Fresh from the Tiger Mother firestorm, the Wall Street Journal has waded once again into controversial social territory. On Saturday, Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks — author of the forthcoming book, Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone — urged black women to help save marriage by marrying men of other races. Black women “are the most unmarried group of people in the U.S.” and “lead by far the most segregated intimate lives of any minority group in the U.S.” According to Banks, black women are less than half as likely to marry interracially as black men and only about 1 in 20 marry across racial lines. If black women only marry black men, and if achievement gaps and high incarceration rates leave fewer eligible black men, then a marriage crisis is inevitable.
While he hasn’t hit Tiger Mother territory yet, Banks’s piece was the most-read article in the Journal over a weekend that included a debt downgrade, and he’s certainly not afraid to ask tough questions. The sociological importance of his work would be hard to overstate. By now we know that marriage is a firewall against poverty and abuse, and the decline of marriage (and not just in the black community) is a culture-shaking phenomenon. It’s also a problem that defies any easy fix, depending as it does on the deeply personal choices of millions upon millions of Americans.
My youngest daughter — adopted from Ethiopia — is only three. I’m not thinking about her first dates quite yet. In fact, I may still be in denial well after her senior prom, but Professor Banks’s article gives me reason for concern — and reason for hope. Only the foolish think their own families are immune to powerful cultural forces. At the same time, no cultural trend is irreversible, and voices like Professor Banks’s are indispensable not only in preserving perhaps our culture’s most vital institution but also in opening the eyes and hearts of a generation whose view of their own options is perhaps too narrow.