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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Need a job? Good luck with that!

I am on a search committee yet again; this time we are evaluating applications for an assistant dean’s job. So far there are 79 applications for the position. I started reviewing them today. In a week or so I will get together with the other members of the search committee and share my matrix sheet which will be an evaluation of the candidate based on his/her resume and cover letter.

Today while I was reading them it struck me exactly how random the process is. Much of what is considered when making a decision of who to retain in the pool and who to drop out is objective. The person’s degrees, major, experience, years in the field, etc.,  are all considered, but much of it is subjective as well.Sometimes people just take a liking to an applicant’s letter or resume for no obvious reason. With almost 80 applications I can promise you some of the members of the search committee will probably not read all of the resumes. Of course, one does not read the resumes of those who have only 3 years of experience when 6 are required, or those who have never worked in the field, but are simply desperately looking for a job, any job or those who do not hold the required degree. But, some of the search committee members, unless this search is very different from any other I have been on, will simply skim a few of them, declare those their favorites and away we go.

How much can you learn from the printed word anyway? Remember experts have speculated that virtually everyone lies on his/her resume. Sometimes they are minor exaggerations, sometimes they are truly fairy tales. Unless the candidate gets to the reference and background check stage there is no checking for veracity.  So, we will have to narrow the 79 down to probably around 20 for serious consideration. What criteria will we use? A combination of qualifications, gut instinct and pure whimsy.

I have been on search committees before that when the process got to the stage of cutting the pack down to a manageable number one person was kept in the pool because she lived on a street with the same name as the street one of the committee members house was  on when they grew up. Different city, different state, but same street name. That meant she made the cut. She was not eventually hired, but she made it further than some equally qualified applicants simply because of an accident, a coincidence. I know that people have been eliminated for equally capricious reasons in other searches. One woman was dropped from consideration after an interview because the people interviewing her decided her voice was too loud. She was not yelling or anything, she simply had a strong voice, which seemed to scare them.

Most of the time the members of the search committee truly want to hire the best person. After a few meetings, however, it becomes obvious that unless someone has a true favorite most of the people on the committee simply want to be finished with the task. They do not give a rat’s behind about who is hired. Put another way, there are usually at lest four to five people who would do a fine job, so what difference does it make which of them gets hired?

I have been to six job interviews myself in the past 8 years. All six times I made the finalist list.   Three times I was offered the job ( Hofstra University, University of North Carolina and Hollins University) , three times I was not ( Miami of Ohio, Colgate and Virginia Tech). The reasons given when I inquired why not were all over the board. At one institution it was because I was “too honest!” Yes, they said that! At another I was told that I was the favorite of many, but that there was some concern that I would not be a good fit…whatever that means. I never took it personally. I knew I was lucky to get to the finalist stage and that the eventual hiring would probably have more to do with the perceptions of the people hiring than anything I said, did or anything on my resume/vita.I was sure in at least one case that I was not hired because I had a discussion with some students who were interviewing me when they made a comment I considered inaccurate about a diversity issue. But, I figured, if they do not want to engage in a discussion about something that is not a fact, but an opinion,  then they did not need me there anyway.

I am fascinated by how some people get their jobs, keep their jobs and do their jobs. But, it all boils down to this; given that you all have the same or similar qualifications it is a matter of who they like, period. And who they like has a lot to do with the culture of the institution. Maybe they like them quiet, reserved, maybe they like them lively and spirited, maybe they like them slim, maybe they like them young, maybe they like them white. Unless you are an exemplary example of excellence in your field, you might get hired, you might not.

Even if you are excellent the group doing the hiring has to be comfortable with your level of excellence. Perhaps you are too excellent. I have a colleague that has a JD, an MBA and a PhD. She is working in a job that a person with a high school education could easily do. She is too good, too smart, too scary. Nobody accuses her of being difficult, arrogant, disagreeable, nothing. She is simply intimidating because she is too good, too educated and she makes the people at her college uneasy. True, she is not at a Tier 1 institution, but that seems to make the situation even worse. Her institution could surely use a good person in the office of finance.

