America. Not unmarried white women or asian women or light-skinned Latinas. Just the black ones.
So self-help articles are written, listing the things that these sorts of women should do to catch a man, providing examples of relationships that “beat the odds” to encourage them to alter their appearances, their attitudes, themselves.
The way black actresses who attended Sunday’s Emmy awards have been written about is a testament to the lie that has been perpetrated, that “having it all” is more difficult for black women than for anyone else.
Kerry Washington’s relationship has been idolized and so has Viola Davis’, because, God, this doesn’t happen often does it? And what are they doing that the rest of us can’t seem to figure out?
Writers suggest that it’s because black women are angry, they’re too much. Black women jump too high and run too fast through the cultural obstacles barring them from rising to the top and they apply that same attitude to dating. Perhaps, a list of the top five things a woman needs to do to be more submissive would help those black women to tone it down a little, finally snap in the last piece of the puzzle: husband.
On Sunday, Viola Davis won an Emmy for her mind-blowing performance as Annalise Keating in Shonda Rhymes’ How to Get Away with Murder and on Tuesday I agreed to write about her position as an accomplished black woman who is engaged in a successful relationship, an “anomaly.”
Just like us, Davis has been subjected to the standards that judge black women’s achievement in this country.
In 2013, Davis described being incredibly lonely in a Us Weekly article and praying for, then meeting her husband, Julius Tennon, the man she wanted.
To me, it seemed like a pretty pointless article but let me tell you why I believe it was considered noteworthy.
The interest here is that after years of subtly suggesting to high-achieving black women that they must navigate some sort of marriage crisis, and that they should become a little easier to swallow in order to meet a mate; it was the darkest woman, with the kinkiest hair and a slew of unapologetically raw roles in her repertoire who got the perfect man.
It was the woman who didn’t follow the rules set by the dominant culture, a person whose husband says he has been thrilled to “see her be all of who she is.”
She is a woman whose book we can all take a page from and, in my opinion, while it’s wonderful that she’s in a fulfilling relationship and she seems to be getting everything she wants, it isn’t her relationship that makes her incredible. It’s her willingness to be her complete, unedited self; a decision which, ironically, contributed to her romantic happiness even though magazine articles tell women that’s impossible every day.
I spoke to successful, unmarried black women who talked about meeting men who were unsuitable because they lacked drive or were unwilling to commit. These same women also talked about the possibility that dating mistakes were the cause of their singleness.
“I used to think I was intimidating,” one said.
But, as it turns out, the crisis of the successful, but tragically unmarried, black woman isn’t a crisis at all. Even though we’re panicking about this problem in 2015, a New York Times article on the topic debunked the myth of the unmarried black woman back in 2011.
“A look at recent census data will tell you that the 70 percent we keep hearing about has been misconstrued. According to 2009 data from the Census Bureau, 70.5 percent of black women in the United States had never been married — but those were women between the ages of 25 and 29. Black women marry later, but they do marry. By age 55 and above, those numbers showed, only 13 percent of black women had never been married. In fact, people who have never married in their lifetimes are in the clear minority, regardless of race.”
-“Black, Female and Single,” NY TIMES, 2011
So, is this really about the mainstream media being deeply empathetic to the future spinsters of black America, or is it about the fact that mainstream society loves knocking disenfranchised people off of the pedestals they are forced to claw and scrape to climb atop? The longer they’ve been pulling themselves up, the better?
Perhaps this is just another way of saying, no matter how many books you’ve written, no matter how many barriers you’ve broken or much-deserved Emmys you’ve won, Black Woman, it is still up to the man who marries you to define you as successful. So stop being so fucking incredible, because he’s probably not going to like that.
Remember, you’re still beneath somebody.
It almost goes without saying that men have the privilege of living without a storm cloud of singleness perpetually pouring down on their happiness. The unnecessary pressure is unloaded onto women to find a husband who will make their success real. For God’s sake, miniseries are made about it.
But relationships aren’t that easy.
They’re not goals and they’re not accomplishments, they’re experiences. Albeit, gorgeous and sometimes life-long experiences, but winning an Emmy is not on par with being somebody’s wife. Even if she’s a really, really good wife.
Adelia Gibson, the only professional I spoke to who agreed to being identified by name, said this after discussing her dating woes:
“I am only settling for the perfect me. Any, and everything else becomes secondary. I don’t think marriage equates success and neither does the perfect career. I do want a relationship but not at the cost of my dreams, nor do I want to be the expense someone pays on the path to theirs.”
Talented black women should not be shamed into submission by the threat of being alone, especially when the trials they experience are simply a universal part of the dating process. The reality is, they are not at any more of a risk for remaining unmarried than anyone else, and even if they were, as Adelia said, coupling is not a sign of success, being one’s self is.