Archive for June, 2011

Carolyn Edgar on NPR’s “Tell Me More”

June 30, 2011

On June 29, I had the pleasure of appearing on National Public Radio’s “Tell Me More” to discuss the forthcoming book by Stanford Law Professor Ralph Richard Banks, “Is Marriage For White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone.” I discussed this book in my post “Single Black Women,” and I am one of several women Banks interviewed for the book. This subject continues to touch some raw nerves, as evidenced by comments on both the NPR site and my own blog (note to anyone reading the transcript: the term is “code switching,” not “coat switching.” I hope the transcription error has been corrected). But I believe continued dialogue and debate – led by the black women and men who represent this paradigm, not media personalities and actors – is healthy and necessary. Enjoy, and feel free to post your comments.

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/29/137499303/author-tells-black-women-marry-out-not-down

Single Black Women

June 26, 2011

Stanford Law School Professor Ralph Richard Banks’ new book, “Is Marriage For White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone” is once again stirring the debate about the declining marriage rate among black women and what, if anything, should be done about it.

Although some are already looking at Banks’ book at yet another rehashing of the same old tired subject, I’m excited about the book’s upcoming release. Banks is a Harvard Law School classmate, and we’ve had several conversations about his motivations for writing the book, his research and his conclusions. Although I haven’t yet read the book, I’m hoping it provides an opportunity to take this discussion into a different direction.

Far too often, the discussion of single black women devolves into an analysis of what’s wrong with black women and why no one wants us. According to Satoshi Kanazawa’s infamous Psychology Today blog post, we’re not attractive. Jimi Izrael, in his book The Denzel Principle, said we’re too picky.  Even Banks concludes that we ought to consider interracial dating more than we do.

Apart from Kanazawa – whose article has been so thoroughly debunked it’s not even worth discussing anymore – the other suggestions are too simplistic. Perhaps some black women are too picky. Perhaps some black women should expand their dating horizons. But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Personally, I believe women who want to get married, ultimately will find someone to marry. If a black woman chooses, for cultural and other reasons, to marry only within her race, that’s her choice, and she’s not wrong for making it. If a black woman only wants to date someone 6’5″, with shoulders like Dwight Howard, a smile like Blair Underwood and an income like Michael Jordan – well, good luck with that.

Black women who date and marry men of other races and ethnic groups do so without someone telling them that’s what they should be doing. Many black women are single by choice. And, of course, there are black women who date and marry women, not men.

In any case, I think we’re having the wrong discussion.

Take black female versus black male graduation rates, for example. Twice as many black women as black men graduate from college. Instead of looking at that figure and saying, “Oh no, who are black women going to marry?,” perhaps the more relevant question is, “What can we do to ensure more black men enter and graduate from college?”

There are so many unexplored social, socioeconomic, geopolitical, class and other issues tied up in the declining marriage rate question. I would love to see the discussion move towards a more fulsome exploration of these other factors, which have been present for decades and continue to negatively impact black and other communities of color.

Some have begged for the “single black women” topic to go away entirely. I’m not sure that’s the right answer. These are issues that deserve exploration and study – although “what’s wrong with black women” is not a question anyone ought to be asking. Setting up the discussion in this way is too polarizing. It winds up pitting black women against black men in a way that is entirely unhelpful and unproductive. Reframing the discussion to focus on what’s really underlying the statistics would help take some of the emotion out of it.

In any case, I’m hopeful this time around. I hope more black women are invited to participate in the conversation this time. I look forward to adding my voice. With more black women involved, we’re more likely to come up with solutions that go beyond “upgrade him” and “date a white guy.”

Father’s Day For Single Black Moms: Going Too Far?

June 23, 2011

On the heels of my Father’s Day post discussing why I, as a single mom, do not want Father’s Day greetings, we get the news that Hallmark Cards is marketing a Father’s Day card specifically aimed at single black mothers.

This is problematic for any number of reasons. But even if you agree with the practice of single mothers celebrating Father’s Day, why target black single moms? Is this stereotyping? Smart marketing? Or an uneasy mix of both?