So, I guess the point of this post is that if you have a job that matches your talents and you like consider yourself lucky, but understand you may have gotten it for a capricious reason that had nothing to do with your skill set. If you have been turned down for a job, fired or simply cannot seem to get any notice, then realize that it might not be you, it might be the fault of the name of the street you were raised on! 🙂

 

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Another fairly posh affair, another disappointment

Yes, I know I said I need to stay away from important people, but come on readers a reception at the Carolina Inn with all the trimmings, crab cakes, artichoke bites, little canapes I cannot name, cookies, brownies, free wine, coffee and soft drinks, beautiful Christmas decorations. I had to go!

So, I pull up to the CI and am told by the parking attendant that there is no free parking for the event. That means $7 for self-park or $10 for valet. It was raining, so you know which one I took! I did not plan to stay long, but I did not want to go in looking like a drowned rat, and besides, I always valet park at the Inn, of course generally I am eating there and can get my little thingee stamped so that there is no charge. I guess I should have planned to go have a cup of tea at the restaurant and then get my parking stub stamped, but I thought of that too late.

Anyway, I go to this function which was in honor of a man who tries really, really hard not to speak to me when we arrive at work at the same time and see each other in the parking lot. Because I am vertically challenged it is easy to at least pretend to look over my head. At one point I decided he did not like blacks or women, but then a friend went to work for him and he loves her and she loves him and she is black and female, so it must be something more specific. She is, however, a secretary, I suspect that it is because I am a Uppity Black that he is not so comfy with me. Of course it could be that he simply finds me too challenging, me being rather confident and lacking a suck-up gene.

I mainly went to the affair to observe the “important” people at play. It is fascinating to watch what I call the Dance of the Toadies. You can tell how important someone is, or at least how important people think he or she is by how many people run up to greet them and chat them up.This is not sour grapes folks, lots of people run up and chat me up–they are obviously delusional and believe that I am important, boy do I have them fooled!

Anyway, I am always terminally disappointed in the lack of sincerity, genuineness and honesty in the crowd. People who have told me they despise someone will, on occasions like this, give them air kisses and smile and schmooze to beat the band. I have only recently come to understand that part of the climate of big organizations like my campus is being deceitful, perhaps it is even considered an art, it is certainly practiced as much as playing an instrument and it also has its own language which one has to practice.

The nastiest, most evil and disliked person is not evil and disliked, he or she is “difficult” or “uncooperative.” These people are not to be confused with the “aggressive” or “intimidating” people who are often dubbed aggressive or intimidating because they refuse to drink the institutional Kool-Aid and declare all is well when it clearly is not.

On days like this when I see the caliber of people who are “leaders” I begin to wonder how this school, state and country can actually run and survive. The main characteristic that seems to be in vogue is to do nothing, see nothing and say nothing. In other words, the less people know about who you really are the better you will do in your career. Interesting! I wonder if they ever ask themselves if passing as a cipher is amply enough rewarded by their paychecks?

I remember one administrator at a college I worked at who had a similar farewell reception a few years ago. It was poorly attended because the woman was basically an unknown, even though she had worked at the institution for decades. I went because I was curious to see what they were going to say she had done, since I had it on pretty good authority from people who had been working with her for decades that what she did was unremarkable to say the least. Evidently she failed to get tenure on her first try or so and there was at least some belief that when she did get it it was because some strings were pulled on her behalf. She then got a series of administrative jobs, all of which were marked by a remarkable lack of innovation, progress or improvement. But, she never made anyone mad and she never had any kind of controversy associated with her name. She was a zero.

At her farewell the remarks made were vague, general and non-specific. It was not so much a nostalgic send off as an “oh well she is leaving, but we hardly knew she was here.”

