Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cheech, Black in America

The phone rings, and it’s my girl. She asked if I was watching the program Black in America, and then proceeded to tell me that “We are all doomed”. She and I are both single, and often have conversation about growing old with someone and someday having our own families. So this was definitely the hot topic of the day. Clearly, I don’t want to grow old alone; however, life has somehow managed to place people in my life so that I’m not alone and they have become like, my extended family. In my free time, which is not that often, you can find me hanging with the girls or just sitting home alone enjoying the little quiet time that seldom occurs. Here is my reality. With each passing day I’m growing old, but I’m not alone or lonely. There is such a richness that is present in this moment and time (sister/friends/family) growing and sharing the joys and pains of life. A reality such as this helps me realize how blessed and happy I truly am. I have somehow managed to cultivate relationships, with such an array of wonderful people and on many levels; they bring me so much joy…... Don’t get me wrong, although my sisters & friends (male/female) could never take the place of that male; they have made not having one at this time in my life, so much easier. (LIFE) does not always flow the way we plan and when that happens, go with the flow, things will eventually change. . Learn to simply enjoy life in that moment in time, there is so much there for you to enjoy. Look around you. I really don’t feel doomed. If marriage is in God’s plan for my life, it will happen. If not, I’m good. I will always trust what God is doing.

A career she enjoyed, a nice home, two adorable children and a husband. She shared her tools for success with me at an early age. She went to college, got married and waited until she was 26 to have her first child.

The perfect life. The perfect plan. It was one I decided to model.

My aspirations for both a career and family were set at the age of 12. I knew I could accomplish what Mrs. Allen, my fifth- and seventh-grade teacher, had. But as I approach 30 and measure the goals I had at 12 against the reality of life, the only thing I can check off that list is a college education.

I am a statistic.

And there are millions more like me. Forty-five percent of black women in America have never been married, compared with 23 percent of white women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey in 2006. Articles like the one published in the Washington Post two years ago could lead me to believe that it's because "Marriage is for White People." Black men respond about love and families »

The difference between Mrs. Allen and me: She was white.

The numbers, undeniably, are not in my favor. But they have never been. Born black, raised in a single-parent home and primarily educated in low-performing public schools, I am not supposed to be a success story. But giving weight to statistics in my personal life only contributes to a culture of fear surrounding marriage. Black men and women keep it real about relationships »

Black in America
CNN's Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black women and families -- 40 years after the death of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Watch tonight, 9 p.m. ET

see full schedule »
This fear causes some women to make hasty decisions like staying in unfulfilling relationships that lead to unsuccessful marriages, which end in divorce (another dismal statistic). Or just the opposite: Women become so fearful of making the wrong choice, they find themselves surrounded by a moat with no bridge to their final destination: marriage.

For the past year, I have researched, read and conducted several interviews on this topic for the "Black in America" series. Producing a segment on the low marriage rates in black America was not without its challenges.

I wore my "black and single" crown proudly, withstanding jokes and heckles from coworkers and questions from fellow singles like Kriss Turner, a black woman profiled for the "Black Woman & Family" documentary who asked me, "You're in Atlanta; what's your problem?"

Why are you still single? I hate that question. Yet I am forced to confront it. What's the state of your relationship?

One reason: personal responsibility. Among the men I have dated, there were definitely some who were ready for something a little more significant than I was willing to give. Did I drag my feet because I wasn't ready? Or was it because those men weren't right for me? It's debatable and probably a combination of the two.

Mrs. Allen was white, but she was also part of a generation of people, like my parents, who married at an earlier age. Today, black women outnumber black men almost 2-to-1 in higher education. But white women are also surpassing white men in college enrollment and completion, according to the National Center on Education Statistics.

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What is a rooted example in the black community is also sprouting legs among America's other racial groups. I am part of a generation of Americans who are choosing to postpone marriage while they pursue their careers.

My outlook: optimistic. My honest fear: It may never happen.

If it doesn't happen, it won't be because of a widening gap in the education, employment and ambitions of black men and women. I will not attribute it to a lack of options, intra- or interracially. I know the numbers.

On a macro level, the horizon is grim, but my personal experience reflects stories of black women and men who are married or very seriously considering it. Social and economic conditions are very strong influences, but so is the desire for love.

If I remain in my current statistical category, a single black woman, it will be because I missed someone while gazing at the ancient obelisks of Egypt's Karnak Temple, partying with expats in Hong Kong or simply spending time with family and friends in America.

It's more likely that the proverbial "The One" and I will find each other somewhere along the way. My life is not lived on a timetable or measured by how much sand has fallen in

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