Young, Black and Wed

There is no institution more fundamental to the health of the black family, to the prosperity of the black community, and to society in general than the institution of marriage. I remembered that the other day as my wife and I attended the wedding of one of her high school friends at a church in Carson, California. I hadn’t been to a wedding in about as long as I could remember and I hardly count our own (my wife and I got our wedding to go, eloping at a court house just before she left to go to the army). So I wasn’t quite prepared for the feelings and the emotions conjured up in the faces of all the friends and family members who had come together to celebrate our friends union. A female minister spoke movingly of the commitment the bride and groom had for each and for God. The bridesmaids and the groomsmen walked side by side and pair by pair down the aisle, clad in bright blue and forming a procession of youth and loveliness that was perhaps all the more inspiring to see in the context of a black wedding. There was gospel, there was dance, and there was ultimately our friends the bride and groom themselves standing face to face, before one another and before God, sealing their commitment to Him and to one another. It was nice to see, and while it did not surprise me to the mother of the bride shedding tears, I was a little surprised at the glistening of my own wife’s eyes as she hugged her old friends mother. She’s not always so sentimental, but in this moment she was very moved.

Though marriage is usually cause for celebration, I was reminded as I stood and watched the ceremony that even as marriage rates in the United States have dropped precipitously in recent decades (from 76.5% in 1970 to under 40% in recent years according to USA Today) marriage rates within the black community are significantly lower. And while it should be noted that 75% of black women do marry after the age of 35 and that the overall marriage situation is perhaps not as bad as the media sometimes leads us to believe, the fact remains that African-Americans marry at a lesser rate and at a slower rate then do Americans in general. Blacks trail particularly in the 18 to 35 year old block, and while rushing into marriage is not a wise course of action for young people,  I think we can all agree that it would be better for our community to have higher rates of young people whom are married than to have the correspondingly high rates of single mother and children born out of wedlock that are so common place in our communities.

What perhaps concerns me most however is what I see as the deterioration of the importance of the marriage unit, the relationship between husband and wife, in our conception of the black family. A new normal has seemed to emerge in recent decades, one in which we simply accept the fact that young people will have children out of wedlock, that fathers will often abandon their offspring, and that often times it is grandparents who will shoulder an undue portion of the parental responsibilities. Sure, there are a multitude of reasons for this beyond simple cultural decay: economic circumstances can make it difficult to feel ready for marriage, to feel ready to start a family. But of course, black people have been poor for a long time. It has not stopped us from having babies, and it did not prevent a much larger percentage of our parents’ generation from embracing the bonds of marriage. And indeed, we still see the importance of marriage in the eagerness with which we discuss it in film (pick a Tyler Perry movie out of a hat) literature and so forth, (even as we lament the relative elusiveness of it). But it seems to me that the importance of marriage is a revelation that comes upon black people later in life than it should, as far as the younger generations are concerned. There is little in popular culture to reinforce the idea of marriage as an important institution, not in American culture generally or black culture in particular. It’s not surprising therefore that the percentage of couples “shacking up” is on the rise. It is yet more evidence of the growing divide between our churches and our parents values and the excess of our current times.

Yet and still, at the end of the day I am reminded of the fact that as I watched our friends walk down the aisle, and as I looked into the eyes of my own wife as they peered back into mine, marriage is at heart an expression of the love that two people have for one another, for the institution of the family and the central place family occupies in the fabric of our culture. To forget this, is to watch that delicate fabric unravel. This is not something we should allow to fade away.

9 Comments on "Young, Black and Wed"

  1. Tiffany V. Dec 22, 2011 · 1:17 pm

    I 100% agree with this article and I thank you sooo much John for attending my marriage ceremony. Our biggest goal in our service, as our Pastor said, was that we wanted to let our friends and family know that we love God first and He is what has brought us so far. A lot of our wedding guest questioned why a church service was part of our ceremony and even went so far as to give up their seats in opposition to the service stating, “I’m just here for the wedding. I don’t want to sit through ‘church’.” To us there can be NO successful union without God dwelling in the midst of your marriage. This is why so many marriage fail and so many people are afraid and fall into “wordly” patterns and ways which tell them to wait until they’re done “having fun” or doing all they have planned for themselves before they tie themselves to someone else when in actuality, spiritually, we are made to do the EXACT opposite. Humans, people, men and women are made to coexist and be unified with one another. The journey of life is made for a co-pilot. That was God’s intent with Eve. The two main reasons I believe black marriages are becoming extinct and marriage itself is a rare thing is because people have lost the value of “us” and “family” and are so disgustingly focused on ME the erase the natural urges they were born with. Another reason is because the very fabric of black people, religion/faith/Christianity, is being erased and forgotten. It was faith that rose our anscestors and created our bloodlines. Black people were rooted in God. So was this country in its founding years. If we could fearlessly include the power of faith in our upbringing of our children, our lifestyles, beliefs, and marriages we could rekindle our essences as blacks. That choice is up to us and my husband and I chose to choose faith. Thank you again for being a part of our choice.

