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Single black women being urged to date outside race

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010; A01

So many black women are single, she says, because they are stuck in the groove of a one-track song: sitting alone, waiting for that one "good" black man to come along and sweep them off their feet.

Waiting. Talking to girlfriends. Waiting. Going out alone. Waiting. Going to work. Waiting.

Waiting for a "good" black man, with the same education level to marry them.

Waiting. Even when they know the odds are stacked against them.

Single black women with college degrees outnumber single black men with college degrees almost 3 to 1 in major urban areas such as Washington, according to a 2008 population survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. Given those numbers, any economist would advise them to start looking elsewhere.

It's Econ 101 for the single, educated black woman.

"Black women are in market failure," says writer Karyn Langhorne Folan. "The solution is to find a new market for your commodity. And in this case, we are the commodity and the new market is men of other races."

Folan is the author of "Don't Bring Home a White Boy: And Other Notions That Keep Black Women From Dating Out," published this month by Karen Hunter, an imprint of Pocket Books. In encouraging black women to date and marry interracially, the book has joined a broadening debate in recent years fueled by the blogosphere, the entertainment industry and comments by prominent African Americans.

Tyler Perry cast a Latin man as the great love interest of black actress Taraji P. Henson in his recent movie, "I Can Do Bad All by Myself"; in "The Princess and the Frog" featuring Disney's first black princess, the prince's indeterminate racial origins inspired commentary; and there was the 2006 movie "Something New," in which characters played by Simon Baker, who is white, and Sanaa Lathan, who is black, fall in love.

Whoopi Goldberg has talked about interracial dating on "The View," saying you date whom you are around. Oprah Winfrey has encouraged black women to explore "what is out there." While the discussion includes men of all races and ethnicities, the focus is primarily on overcoming taboos against dating white men.

By promoting interracial love for some black women, Folan explains that she is not suggesting that there aren't any good, single black men out there, or that every educated single black woman will not find an educated black mate. She is not bashing all black men or implying that all black women are aiming for the altar. The writer, mom and Harvard-educated lawyer says that she is just offering a reasonable solution to the shortage of available black men.

"Consider your options," she says. Expand your horizons. Stop listening to your girlfriends. Forget about the brothers calling you a sellout. Get over those old images of slavery and stop blaming every white man for sins perpetrated by others.

"In short," Folan says, "some black women choose to demonize all white men rather than look objectively at the facts of our modern times, which are these: Some men, whatever their race, are bad for us. And the converse is true as well. Some men, whatever their race, are good for us."

* * *

Lisa Vazquez agrees emphatically. "Divestment is an imperative of our self-preservation as black women," says Vazquez, who writes at blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com, one of many blogs opining on the subject. Others include BlackFemaleInterracialMarriage.com and Dateawhiteguy.blogspot.com.

"There are some women who believe that racial loyalty should have precedence over self-preservation," Vazquez says. "Where did that teaching come from? . . . Too many of us claim that we are God's women, but our mentality reveals that we place racial validation above any and everything."

There's evidence, both empirical and anecdotal, that an increasing number of black women are playing the entire field. According to the 2008 population survey, interracial marriages have doubled in the past decade. About 73 percent of black/white marriages are between black men and white women, according to the survey.

The decision to marry a white man sometimes brings strife. Lorraine Spencer of Arlington says that despite living happily with the white man she married in 1995, she still gets grief from friends and relatives.

Spencer, 44, calls herself pro-black. She has traced her ancestry and is proud of her heritage, she says. And yet, "from my own personal experience, people tend to treat you as though you have lost your right to speak on black issues or you are not taken as seriously because somehow you don't have the same experience if you have decided to marry transracially," she says. "I've been called a sellout or white-acting, so to speak, or a person who hates black people by co-workers and family."

Folan says such judgmental attitudes are rooted in "the myth of one voice," as though all black people think the same, talk the same, want the same thing when, in reality, diversity is great within the race. "Black people are not a monolith, and one voice is a myth, and yet some black folks still seem certain that they know who has 'stayed black' and who has 'sold out,' " Folan says.

Being perceived by other blacks as a sellout is No. 8 on the list of nine "notions" preventing black women from dating and marrying interracially that Folan outlines and rebuts in her book. Those notions also include: (1) "After slavery, I would never, ever date a white man"; (4) "I don't find white men attractive"; (5) "White men don't find black women attractive unless they look like Beyoncé"; and (9) "We'd be too different."

