From Jenee Desmond Harris’ Root piece “What Single [Black] Women Can Learn From Michelle:”
“if black women are going to defy the statistics, they need to start being more realistic. Holding out for the perfect man, someone who is intellectual but not nerdy—cool but not arrogant—impeccably dressed but not effeminate—not a player but with just the right amount of edge—is useless. Smart can go with a little nerdy. Artsy can be accompanied by off-beat. Ambitious and focused may mean less than a social butterfly. Yes, there was that one guy in law school who was easily 6’5’’, a Rhodes Scholar and a rapper, with a baby face to top things off. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but please!”
I know, I know, she means well; however, these “let’s follow the Obamas’ marriage example” stories are classist and reek of the “white lens.”
It assumes that black women who aren’t “Type A,” black professional women, the author’s target audience, face the same dating dilemmas and opportunities of non-professional black women. Framing any group of women as “Type A” is a sure way to keep them single. Also, it neglects the plethora of literature of white affluent women who have testified to the trouble with dating men they view as their counterparts. Let’s not forget the lazy republican talking head banter ingrained in an argument like this.
Granted, that horrible line about the Rhodes Scholar/rapper (personally, tell me you’re a rapper and it’s a dealbreaker) aside, what Harris writes above makes sense. You’ve got to compromise, and no well-adjusted human being expects perfection from their partner.
But Harris begins the article with what is a false premise: in discussing attractiveness, she paints Barack as this nerdy skinny guy when Michelle and he started dating, suggesting he’s not. Umm, sorry, but as the Black Snob fabulously points out: “Young guy, with a Ivy League degree, NO KIDS, and a job. Not the ideal? Really? Is that so?” Her transition into character traits seems, well, bogus. As per contributor shani-o, it seems that Harris was projecting her own tastes in men onto Michelle and other black women, and so her premise that he’s not attractive is flawed.
Would Michelle have dated Barack if he was a sweet, nerdy, former inmate who couldn’t get a job? Would she have dated him if he had different kids by different women? What if he wasn’t as tall as she? By all superficial accounts Barack was a catch. Michelle Obama was certainly not stepping out on a limb by dating and eventually marrying him.
Also, a man who entertained the idea of entering politics, running for state and then federal office is not a man who wakes up suddenly inspired in the middle of the night. I don’t doubt that the two of them are in love, and I hope one day I can find the same, but Barack’s choice of a wife was certainly strategic. He not only married an attractive woman, but one who he perceived to be on his level intellectually. A woman he could take on the campaign trail with him.
And why is getting married considered to be a woman’s responsibility? Especially when the culture dictates that men do the hunting and the proposing. When countless relationship books and magazines remind women how to bend, shape and morph into a viable life partners (oh and don’t forget to be yourself!).
And then there was this, also from Harris:
“And let’s be fair. We expect men to resist what society tells them about ideals when it comes to us—God, help the brother who admits a preference for skin or hair displayed on every magazine cover; or the arrogant fool who holds out for his own Clair Huxtable, not acknowledging that The Cosby Show was fiction. We’re justifiably upset when unrealistic standards are imposed on us, but many of us don’t seem to give black men any breaks in return when it comes to the superficial.”
Sorry, but when a black man has a preference for light-skinned black women, or for women with straightened hair, or a preference for non-black women, there’s a much more pernicious tone. This, coupled with unrealistic standards of beauty, is certainly not the same as a black woman with a college degree who wants to date a man with umm…the same? She’s not asking for a Maserati! (I’ll add that a college degree doesn’t make the man, or the person. I know plenty of people who don’t have degrees and still succeed professionally, but I firmly believe that they are the exception–not the rule.)
In my West Indian circles there’s a saying that goes,” if you pick, pick, pick…you’re gonna pick till you pick shit!” People should certainly be physically attracted to their partners. And all people have unrealistic dating standards that hopefully, with time and experience, are able to overcome. But framing this discussion around unmarried black women, and pointing to one woman who didn’t exactly break the dating mold, is a shoddy argument and will surely add more of the “all the good ones are taken,” lament to the table instead of pushing it off and dating with an open, clear and baggage-free mind.