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Ciao Bella! Black Women — Right?

Serena Williams during the Milan Fashion Week. Some black American women are moving to Italy in search of love (Photo by Marco PiracciniArchivio Marco PiracciniMondadori via Getty Images)

People who pay attention to the narrative-setting function of the major media will enjoy this e-mail from a reader:

As I think is true of you, I mostly subscribe to The New York Times for the arts/culture/books/travel/food reporting, which is simply irreplaceable (though their politics and foreign policy reporting tends to be excellent too). The article I’m writing you about is a classic culture/travel piece on black women who travel to Italy to find love. 

At first blush, you’d think the diversity tsars would be happy with this story! Imagine the gnashing of teeth from Richard Spencer and his ilk over miscegenation in the heart of Western civilization! But no, after the first two-thirds of the article, which proceeds as you would expect, we find a section lecturing us on the problematic assumptions behind the idea that black women can do better in Italy than in America (though it is clear that many of them believe that).

What follows is embarrassing evidence of a lack of numeracy and analytical rigor.

“For decades, the misleading idea that black women in America are the least likely people to find love has been the topic of books, movies, television specials and countless news articles. In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that black men are twice as likely as black women to have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity.”

We are told off the bat (in a reported piece) that this is a MISLEADING idea, reported in media. Then she cites a research article suggesting that it is empirically true.

“In fact, although interracial marriage has increased for all Americans, black men and women still marry each other most often; less than 10 percent of black men and 5 percent of black women were married to a spouse of another race in 2010, according to census data.”

We are told that this is the FACT that makes the idea misleading. But what she cites suggests (from another, more authoritative data source) … that black men marry outside their race at twice the rate black women do. In addition, if you know anything about dating markets and sex ratios, this would suggest an extraordinary imbalance that would make dating as a black woman in America quite difficult (which is, indeed, the experience of the women interviewed in the article).

Another number often cited in the conversation about black women finding love — and also criticized as misinterpreted — is a number that was popularized in a 2009 ABC News/Nightline broadcast titled “Single, Black, Female,” which said that 42 percent of black women in America have never been married, twice the percentage of white women who have never married.

By going through census data and conducting their own research, Ivory A. Toldson, a professor at Howard University School of Education and a research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and Bryant Marks, a psychology professor at Morehouse College and faculty associate at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, found that although the “42 percent” number is accurate [emphasis the reader’s — RD], it has been oversimplified and misinterpreted to fit into a negative narrative about black love.

“The often-cited figure of 42 percent of black women never marrying includes all black women 18 and older,” Mr. Toldson said, “but raising the age in an analysis eliminates age groups we don’t really expect to be married and gives a more accurate estimate of true marriage rates.”

She presents this number as misleading as well…even though the evidence she cites supports it! (And of course though they say things are different if you eliminate age groups we don’t really expect to be married that it improves, but if it was substantial they would have cited it.)

Essentially, these are all inconvenient truths for her case. But she still has to note that the attitude that these black women themselves take towards their love life is “problematic”.

What is going on here? Two things I think.

1) On the inside baseball bit, I think we are seeing the outgrowth of an increasingly blurred line between the opinion and editing functions at the NYT (the collapsed wall between Op-Ed and Editorial is part of this). It is arguably about agility for modern digital media as well as reducing overhead (eliminating the public editor/ombudsman role, cutting copy-editors, etc).

2) SJW ideology is eating itself. Everything is “problematic”, because you can always find another critical angle. The result is paralysis and “cancel culture”. Today you can write about the challenges black women face in the dating market, and tomorrow be accused of denying them agency or, worse off, internalizing norms of cisheteropatriarchy about who black women should be dating or some such. Intersectionality makes this worse (I’m reminded of this thread from Wes Yang.)

In the Victim Olympics, persecuted black Italian refugees are more victimized than (rich-enough-to-move-to-Italy) African-American women. So the end result is ass-covering through including multiple diversity angles in the same piece (black women dating white Italian men! But also this is problematic!), in a way which really damages the reader’s experience.


The Wes Yang thread starts like this:

Yep. Remember the remark by the Latina novelist who had endorsed American Dirt, but who rescinded her endorsement in the fact of controversy, saying that if she had known that the resentful Latino writer mob “literary community” would come out against the book for political reasons?

Last night in Nashville, someone in the audience asked me why I didn’t include the experience of the black church in The Benedict Option. I responded that I thought about it, but it would have been a stretch to do so without seeming like tokenism, and besides, if I had done it, I would have been accused of wrongly appropriating the black church’s experience. As it happened, I didn’t include it, and was accused of racism. There’s no way to win.

For the record, I am glad that these black women and their Italian partners have found love.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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