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Opinions of Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi

America, here I come – where are all the black girls?

Some time ago in the late 70s, the chiefs of the Nkonya Traditional Area in the Volta Region issued an ultimatum to all the young women of marriageable age (Nkonya girls had a reputation then, I don’t know if they still do) in the area to get married or face dire consequences. The Weekly Spectator’s cartoonist (or was it some other newspaper?) took it up in a funny drawing in which he showed a civil servant in Accra who had packed his bags and was heading somewhere. When his friends asked him where he was going, he said to Nkonya to get a girl to marry. It was his last chance.

I am doing the same thing as the Accra civil servant. But I am packing my bags from my European capital and heading to the US (not to Canada like Benjamin Tawiah who, anyway, is one of my favourite writers on ghanaweb). I am going to get a black girl after reading Lexington’s column in The Economist on the subject of lonely black women in America some weeks ago. Lexington presented some very grim statistics about black girls in the US. Ok, we have known this for a long time but that doesn’t make the statistics any less grim.

Lexington quoted statistics showing the wide imbalance in the marriage market between black girls and boys. One black man in nine between the ages of 20 and 29 is behind bars. Only one in 150 black girls in the same age is behind bars. Between 1970 and 2007, the proportion of US-born black women aged 30-44 who were married plunged from 62% to 33%. 70% of black babies are born out of wedlock. In 2007 only 11% of US born black women (30-44 years) without a higher school diploma had a working spouse. Other figures have it that more African-American young men die of homicide than of any other cause with black on black crime taking a sizeable percentage of this. Black males are 48 times more likely to be locked up for drug offences than white juveniles. And once a black youth gets in, he’s done for, and for life.

Much of the rest of this piece is drawn on the contributions of the online readers of The Economist to Lexington’s article. I must first say a word about these contributions. There were 391 wonderful contributions some of them even better than the article that gave rise to them. Not a single one contained any insults. Those who didn’t agree with the writer just stated their disagreements without insulting him. What a relief to be away from ghanaweb! Of course, the editors of The Economist will be on the prowl, plucking off any abusive contributions. Oh, how I wish ghanaweb could also do that.

Lexington concluded his article by saying that “the simplest way to help the black family would be to lock up fewer black men for non-violent crimes”. This was pounced on by many, obviously white, readers who were of the opinion that the better way would be for black men to commit less crimes. But is locking up fewer blacks really the answer?

That the black woman in the US is in serious trouble is something most of the contributors agreed on. Black women are consistently the group that gets the least responses on dating websites. Someone gives an evolutionary explanation: women of all races are physically attracted to black men to a greater extent than women of all races are to, say, Asian men given the same socio-economic factors. This contributor also thinks the “male heterosexual eye” finds the average white female body more attractive than that of the black woman whom poverty has made obese. Another chipped in that “black women tend to be heavier than their white counterparts – at all ages and increasingly so approaching and beyond about 30”.

Some of the commentators suggested that incarceration is not the only reason for the lonely black woman. There is also homosexuality, strip clubs, mental illness, drugs and the sheer fear of commitment on the part of black boys. Other reasons given for the anomaly are more sombre. One person even tried to blame the victim: why do black women so quickly and easily forgive black men’s infidelities, abusiveness and irresponsibility in taking care of children?

It looks like despite America’s longer experience with blacks, the marriage market is more racially segregated in America than in Europe. But then one can argue that it is just that long experience of black and white in America that has made the rules so strong, rigid and difficult to change. This is an experience European did not have. They were never faced with making laws specifically doing away with racism against blacks. Today, in England, 30 per cent of black males have white partners. White females who have an issue with a black male can’t go back to a white male but must find another black male – a phenomenon common all over Europe. And these white women are not necessarily “white trash”.

There are some who believe the system is designed to keep blacks down. A single black woman can make 40,000 a year (AFDC, food stamps, Medicaid, WIC, school lunches, housing, etc.) If she marries a painter earning 30,000, their combined income is 70,000. But once they are married, the woman loses all her benefits and their combined income becomes 30,000. Another says that as female earning power is going up and social services are increasingly subsidized, the reasons for women getting married are decreasing.