Well boys and girls, I do not know when I will be leaving, but when I do, no matter what kind of farewell they give me, whether it is a pink slip and an escort off campus or a lovely reception and a plaque, they will know I was here, and they will know who I was. They will also know that like Frankie I did it MY way. 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Mercy me: Why I need to stay away from important people!

I went to a function this evening that had on the schedule of speakers, a former governor, three chancellors, numerous CEOs of million dollar or billion dollar companies ( we are talking big banks, big pharmaceutical companies, computer software companies, etc.) and a laundry list of who’s who in the big time in my state and the country. At least one cabinet member of the governor’s staff was there as well.

So, you ask, what is the problem, nothing like rubbing elbows with the beautiful people, right? WRONG! This enclave was supposed to have as its topic how to make the South, including NC more competitive in the global market. Included in our documents handed to us, after we had been checked in and vetted by the corporation security at the gate and showed our invitations so they knew we were not some rabble trying to crash, was an essay by a colleague of mine. He outlined several problems the South in general and NC in particular face. I was thrilled to see that he included the following statement: “Third, in order to enhance the region’s human capital and foster entrepreneurship and innovation, we will have to find ways to overcome the remaining historical constraints that have long impeded the South’s progress, particularly in rural areas and in inner cities where the region’s “shadows” are most marked. The most prominent of these constraints, not surprisingly, are related to and, in fact, grow out of the economic and social inequities begat by racial slavery centuries ago.” This was in the News and Observer on November 14th.

Seeing that, and hearing much talk about “human capital” I presumed there would be some kind of nod to the fact that racism, race, privilege, discrimination, etc. is not only an impediment in North Carolina to progress, but might be equally a problem in a global economy. At least four years ago I heard a lecture by the President of Arizona State, in which he maintained that one reason America was falling behind economically, especially in foreign markets and trade was that we were arrogant and did not believe the Chinese or any other country of “foreigners” could out do us for long, that this had to be a temporary situation because we were just better. The prez, a white man, also said that there was more than likely a bit of both xenophobia and racism in that presumption.

The first four or five speakers were, surprise! white males this evening. But after our break there was a panel on the stage with two women, one white, one black and one black male. I thought ” finally!”, surely now we would get to some of the issues that hold the South back, like our failure to educate large portions of our population, some of them of color, but some of them white and poor, adequately. But no, it was not to be. Oh, they danced around it, talking about ” changing demographics’ but not one of the wretched people said the words black, race, Latino, Indian, poor whites….nothing!

So, I being incorrigible, and not able to sit on it anymore, when they opened the floor up for questions raised my hand and asked the panel. ” Considering the mention of race and racism and lingering problems of race and privilege what impact do you see that having on the ability of the state to succeed in a global economy?” I also pointed out that the professor who had given graduation rates for NC students had not disaggregated the data by race and gender. If he had, he would have had to report that fewer that 50% of black males and Latino males in NC graduate from high school.

I am sure there is the odd individual who has invented something wonderful who did not finish high school, but considering you usually need money to develop your invention or innovation and banks tend to take a dim view of poor people without high school educations, I am pretty confident that the majority of black and Latino males in the state will not become leaders in industry.  I would think any truly viable discussion of “human capital” would take that into account. Who knows what Steve Jobs or Bill Gates is dropping out of high school this week and will never reach his potential?