Folan says she was prompted to write the book two years ago after an opinion piece on interracial marriage she wrote for The Washington Post generated an overwhelming response. "Obviously, it touched a nerve," she says. "The writer in me said, 'There is a book in this.' "

As quiet as it is kept, the scene from the movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" plays out just as strongly in black households as others -- but in reverse, Folan says. Many black daughters are told: "Whatever you do, don't bring home a white boy," she says. "I think it is partially generational. It is a stronger mantra the older you are. [But] I heard from young women in their twenties whose parents were still having trouble with that." Folan's message seems urgent and unapologetic. She is a missionary wiping a window pane so the people she is seeking to help can see things more clearly.

"I have something to say to black women in particular," she says, sitting in a purple winged-back chair in her living room in Germantown. "I just want to keep encouraging all black women to celebrate themselves. We are beautiful, resilient, strong, capable. We deserve men who will love us, no matter the skin color."

Instead of listening to others' admonitions about white men, Folan says, "maybe we can look at the content of his character." And instead of assuming white men don't find black women attractive, consider, for a moment, that some do. Her husband, Kevin Folan, is across the room and beams at Folan as she talks, indicating that he certainly finds her attractive. She smiles at him. And from where you sit, you can see a chemistry.

People who study race talk about the point beyond which you stop taking regular note of the person's skin color, or hair or background. It happens in friendships, with relatives, with colleagues. You look across the table and the person you are talking to is not a white person or a black person, but simply a person. People who date and marry across cultures often describe this feeling. People on the sidelines might stare, but the couples themselves often become oblivious to it.

Karyn smiles at Kevin.

Their oldest daughter, 13, is in the other room watching videos. Their youngest daughter, 4, is passing out valentines. The little girl gives one to her mother and one to her father. Then she switches and gives the more special valentine to her father. A big heart cut out of purple construction paper. The child smiles then scampers into her dad's lap.

They met in 2004, four years after Karyn had been divorced from her "devastatingly handsome" black man. Kevin had never been married.

Folan was born a year after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. The civil rights movement was at its peak. "But I was a kid," she writes. "I didn't know a world before 'Black Power.' " She didn't know a world that had limited black people. She lived in an integrated neighborhood in Fairfax County. She had white friends who came to her house to play. She says she felt there were no limits on what career she might choose.

She was married to her first husband and they had a daughter. They divorced after five years of marriage. "I then spent four years trying to understand what had gone so wrong between us -- and raising our daughter on my own."

In 2004, she decided she was ready to date again. "But what was I looking for? What did I really want in a man?" she remembers. Moving past the "superficial qualities of good looks and a nice body, what should my next partner be like?"

A friend told her to write down everything she wanted in a man. And wait. So she compiled her list. "1. Someone to cherish me, to love and appreciate me, not just for the things I do for him, but for everything I am, warts and all." She wrote that she wanted someone financially secure, someone who was physically fit "but not obsessed with appearance," someone educated, someone who likes to be home with his family, someone open about religion and politics.

She asked friends if they knew someone but realized "most of my black girlfriends [and white ones] were single and looking, too." Then she tried the Internet and went on a couple of dates. The first was a black man "with the biggest ego since Napoleon." Her second date was with a man who dreamed of being "the next Sean Combs, but . . . I wasn't impressed with his chances."

"I figured since I was doing so badly with the chocolate, I'd give the vanilla a try."

She joined an interracial dating site. "Months went by and I began to wonder if I'd join many of my African American girlfriends as yet another manless woman over 40."

Then she got an e-mail from Kevin. They exchanged pictures. She thought: "With his white hair, he looked older than the 50 he claimed to be, and he didn't seem like the kind of white guy I could be physically attracted to. But he wrote such interesting e-mails. He had traveled, been in the military. Studied Russian. Spent time in South America and learned Spanish. He loved history. He grew up the oldest of six kids of Irish immigrants in Boston."

They decided to meet. He drove across town to pick her up for an old-fashioned date. When she opened the door, she was disappointed. "Kevin was well-built but had that fair, reddening skin that just never appealed to me. I have been attracted to white men before, but they always had a little color to them: swarthy Italians and Greeks, or guys who worked outdoors and had tanned faces. By comparison, Kevin was so white."

Still, she says, she got her purse and headed out. "It was just dinner. It wasn't like I had to marry him, right?"

Their friendship blossomed. After they entered the official "relationship" stage she began to notice the stares. "Once, as we strolled together after a lovely dinner in Baltimore, a car full of black men honked at us. 'Come back, sister!' one of them yelled out of the window. 'Come back!' "

But after a while she stopped noticing, and it wasn't much longer before she decided to stay right where she was.

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