One angry black man complains that they (the black men) are never asked why they don’t marry the black women. He thinks many of them “shy from marriage because they think it will simply be another form of slavery!” Huh! Another thinks it is incorrect to call these women single since they are having sex, anyway. It is only that they are not married. One contributor actually complained that he cannot see all these lonely girls they are talking about. Where are they? His complaint informs the title to my piece.

Several solutions were suggested. A popular one is for black women to marry people from other races. It looks like black women are raised up to look for a husband from their own race. Once they give up this belief and open up their possibilities to whites, there will be more competition for them and the black man will find himself in not so high a demand as before – kindergarten economics of supply and demand. But there are hidden problems here. There is this fact that “black women are not being pursued by white males (men of other races)!” Men don’t find black women attractive. “The majority of white men are not interested in black women” is the way an “attractive overweight black woman” put it. How she expects to be attractive when she is overweight, she didn’t say! Another says white men like to have sex with black women but do not want to marry them.

Another popular solution is to ask the more educated ones to “date downwards” (the postman, for example). Even this also has its difficulties. While men may find no problem in dating downwards, women find it more difficult to do the same. Even if they want to, the guys downstream won’t date up because “it emasculates them”, as one female contributor put it.

Somebody suggested a simple solution – making polygamy legal in the US. There are lots of benefits with wealthy men who have more than one wife. After all, evolutionary psychology has made a strong case for the fact that monogamous cultures are really freaks of nature. A woman has a greater chance of passing her genes on to posterity in a polygynous relationship with a man who can cater for her and her progeny than in a monogamous relationship with a ne’er do well. But what if polygamy is allowed and it is just the most useless but sweet-talking men who take on two or three wives? And should women too be allowed to marry more than one man even if that does not make genetic sense?

Someone’s suggestion is for the black woman to go to Africa and get a man from there. She says these men want to come to the US, they are hardworking, had decent father figures in their childhood, and “they like fatter women”. All the black woman has to do is to be willing to support them in the US while they learn a trade or go to school. But going to Africa is something worn-out European women have known long ago as they troop to Gambia and North Africa to find young men willing to do anything to come to Europe. And what is that thing about our liking fatter women? Oh yes, for nkrataa. Yes.

Amidst all this discussion is the forgotten story of all the many black men and women who have actually gotten their acts together and made bliss of conjugal life. One black woman contributor said she actually wrote a thesis on the subject which shows that black women don’t go to school because they don’t expect a man to be there to pay the bills but because they are not planning to depend on that.

Another “college educated, professional, well paid unmarried Black Woman” complained about the “Success Penalty” which is the idea that while many black women were busy trying to develop themselves into the type of quality individual they’d want as a spouse, they ended up alienating many eligible (non-incarcerated) Black men. The epitome of the lonely high black woman achiever has been Condoleeza Rice whose résumé was described as so huge it is bursting at the seams. And yet she’s paid a big “Success Penalty” for all her hard work and success. Life is unfair, or is it fair? It is true that there is an increasing number of successful black females, “rich, intelligent, black, female” (and married with children) but she is still a rarity that has to be celebrated.

There was a long discussion between two contributors about the deleterious effects of slavery and racism on today’s blacks versus the fact that equally poor, disadvantaged and discriminated against Jews, Poles, Italians, Irish, Chinese, Japanese etc. came to the US and moved into the middle class within a generation or two whereas blacks were still stuck at the bottom. But that argument is too involved to go into here.

As for me, I am fed up with all the naïve and stupid blue-eyed blonds here. I am coming to the USA for an African-American. No, not one from Africa. For that, I know where to go. I live in a country where a former Prime Minister once said in an interview in the US that his countrymen and women like marrying since they do it several times. Today, he is living in retirement at his country home with his third woman (still counting). One should never give up. My bags are packed. It was only the volcanic smoke over Europe that stayed my hands. But I am not giving up since hope, as the old saying goes, springs eternal.

Kofi Amenyo (