Ah but dear readers, here lies the rub. Too many people believe those young men do not have any potential, they are disposable. And lest you think it is only white folks who think so, let me tell you that the black woman moderator tried her darnedest to leave my question and go to the next one. Race had not been mentioned for 2.5 hours of a 3 hour session, but neither the black male or the black female saw fit when it was their turn to talk to bring it up. Well the black man did make an oblique reference to race, he said that “a lot of our students are not doing well in school and they do not speak English , and they look like me”. So I presume all the white students speak standard English and none of the black students do.  Adding insult to injury, he said in response to my question ,” We all know there is racism and sexism in NC, like there is all over America, but I try not to dwell on it.” Bless his little Uncle Tom heart. When you are talking about educational disparities and lack of academic achievement ( one of the CEOs reported that when they go to hire factory workers fully 40% of them either fail a basic math and English test or the drug test) how are you going to leave race out of the discussion?  A few minutes later, when you could see my question was still percolating in some of the panel members’ brains and the cabinet member made reference to it, the NeoStepandFetchit decided he wanted some of that perceived social justice advocacy  referred to  ( the cabinet member referred to me as “that lady) so he drew himself up to slight height and announced ringingly to the audience ( unfortunately he has a voice like a six year old) ” America will never prosper if she continues to leave 1/3 of her people behind.” “He got a goodly amount of applause for this pap and I am sure went home just sure he had stood up for the cause!

As Pogo said years ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I have never in my life run into so many black people who are willing to purchase the approval and rewards that come with being one of the master’s tools, with their dignity and ethics. These are the most obedient, grateful and delusional black folks I have ever run into.

I did not expect the white millionaires to bring up race. I doubt any of them even see black people on a regular basis, or think about any race, or about race at all. Money is a wonderful insulator. But you would think the blacks, who were not millionaires would bring up a few little details like the achievement gap.

There was a reception after the program, but I was, by that time, in no fit mood to make nice. I would probably have said something that would have had me banned from future gatherings of the beautiful people as unworthy revolutionary rabble. On second thought I should have stayed and had a couple of glasses of wine and some fun!

 

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Genetics, economic and social deprivation and health and health disparities, oh my

I moderated a panel today at a wonderful conference. The title of the conference was Biological Consequences of Chronic Exposures to Social and Economic Disadvantages. My panel was the one on infant and early childhood. The speakers were all scientists–never mind how I, a social scientist got involved, anyway, the talks were spectacular.

Dr.Z. who is in charge of our “marble palace” nutrition center, gave a fascinating talk on DNA. Did you know that it is possible, to turn on and turn off DNA? Did you know that a study in the Netherlands of men who had experienced hunger due to poverty when they were 9-12 still had physical effects for their grandsons?

I am not sure if I came away from this conference more optimistic or more pessimistic about health care and health in America. I asked one of my colleagues, since my interest in health disparities is fairly recent, only stretching back about six years, how long the medical and public health communities have known about the disparities in health care and health outcomes caused by poverty, race and discrimination. He told me he started graduate school in 1977 and the topic was already old. One of the other professors at my table who I did not know reminded me that DuBois had written about it in the 19th century!

If we have known all along that being a minority or a poor white has implications for not only health access, but health, why have we not done anything to change it? It seems the same rhetoric is being used today to talk about health disparities as what DuBois said.

The discussion of nutrition was particularly engaging. Did you know that if the mother of some mice  are fed a certain diet the babies come out yellow and fat and develop diabetes and other diseases? If the mothers are fed a diet rich in certain nutrients like choline ( in eggs and milk) then their babies come out brown and slender. The fat mice pretty much stay fat and the thin mice pretty much stay slender. So if you are fat or slender it might have been what your mother ate, or did not eat.

Even more fascinating was the discussion of what stress does to health. One psychologist’s research is on black youth and parenting. I do not need to remind you what I think of the “beat em and yell at em and keep em in line” philosophy of many black parents. I will tell you that his research indicates that some children exposed to such tactics develop antisocial behaviors. They fail to develop fear responses and do not recognize them in others, ergo they take risks, are prone to violence and lack empathy, so not only what your parents eat impacts your behavior and health, also how they treat you, especially between birth and four impacts how you turn out and your health.

