Another ‘Black’ Trend Goes Mainstream

A few weeks ago the Pew Research Center came out with interesting data about married women and their earnings. Apparently, they’ve outpaced their husbands in terms of education and salary growth. That means we are earning more money at a faster pace than our beloved ones, even if the absolute numbers say we still earn less.

The underlying theme, of women gaining economic status in their marriages and presumably their households, did not surprise me. Among blacks, women have always been major contributors to the family finances. My mother was single while she raised me. Even during a brief five-year marriage, she ‘wore the pants’. She earned more money and had a better education than her husband. The same holds true for several aunts, cousins and friends. I told Hubby about my idea to write about this topic for my blog. As always, he downplayed the racial element, saying it’s not just a black experience. Lower-income white women, he said, have probably always contributed to the family’s finances. In a broader sense, all the new research really means is that we are all earning less money. The latter was his swipe at some of our country’s social and tax policies. Sensing a political skirmish, I shifted subjects: What should we make for dinner, dear?

The Pew Research Center’s findings on women bringing home the bacon is the second big trend in the black community that has gone mainstream, if you ask me. The first is single parenthood. I remember being a bit unique among my friends at church and school because my parents had never been married to each other, and my mother raised me without my father. Single parenthood used to be blamed for a host of social dysfunctions. As time passed, I’ve noticed that derogatory terms like “baby mama” or “baby daddy” have become so common that it’s no longer a big deal for children to be born out of wedlock. It really became acceptable as more middle-class and even upper-middle-class white women began raising kids without the man and the ring. I guess we have Murphy Brown to thank for some of that, huh?

I must admit that although I personally have no hang-ups about women with stable professions and finances choosing single parenthood, there are far too many single mothers in the black community. On any given day, I can look around my hometown and the city where I live now and see dozens of underaged girls pushing their kids around in strollers. They are kids themselves, so how can they possibly have enough wisdom to do a good job of nurturing and guiding the next generation of men and women? I don’t know. All I can do is try to prevent that travesty from happening in my family. So with my little sister, who will be 17 in March, I often tick off the only acceptable order in which her life’s milestones should come: degree, job, money in the bank, her own place and then she can have a baby!

Among the Pew Research Center’s other findings:
• Among adults aged 30 to 44 more women than men have college degrees.

• The median household income rose 60% between 1970 and 2007 for unmarried women, but increased by only 16% for unmarried men.

• In 1970, 20% of wives had more education than their husbands. In 2007, that figure went up to 28%.

The One Hundredth Post

While checking the blog stats late last night, I noticed that the Latte Cafe hit an important milestone: The other day I turned in the one hundredth post. That is an important occurrence, but it passed without much fanfare. There was no party, speech or celebratory beverage to mark the occasion. (And the bottle of milk and cereal I prepared for Baby tomorrow morning doesn’t count!) Instead, I went about business as usual, looking for other blogs of interest to black women in interracial relationships, adding another link to the blog roll and scribbling a few ideas for future topics on a nearby notepad.

The unremarkable way in which this event came and went, the ordinariness of it, reminded me of a brief conversation I had with my cousin Melinda a few months ago when I ran into her at Penn Station during the evening commute. I walked over and said:

“Hi Melinda. What’s up?

“I’m going to kill Jeff,” she told me, wagging her head slightly and watching the board for her train. Jeff is her husband of nine or ten years.

“Why?”

“Because he’s a man.”

Poor Jeff had likely incurred Melinda’s wrath by leaving food on the stove overnight uncovered, failing or forgetting to do something helpful and responsible while playing with their 3-year-old son Walt or doing some other typical guy nonsense that no-nonsense women like my cousin find infuriating. I laughed slightly, knowing Jeff would find a way to make amends and live another day.