I Am Not the Father

June 19, 2011

Lately, it’s become fashionable to wish single mothers Happy Father’s Day.

Miss me with that.

I am a single mother raising two kids alone. I do it by necessity, since my kids’ father has chosen, for the most part, to be absent from their lives since our divorce.

I also do it a little bit by choice. Some women in my shoes would have initiated a search for Mr. Stepdad a long time ago. Marrying a man for the sole purpose of providing my kids with a replacement father does not interest me in the least.

Being a single mother does not also make me a single father. Or some type of mother-father hybrid. I am a woman, and I can only approach parenting from a woman’s perspective. I grew up with my father and mother, but my mother was the more dominant influence in our home. For better or worse, I adopted her style of parenting even when I was married.

The notion that a woman raising children by herself is acting as both mother and father is misguided and harmful. It does a disservice to all of the fathers – including the single fathers – who are also working hard, every day, to raise their children. We single mothers enjoy the appreciation, but on Father’s Day, fathers, not mothers, deserve all the love.

My kids do benefit from positive male influences. Unfortunately, their father isn’t one. I don’t live near my family, so my children don’t have uncles and older male cousins who take the place of their absent father in providing this influence. They do have teachers. coaches, their friends’ fathers, and my significant other.

None of them can take the place of a loving, caring father, but my ex-husband is not a loving, caring father. They wouldn’t have a nuturing dad in their lives even if their dad were still around. A psychotherapist told me recently, if the absent parent does substantial damage to the child when he or she is present, it is better for that parent to remain absent. My children are not better off without a father, but they are better off without a father who is still so hurt from his own childhood that he inflicts pain upon his own children almost without knowing.

I am not a hero. I am not “holding it down.” I’m doing what I have to do. I take care of my children because I’m supposed to.

I take care of my kids because I love them and I need them and they need me. I do it alone because their father is unwilling and unable to participate. That doesn’t mean I fill both roles.

I am a mother. That’s more than enough.

So while I appreciate the acknowledgment of single mothers on Father’s Day, don’t wish me a Happy Father’s Day. I am a lot of things to my kids, but a father is most certainly not one of them.

One Last Shot

June 12, 2011

Louisa Thomas’s elegant synopsis in the Paris Review of the 2011 French Open final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, got me thinking about sports and age.

I’m a big Rafael Nadal fan, and was happy he won. It was, for the most part, an exciting match. But I also love Federer’s game. It has been hard to watch him these last few years as he has fallen from invincibility. Federer still has plenty of beautiful tennis left, and still has what it takes to beat most of the guys on tour. Against Nadal, though, he can’t quite get it done. You can sense his frustration as mentally, he knows what to do, but his body refuses to fully cooperate.

The 2011 NBA Finals have featured the team everyone expected to be there – the Miami Heat – and a team not many expected to see in the finals – the Dallas Mavericks. Both are teams of seasoned veterans. LeBron James famously left Cleveland this year to join Dwyane Wade in Miami for the purpose of winning another NBA Championship for the Heat.

In contrast, the Mavericks feature a bunch of guys who are nearing their “sell by” dates, including Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic, alongside the brilliant Dirk Nowitzki. Although Miami is down in the series 3-2, there are those who still believe Miami will achieve its goal by pushing the series to a Game 7 and then winning it all.

For my part, just as I did watching Federer-Nadal, I’m pulling for the old guys. You get the sense that this is Kidd’s and Nowitzki’s last best hope for an NBA Championship ring. Nowitzki is playing with a level of heart and soul that some, after his previous championship losses, claimed he didn’t have. After all those cringe-worthy shots Kidd took in New Jersey, he has finally developed a reliable open jumper. Both Kidd and Nowitzki have sealed their NBA legacies with their playoff performances this year. But you don’t get the sense that either one has another championship run left in him.