Fascinating stuff, fun working on a college campus, but my brain got sore by the time I had to learn about epigenetics and some other terms I was unfamiliar with. I guess the entire conference left me with several conclusions;

1) DNA can be and probably will be in the near future, manipulated so that certain traits are turned on and others are turned off

2) Effects of poverty in the womb may have not only life long effects, but may have generational effects

3) The first four years of life are crucial, you might almost say the die is cast in most cases

4) Developing more brain cells through proper nutrition in the womb may keep you from having dementia in old age, you may have more to give up–we evidently all lose brain cells as we age. BTW one of the ways to keep from losing your brain cells as you age is to do cross-word puzzles! I was delighted to hear this, I play Words with Friends and have at least six Scrabble games going on my phone all the time.

5) Racism and discrimination are still strong factors in health for minorities in general and blacks in particular–this has not changed substantially in fifty plus years

6) Breast feeding is much, much better for babies than bottle feeding

7) What your mother feeds you as a toddler and the eating behaviors she models for you will probably determine what you look like

8) Mama genes and daddy genes fight in the womb. For example daddy genes want to make bigger babies, mama genes opt for smaller babies–smart mama genes. Wonder if daddy genes advocate for big televisions and leaving the toilet seat up?

Finally what I learned is that learning is amazing fun. I am certainly no expert on health disparities, genetics, DNA or nutrition, but at least I now know enough to be terrified about what is going to happen to human beings if we keep eating what we eat, engaging in racism and discrimination and do not understand child development.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Convenient Black: The OJ syndrome

Herman Cain, who has been quoted as saying that race does not matter, had suddenly discovered it does. Like his clone twin Uncle Clarence Thomas, he has been accused of having trouble understanding that getting women to notice him is not accomplished by profanity and groping.  Last month Cain said, “I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way.”  Now, all of a sudden after all his rhetoric about how racism is irrelevant and not prevalent he claims to be the victim of a “high tech lynching”, a phrase popularized by his buddy Uncle Clarence and under similar circumstances.

I do not know about other people, but I am tired of black people who have shown no interest in claiming their blackness, helping black people, fighting for social justice for any color of people, or even acknowledging we still have a way to go regarding race and racism in this country running, when they get in trouble, to the very black community that they have variously dissed, deserted and distanced themselves from and expecting us to welcome them with open arms and rally around them. The first national example of this was OJ Simpson. OJ tried as hard as he could to be viewed as colorless. He did not appear at black function, did not support black causes, did not march, did not speak out, did not champion, nothing. When he was arrested for slicing up his white wife, however, he suddenly became a brother, or more accurately a brutha.  When asked by one reporter why he suddenly found this black identity and affinity for the black community he famously responded that he actually had supported black causes over the year, but anonymously. Obviously he did not realize that this statement in and of itself was enough for revocation of his club membership.Why would a black man have to donate anonymously unless he was trying not to be found out to actually be black???

History is full of black people trying to erase their color by their actions and words. It never works, but bless them, they keep trying. They should have had the father I had, who after an NAACP meeting he had taken me to when I was 12, which was attended by quite a few PhDs from the local colleges,  asked me if I knew what white people called a black man with a PhD.  I  told him I did not know, to which he replied smiling  ” a nigger.”  My father was one of the most positive people on earth, always in a good mood. The fact that he would make that comment to me at that age let me understand the depth of his feelings of frustration at the slow movement of change. A lot of black people do not seem to understand that the roots of racism run deep, and trying to convince white people that you are “not like those bad blacks” is a zero sum game. To me, it is insulting, not just to your fellow blacks, but also to white people. To presume they cannot like you, be friends with you, or even love you, unless they are convinced you are not that black or not black at all except in skin color, is to presume they are all bigots, which is certainly not true. Cliched as it is, some of my best friends truly are white!

