The latter part of the summer during an election year is usually pretty dead when it comes to news, so I’m surprised we haven’t seen many new stories about the state of marriage in Black America (unless you count Chad Ochocinco and Evelyn). Usually whenever there is a lull in the news cycle some network dredges up chicken-little statistics about the state of African American marriages and (usually) non-black anchors feign concern and consternation while interviewing 30-something year old black women complaining they can’t find a man. But never fear; I bring you the newest salvo in the Black Marriage crisis industry courtesy of none other than the father of modern evolution studies Charles Darwin. Apparently Darwin laid out some sage advice on whether or not people should get married over 100 years ago and he seemed to have a special place in his heart for Blacks folks when discussing matrimony.
Darwin is mostly known for two things. First, his book “Origin of the Species” where he lays out some general beliefs about evolution that formed the foundation for a great deal of scientific study across the west to the present day. Second he is known for his theory of ‘natural selection’ wherein nature supposedly weeds out the less desirable traits (and species) like an earthy version of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” guides the economy. Last week, the Darwin Correspondence Project, a program dedicated to preserving and highlighting the scientist’s work released previously unseen original writings by Darwin about the pros and cons of getting married.
His notes on marriage which he started scribbling on the back of an envelope in April of 1838 not only reflect his struggles about whether or not he should propose to his cousin (whom he eventually married) but the eternal battles about the marriage versus career, happiness and various aspects of life. For a community that is obsessed with getting married, staying married and figuring out why people don’t get married Darwin’s thoughts on the subject provide a pretty good backdrop for the black community struggling with the marriage question. Below are some of his main ideas about Holy Matrimony.
If not marry Travel. Europe, yes? America???? If marry — means limited, Feel duty to work for money.
The first questions that Charles Darwin tackles are pretty normal for just about everyone thinking of marriage. Yes, your specific travel plans may not take you to Europe (besides that’s a lot of different countries) but the fundamental conundrum of whether or not marriage makes you better or worse off financially is one worth investigating. Statistically it seems that marriage is a good thing for most African Americans. According to Marrying for Money a 2008 analysis of black marriages done by Black Enterprise magazine, married black men make about 15% and black women make about 13% more respectively than their single peers. Moreover African American net worth increases by about 40% when people get married and increases at roughly 4% a year for every intact year of marriage. So, forget travelling to see those them Ni**as in Paris, get hitched and make more money.
This is the Question, Marry: Children — (if it Please God) — Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, — object to be beloved & played with. — better than a dog anyhow.– Home, & someone to take care of house — Charms of music & female chit-chat. — These things good for one’s health. — but terrible loss of time. –
The searing sexism of Darwin’s thoughts on marriage are not that surprising for most men living in England during the late 19th century. As courtship lines go “better than a dog anyhow” isn’t the kind of thing that most women would ever want to know that their husbands thought regarding their company. However he does bring up some interesting points for the concern black marriage advocate. African American men seem to experience tremendous health benefits from being married. This ranges from men to boys, in both mental and physical health. Black women’s health benefits are less pronounced but still exist. However in some cases married women report being less healthy than the single ladies.
Not Marry: Freedom to go where one liked — choice of Society & little of it. — Conversation of clever men at clubs — Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. — to have the expense & anxiety of children — perhaps quarelling — Loss of time.
There is no greater fantasy in the male mind than supposedly being free of the nagging and prattling of one’s wife, girlfriend or live-in-jump off. It reminds me of that Chris Rock routine where he says the only three phrases you need to know to keep your woman happy is “Nooo!” “You Don’t Say” and “I Told you that Bitch was Crazy” and she’ll think you’re listening. However sociologists and political scientist show that the opposite is true. Because black women are more likely to be involved in organizations (regular church attendance, sororities, charities and volunteer groups) men’s social networks are actually expanded when they marry rather than contracted. The effect of children on African American marriage quality is still a fairly unexplored area of sociology. This is a shame since demographic studies show that over 50% of African American couples enter into marriage with at least one child from a previous relationship.
Then how should I manage all my business if I were obliged to go every day walking with my wife. — Eheu!! I never should know French, –or see the Continent –or go to America, or go up in a Balloon, or take solitary trip in Wales –poor slave. –you will be worse than a negro — And then horrid poverty,
It is amazing to me how incredibly open and racist many of the founding fathers in Western science were yet we’re still taught to revere and lionize them in popular culture. (Nerd site note: I found it particularly insulting that the black mutant with the evolutionary powers in X-men First class was called “Darwin”, given how Charles Darwin saw black people. That would be like naming a Native American superhero “John Wayne” or a Japanese hero “Patton”). Nearing his feverish conclusion, Darwin compares being married to being a slave, even worse a NEGRO. Maybe that will finally kill that idiotic chestnut thatMarriage is for White People.
Never mind my boy — Cheer up — One cannot live this solitary life, with groggy old age, friendless & cold, & childless staring one in ones face, already beginning to wrinkle. — Never mind, trust to chance –keep a sharp look out — There is many a happy slave –
In the end Charles Darwin concludes, that marriage is okay, if for no other reason than he might turn out to be a happy slave. In other words, marriage may turn you into a compliant obedient boob, but at least you can find some bliss in your complacency. Fortunately this is where Darwin’s advice for black marriages falls far short. Perhaps for a 19th century English white man with scientific aspirations marriage was a choice between intellectual adventure and domestic banality but that is not the case for Black folks today. Marriage remains an incredibly beneficial institution for the health, financial stability and emotional well-being for African Americans. The only question we’re really facing now is how we can fix this economy so that more black people can afford to do it.
Dr. Jason Johnson, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson