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An update from the frontlines of romance

If black women are angry, maybe it's because they're tired of settling for men who are beneath them. And black men have their own set of complaints about black women.

June 01, 2010|Sandy Banks

There's not much love out there for upscale single black women who have been publicly lamenting their lack of marital options.

And I'm not talking love as in romance.

My Saturday column about successful black women stuck on single because of a shortage of comparable black men drew plenty of response from readers, but very little sympathy.

The consensus — delivered through stinging stereotypes and blunt from-the-trenches advice — went something like this, from an e-mail by Alan, a "white middle-aged man" in Woodland Hills: "Any male, black or not, would be intimidated by the loud, raucous, foul-mouthed 'braying' of so many black women. They are often offensive in the extreme, obese or have a tendency to be so, and challenge the masculinity of any male."

Fat, angry, loud, domineering — that's the picture that emerged every time I checked my e-mail this weekend.

I found the e-mails painful to read. I could look in the mirror and say, "Those labels don't apply to me." But it hurt to realize that this is how black women are seen. And to wonder about the truth in the stereotyping.

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Let's take fat first.

Black women are the most overweight group in America, and that's hurting more than their dating prospects. More than half of African American women over 40 are considered obese, increasing their risks of health problems like heart attacks and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Yet several studies have shown that black women have more positive body perceptions than white women. One study showed that black women said they didn't need to lose weight, even after consulting doctors for weight-related issues.

It's time to separate fat from full-figured, to drop the "big-boned" moniker we fall back on.

As for angry, loud and domineering … I suppose that depends on which black women you mean.

Part of what makes the "not enough good black men" issue so confounding is that the women who are suffering are not just the belligerent women lining up to complain on TV.

For the last year, my brother, Stanford law professor R. Richard Banks, has interviewed dozens of single black women with college degrees and satisfying careers for his book "Is Marriage for White People?"

They're not loud, but they're lonely.

Black women are no more choosy than other groups of women. But they may be like the canary in the coal mine, signaling social forces that are remaking the role of marriage.

"Black women have outperformed black men in just about every domain in life, and we're now seeing that phenomenon with whites as well," my brother said.

That means women will "need marriage less and expect more from it," and become less willing to settle for someone who is not an intellectual or professional equal, a social match and emotional partner.

If black women are angry, it's because they're tired of settling, of making accommodations for men who are — and these are my words — beneath them.

"These are women with graduate degrees, dating guys who don't have a high school diploma, can't hold a job, have a prison record," my brother said. "There are black doctors there in Los Angeles going with guys they can't take to meet their colleagues. And they are not feeling very good about it."

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But it's not just women ringing up complaints. The men who wrote to me made it clear that black women's soul-searching ought to extend beyond dissecting the men in the dating pool to examining their own attitudes.

I had to appreciate the advice from the trenches.

"Black women go on and on and on about how a good man is hard to find. But I have never heard any of them pause and say, 'Hold up. What are we doing? What can we do to improve this situation?' It's more about finger-pointing and blaming us," wrote Kyle, a black man who prefaced his e-mail with an "I love my people" caveat.

I winced when I read his complaint of being "interrogated" on dates by black women. I've heard it. I've done it. I thought it was curiosity at work. But Kyle sees it as "a huge turnoff. Making it feel like an interview or sometimes an interrogation makes us RUUUUUUN," he said.

It's hard out there for a man as well, wrote Perry, a tall, college-educated black man who described himself as "in great shape, polished and well-traveled" but who was having trouble meeting "quality" women.

"I'm tired of these panels talking about how hard it is for a sister to get a good brother, when I see [black women] turning down good brothers because they are not very handsome, tall, well-educated and successful," he wrote.

"I cannot get certain women because they may be out of my league, so when I approach them, I cannot get upset when I'm not chosen.… If you have a potbelly, are short or have a menial job, your chances are few. And I don't hear these guys complaining that they can't get Beyonce."

No, because maybe they're "settling" for the doctors and lawyers.

sandy.banks@latimes.com

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