Being conveniently black is a sad indication of the character of the person. I have had a similar experience recently in my own circle. I belong to a black caucus, I chaired it for six years as a matter of fact. One person who rarely came to meetings, never had anything to add, never commented on any issues concerning black people, never stood up for any social justice issue that came across her path, recently got into some difficulty–difficulty caused by her own mouth and the use of language she should not have used, and the first person she called for succor was the current chair of the caucus. This was the same chair whose phone calls and email messages she had been ignoring for weeks btw.But now that she was in trouble, hello!, call the black folks to come stand with me! After all, I am black too, although I have been the master’s tool for so long I have forgotten how to not shuck and jive when he is in the room!

I am tired of folks who are running away from their race, repudiating their identity and trying as hard as they can to “pass,” even if they cannot pull it off with skin tone they try their best to pull it off by being as agreeable and docile as they can, running back into the shelter of the black community as soon as they get into trouble. Now, there are some black people who actually believe that if you are wealthy and quiet and do not cause any trouble you will be almost totally considered to be white, or at least colorless.Those folks I have less contempt for, they are simply deluded and when they hit the wall, as so many of them eventually do, they are rather pitiful.

The black who knows like OJ, Cain and my colleague, that being black comes with a certain amount of baggage no matter what, and yet still try to convince everyone that race and racism are not important and that they are personally above all that are the ones that I have nothing but contempt for. They are scary people, those who would rather climb a tree to lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth, and are to be avoided at all cost.

If I ever get into trouble and have to do what a lot of people call playing the race card, but I call pointing out racism even when it is not popular, I can at least be sure that everybody knew I was black all along, not just in times of trouble.

So to my Oreo brothers and sisters, if you get in trouble, don’t come knocking on my door, because nobody is home, not to you!

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Is it me, or are some people just clueless??

I have been struck recently by how little some people seem to realize about themselves. There is a famous poem by Bobby Burns,

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us”

and I have often wished I had the power to give to some folks so they could see themselves as others see them. I have several people in my circle who make me absolutely paranoid about the possibility that I might be as delusional about myself as they are about themselves.

One of the people ( they all shall remain nameless, of course), is absolutely convinced she is being persecuted, maligned and talked about by others which makes people dislike her. This woman is a bully, who talks nastily to anyone she feels she can get away with talking to thus, she likes to throw her weight around, does not listen to anyone and is simply the phoniest person on the planet. She is quick with hugs and “darlings” but actually obviously cares little about anyone. Yet, she is firmly convinced that people do not like her because someone else has told them not to. Poor beastie.
The second person is constantly sick. She has every ailment you could possibly imagine and seeks cures from bizarre and amazingly weird places. I happen to believe that your body listens to you. If you keep telling it that it is sick it will probably agree with you some day. The irony is that she eats almost exclusively so-called health food.  Since I have known the individual s/he has had back trouble/foot trouble/t00th trouble/headaches/digestive problems/and some odd disease that makes him/her break out in bruises ( which look suspiciously like perhaps s/he ran into something). I like him/her and I hope s/he decides to stop being a hypochondriac before s/he ends up like the joke, dead, with a headstone that reads, “See I told you I was sick!”

The third person is convinced that every man on the planet is in love with her. She is not a young woman, nor a particularly attractive one, but she is just positive that all members of the male species are struck dumb with lust at the sight of her. There is a new story frequently about how she has to fight them off with a stick. Men, according to her, approach her in public to ask for her name, engage her in conversation, request her phone number. Oddly enough I have never seen this happen in all the times I have been out with her in public. Perhaps it is my unattractive vibes that are canceling her siren song and making the men flee? I have to wonder if this is the  kind of pathology shown by  those women who send pictures of their naked body parts out on the internet seeking approbation of their beauty or desirability  from strangers. All of us want to be attractive, but do you have to convince yourself that all men are attracted to you, and that it is so important that they are? What exactly does that do for you?