  2. John Randolph Wood, Jr. Dec 22, 2011 · 1:38 pm

    Your welcome. And I think there is a connection between the degree to which our abandoning faith leads also to the perceived irrelevance of marriage. Not just because the two are connected in religion but because marriage is by nature a spiritual commitment and if one is not grounded in that way it is so difficult to have the patience that a successful marriage requires.

  3. kclehman Dec 23, 2011 · 7:49 am

    I don’t agree that a lack of Christian faith is the sole purpose for Black marriages not lasting since a good number of Christian marriages do fail. I do agree however that folks are no longer focused on making a commitment to any relationship and we live in a society that glorifies that. Pop culture makes a mockery of marriage which allows folks who are “happily” single to justify their reasons for still being so. Humans are like sheep and follow what the current trends are and we are currently in a society that focuses on the individual and not the collective.

    The essence of who we are as Black people is much older and runs deeper than Christianity. I’m not at all knocking the need for a spiritual foundation within a successful marriage – but it will certainly take more than that to bring our community back to center. We’ve lost much more than our faith.

    • Ken Apr 20, 2012 · 10:38 pm

      Helen and many of the posters are ssnumiag the marriage rate is plummeting and the birth rate is staying steady. I have no idea what is going on in Tennessee, but in my area and in many other areas the birth rate is also decreasing right along with the marriage rate. All I get from the census numbers is that fewer people are marrying (US population currently is 51.3% married vs 54.4% in 2000, more people are never-married at 30.7% vs 27.1% in 2000, and 18% are widowed, divorced or separated vs 18.5% in 2000). The biggest change is that never-married percentage against the married percentage. To make any assumptions about whether we will need more “services” would be to find out whether any of these groups are becoming richer, poorer or staying the same, what the economic status of parents, and if there are fewer children being born overall.

  4. JCB3 Dec 23, 2011 · 9:08 am

    Christ has NO affect on marriages. Divorce rate in the church is the same as in the world.

  5. Rob V Dec 23, 2011 · 10:08 am

    I Beg to differ. My marriage is strictly because of God. The reason why Christ “so called” doesn’t have an “affect” on marriage is because the institution of marriage isn’t taken seriously nowadays. It is appalling how many people don’t want to get married or the fact that you can just live with a person for 5 or 10 years and that is called a “marriage”. Christ helps you get through hardship, if you allow Him to. “A three-fold cord is not easily broken” Ecc.4:12 the minute you take out Christ out of your relationship is the minute you take out love from the relationship, for God is love. Plus on top of that, we spend so much time with settling for people that we are supposed to be learning from (the seasonal people), because we are lonely or “desperate” for affection and attention that we ourselves in fact prevent our divine mates from coming forth. Divine mate meaning that you will love that person, as Christ loves you, going way beyond the physical or financial, but the mental and spiritual being equally yoked. Sorry i probably wrote too much, but to say Christ has “NO” affect on marriage when he teaches us how to love that is a very bold statement.

  6. John Randolph Wood, Jr. Dec 23, 2011 · 1:22 pm

    To KC and JCB3: I didn’t suggest, or at least didn’t mean to suggest, that lack of Christian faith was the sole reason for the deterioration of marriage in our community. There are many reasons for it, KC mentioned some and I mentioned other, cultural and socioeconomic issues in the article. Nor am I saying it is impossible for a non-religious couple to have a successful marriage. My article is making a general point.

    But JC when you say Christ has no affect on marriages and you reference the divorce rates in and out of the church as being the same, well for one you’re mistaken on the statistics. (The National Opinion Research Center’s polling shows that Christians generally have a divorce rate of about 42% as compared to 50% for the general population, but if you focus the data on people who attend church regularly, who are more involved in the Church and have stricter theological commitments the divorce rate drops much further.) Secondly this issue of the decline of faith is not so much one of quantity but one of quality. It’s not hard to find Christians walking around but it’s quite a bit more difficult to find people striving to live a saintly existence and that was my point with respect to the relationship with the values of faith to that of marriage.

  7. JCB3 Dec 23, 2011 · 11:21 pm

    42% is staggering! You would think that christ could do better than that. Either he’s not trying or he’s failed at inspiing successful marriages.

  8. John Randolph Wood, Jr. Dec 24, 2011 · 3:39 pm

    Well the point of this isn’t to start a fight over religion but to talk about marriage, and to that effect you made a specific point and I answered it. The National Survey of Families and Households says that “Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35% less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.” That’s just what the numbers show. You can tease Christianity if you want to I guess but the point remains.

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