So let’s hope 2011 is the year of the legends in basketball and tennis. LeBron and D. Wade will have many more opportunities. For Kidd and Nowitzki, this probably is it.

In tennis, although Federer lost to Nadal at the French, Wimbledon is right around the corner. The Williams Sisters, who have been plagued by injuries and out of tennis since last year, are due to return to the tour for Wimbledon. They, too, are no longer young phenoms. One hopes at least one of the Williams Sisters can recapture a bit of tennis magic and close out the year with a victory in at least one major. It would be great if the clock rolled back at Wimbledon this year, with Federer and one of the Williams Sisters raising the championship trophy yet again.

We fans don’t want our legends to age and leave the sport, but we accept that it happens, just as it happens for all of us. It is painful to watch the greats weaken and get slower, because it reminds us of our own aging process. We pull for the legends to fight back against age just as we fight with our own faulty memories, our aches and pains, our slower reflexes. We fantasize that every great player, no matter what sport, will leave like Pete Sampras did – retiring after winning his last US Open title in 2002.

But even when the legends don’t pull off a Sampras, it’s still great to see them out there, still competing, still giving it their all.

Kids and Money

June 5, 2011

A few years ago, while visiting the home of a friend, I noticed a book on her kitchen counter about raising kids without a sense of entitlement.

It made sense to me that this friend would have such a book. She and her husband, both professionals, are doing well financially. I didn’t think to copy down the name of the book, because I didn’t think I’d ever find myself in their situation. I was still suffering the financial constraints of the newly divorced. “My kids know we operate on a budget,” I said to myself – and by budget, I meant we generally were living paycheck to paycheck. It never dawned on me that my kids would see our situation as anything other than a struggle.

Fast forward five years. My oldest child, my 14-year-old daughter, is now a teen. Like many teens, her tastes exceed my budget. She wants to wear designer jeans. Shopping is a hobby or a fun pastime. She also loves good food (no Mickey Ds for this kid), concerts and Broadway shows.

Nothing wrong with any of that. I raised her to have good taste. Still, there are practical limits to how much of this I can fund.

I tried giving her an allowance, but the concept of saving eluded her. She would spend her allowance and then ask (demand) more for “hanging out.” Paying for chores didn’t make sense – washing dishes and doing the laundry are obligations to be shared by the members of the household, not something one does for remuneration.

I told my daughter to start babysitting for extra money. She did, a few times, but never actively pursued it. When I told her to start tutoring younger kids or find something else to earn some pocket money, she cried and said, “I don’t know how to do anything!”

I sat down with her and went over the household budget with her to the nearest dollar, showing her how my bi-monthly paychecks are spent. She nodded, wide-eyed, but the effect wore off the next time she wanted something and I refused to give it to her.

I can’t do the money battles anymore. Her raging sense of entitlement and utter lack of responsibility and accountability infuriate me. Lecturing doesn’t work. So to teach her some valuable lessons about money, I’ve decided to enroll her in World of Money, a one-week summer program for kids 9-17. World of Money introduces basic financial concepts to kids and helps them begin to understand what spending, saving and investing really mean.

In one week, my daughter will learn as much as possible about banks, interest, the stock and other financial markets, the role of the U.S. Treasury, budgets, and other basic money concepts.

I hope the program has a lasting impact on her. It’s important for all children to learn about how money REALLY works, but I think it is especially important for black children to be exposed to this information. Our kids don’t see us often enough engaged in the acts of saving, investing, budgeting and paying bills. And while I recognize the importance of leading by example, those at-home lessons need a boost from someone who isn’t Mom saying “no” all the the time.

While I may not have the means of my friend’s family, I am fortunate to have moved beyond living paycheck, to taking one or two significant family vacations per year. My kids’ sense of entitlement is out of control, and I need to reign it in this summer. I am going to ask my friend for the name of the book she bought for her family years ago, but I am also open to other suggestions. If any of you readers have thoughts or recommendations about how to teach children, especially teenagers, some valuable and worthwhile lessons about money, please share.

First published on CocoaMamas.com