My fourth and final specimen is a person who is so egotistical that they beggar belief. They are positive they know everything about virtually everything and yet they are always saying others are vain or self-aggrandizing. This person is in a position that they did not earn, has not done well with and will not be in much longer, having been declared redundant as the British say. Yet, they are very willing and quite prone to go tell others what they are doing wrong, and suggesting improvements, of course or how they do not need to toot their own horns. This person has no clue that most people in the workplace find them both annoying and arrogant. The reaction to being told this was outrage that folks “beneath” them (none of the people who said it report to this person) were unable to grasp their splendor.

Being around these folks makes me, as I mentioned above, very frightened that I might have enormous misconceptions about myself. I am constantly doing a self-check to see if I too am nuts. I know I have faults. I am judgmental, stubborn, set in my ways, tend to think I know everything, have a little OCD,  love to gossip, etc., but I know these things and work on them, sometimes unsuccessfully  granted. My examples above literally have no clue!

My daughter used to call some of her friends who were chubby and thought they were slender ” anorexic dyslexics.” I need to come up with a term like that for my folks who really, really need the gift to see themselves as others see them. It might not be a pleasant sight but at least they could stop living in a land that does not exist.

You know the saying, neurotics build castles in the sky and psychotics live in them. I think some folks are definitely pulling the U-Haul up to a cloud.

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The future of marriage: Is it dying or just low sick?

I just finished reading something by a Stanford professor about marriage in the black community. As he points out, as with most things, something that impacts the black community is also impacting other communities, just not to the same extent….yet. That something is that blacks are the least likely racial/ethnic group to get married and the most likely to get divorced. Let me stop here and remind you that people who identify as black make up only slightly more than 10% of the population. So most single people are not black and most people who get divorced are not black, we are talking percentages of a specific population here, not numbers of people. Also, keep that in mind when we discuss births to couples who are not married, the primary reason people give for investigating the state of marriage or not getting married, this statistic hit 70% last year in the black community. Most babies born on the other side of the blanket as the Victorians would say, however, are not born to black people.Forty-one percent (41%)  of all babies born in the US were born to single women last year. Soon,if this trend continues, at least  half the babies in America will be born to single mothers.

As with many negative, or possibly negative things, this phenomenon has been racialized to make it appear that the problems of unwed motherhood is mainly a black thing . There were, however, 1,726,566 babies born to single mothers in America last year, and I can promise you, the majority of them were not black. Information from the Heritage Foundation (a right leaning thing tank) reports that 36.8% of the babies born out of wedlock last year were white, 30.9% of babies born out of wedlock were Hispanic, 25.6% of babies born out of wedlock were black and 8.5% were Asian. So, not surprisingly given the demographic  numbers, the majority of babies born to single mothers were white.

This begins to beg the question, then, why are these women not getting married? We know that women who are less well educated are more likely to have babies without benefit of marriage, but we do not really know if that is a function of causation or correlation. The scholar from Stanford suggests black women are not getting married because they are outstripping black men in accomplishments and do not want to marry down so to speak. He suggests they look towards men of other races for potential husbands.

I, on the other hand, do not believe that is the case. It may be true that there are fewer black men going to college and more black women. However, I do not think not having a college degree would necessarily disqualify a man of any color for consideration as a spouse. As a matter of fact logic would suggest that if black women are accomplishing so much and obviously supporting themselves and any children they might have ( speaking only of the highly accomplished group) as single women they do not need that much financial contribution from the male. While this might seem to  be emasculating to some still stuck in the old ideas about gender roles, it would not have to be. A black woman  PhD married to say a postal worker could still have a good married and family life . Only adherence to outmoded ideas of gender and money would be an impediment.

No, I think this is a case of black folks, as usual, being the canaries in our society. If marriage is on the rocks in the black community it is portending      things to come in all populations.

Speculate with me for a few minutes on why women may not be getting married. I can only come up with a few reasons that make sense:

1) They have not met a man they want to marry

2) They do not want to get married period, in other words they enjoy being single

3) They want to get married and have found a man they want to marry but he does not want to get married and if they cannot have him they will remain single

I have to suspect that the first two are much more feasible than the third reason. I cannot imagine a woman who wants to be married pining for her lost love until she is way past her sell-by date and missing her chance for a mate simply because some Romeo let her down. So lets go on to the next step. Why did women used to want to get married?

1) To have sex without guilt

2) To meet societal norms of being married

3) Because they loved the man and want to spend the rest of their lives with him

4) Because they got pregnant and if they did not marry the father that meant they were a fallen woman

5) Because jobs for women were low-paying and scarce and they needed a man to provide for them.

Of the five reasons above all but number 3 have bitten the dust. Having sex has become almost as casual as shaking hands. Societal norms are no longer about marriages, perhaps the last vestige of the past marital tradition, the fancy wedding is popular, but as we can see from the recent nuptials of Kim K, who has filed for divorce less than three months in, a nice wedding does not necessarily make for a long successful marriage. Getting pregnant is no longer an imperative to marriage that is obvious and women have not only become more educated, they have become more employable than a lot of men. If they have a child together the woman also has a much better chance of collecting child support than she did a decade or so ago.

The question becomes why should women get married? To have someone to kill spiders? To have someone to take out the trash? For companionship? One can keep a pet lizard for the spider issue, the trash can be managed by either hired help or oneself and companionship is not always guaranteed in marriage. Golf, football, fishing, video games, baseball, basketball, track, horse racing, NASCAR, and a vast array of other hobbies and past times can occupy the male of the species–sometimes to obsessive levels.

Conventional wisdom has it that if you are going to have a baby it needs a mother and a father. But, in 2011, does that mean they have to live together and/or be married? Can’t you each participate in the raising of a child without being under the same roof 24/7?

I am not dissing marriage, or suggesting it is not a good institution. I am saying that it seems to be on the ropes and I am trying to figure out why. What I come up with, after talking to a lot of women, married and unmarried, is that the requirements for a happy life for women may have changed. Those men who fought against giving women the vote may, indeed, have been prescient. Once women get a taste of power, independence and freedom it becomes hard to go back to being Betty Crocker or Mrs. Cleaver or Mrs. Huxtable.

I admit to being a dinosaur,but women not that much younger than me have told me they do not cook, period. When I was recently talking to some women and gushing about how I had decorated both the Ohio house and the NC condo for Halloween several of them looked at me funny and one finally asked, ” Were you having a party in NC? I mean who would see it besides you and your husband?”

A lot of the things that defined womanhood, being a wife, being a mother, cooking Thanksgiving/Christmas/

Easter/Birthday dinner, decorating the house for holidays, ironing ( I stopped that myself decades ago), setting a pretty table have been deemed optional and/or obsolete by many modern women. Don’t believe me? Go try to find a decent gravy boat or some place cards, then come back! I send my Christmas cards the day after Thanksgiving, I address them and write a note in each one. I have special Mr and Mrs return labels with a Christmas tree or ornament or dove on them. Some of my friends now send them via email.At Thanksgiving and Easter there are place cards on my table–turkey ones at Thanksgiving, bunny ones at Easter. We use the silver from the silver chest.

I was recently told by a woman I consider perfectly decent that she would be serving her family Thanksgiving dinner on paper plates ( shudder). Another one announced her family was going out to dinner (horrors).

Did the erosion of these traditions help erode the state of marriage? If you do not have traditional customs then perhaps marriage is just one more victim of ” we don’t do that anymore.” Or are women just becoming more self-sufficient. Were those 1900-1970s stories and commercials and other societal norms of women chasing men to get a wedding ring ( remember going to college to get your MRS degree?) only myths perpetuated by the need for a man to support you and not an indication of a true desire to be married?

Who knows? I have been married way longer than I was single, about three times as long if my math holds up. It has been good almost all the time, great a lot of the time and bad very rarely. I still have to wonder, however, what I would tell my granddaughters if they asked me about whether or not to get married? I guess I would ask them how they felt about killing spiders.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Uncategorized