That is what is so interesting and ordinary about interracial relationships and mixed families—they are just trying to navigate everyday life like anyone else. Hubby and I juggle demanding jobs while splitting the housework, fret about backup baby sitters, do our best to coach my teenage sister to get better grades at school and gossip about our neighbors, many of whom are not interracial couples, but are extraordinarily peculiar! Although relationships like mine are as commonplace as ever, stereotypes about the people involved in them abound and need to be dispelled. So I intend to keep on writing about how I see the world, not casting people and situations in black and white or the rose-colored tint of naivete, but from behind the layered, textured, gray shaded tint of my cross-cultural existence.

Hair-Raising Issues

Every morning and evening a minor skirmish erupts between Baby and me over whether I should style her hair or not.  Baby is now 15 months, and she has never been cool with it, even though her hair is very soft and generally easy to comb. In the past, she would try to squiggle out of my lap, crying incessantly as I tried to part her hair and twist the sections into what I grew up calling ‘Chinie bumps’. (These days, people call them Bantu knots.) Although Baby is biracial, and her hair texture is fine and downy—still very babylike—managing her mane is not a snap. If I don’t twist it or spray some detangler on it occasionally, it will become very knotty.

Hubby didn’t always make it easy. Sometimes he would come into the nursery or our bedroom, just to see ‘what the ruckus’ was all about. Baby can be a real Daddy’s Girl sometimes, so she would occasionally look up at him, pout and squeeze out a huge teardrop or two. And once or twice, she reached her chubby arms up to him, awaiting rescue. He would make comments that made hair combing sound like an ordeal. ‘Oh! Here comes the comb!’ or ‘It’s almost over.’ I would patiently explain that if I didn’t twist her hair at night, then come morning her hair would be twice as knotty and the real battle would ensue!  Despite her protests, and Hubby’s remarks, I kept working on her hair. I began to use a moisturizer from Just for Me, just a dab at night to make twisting it easier or so her brush wouldn’t get snagged in her hair in the morning.

The other day she did the funniest thing on the changing table just before bedtime. After I had lotioned her up, diapered her and tucked her into her pajamas, she rubbed her palms together and ran her hands through her hair! Could it be that she was imitating the moisturizing ritual? Too cute.

Now something has happened to make me worry: her edges are thinning out. At first, I hoped that she was passing through a phase where her hair was changing from slick and downy to thick and wavy. But it’s hard not to notice the change, especially in photos like these.

How long would this hair loss continue? Hubby took up arms against the “chemicals” in Just for Me, going online to research the ingredients and asking me over and over if putting “that stuff” in her hair was necessary. As it turns out, the information he found verified that Just for Me is safe for kids. But I wanted to halt the thinning (and hopefully grow a thick head of hair like her mom), so I went looking for answers. Her pediatrician said she might be passing through a phase, but that we could consult a dermatologist if we were really worried. Another black mom told me that her daughters also had delicate edges, and that sometimes using hair bands and wool hats in the winter also tugging and shedding on that delicate area. I also found an article on the Naturally Curly Web site about common mistakes that women make while managing biracial childrens’ hair. Some of my missteps were in that article, like washing Baby’s hair too often and using mineral oil (initially to clear up her cradle cap) for too long. I re-read the “Just for Me” product labels and sure enough, the moisturizer contains mineral oil. So, I’m now on the hunt for hair care products infused with avocado, olive and jojoba oils, which are also formulated especially for babies and toddlers. I’ll probably end up using Curly Qs’ products, because I’ve seen good reviews about them in a couple of different places. Hubby, bless his heart, remains wary about commercial hair care products for babies. He would probably be just as happy if I let her hair lock up if doing so would ensure peaceful bedtime and morning hair rituals. The only problem with that is—we are not Rastafarians!

And anyway, I think Baby and I have come to a nice understanding on this issue. The other night, after I got her into her p.j.’s, I lay her on her tummy and began to twist her hair. She didn’t try to scramble away or howl for the whole neighborhood to hear. She just lay there quietly while I talked to her, working as quickly and gingerly as I could, until I patted the last twist into place. Then I picked her up, gave her a final squeeze for the day and set her in her crib. She smiled up at me before I walked away and turned off the light. Part of me gloated, saying ‘Ha! Take that skeptical Hubby!’ But the bigger part of me simply enjoyed the ceasefire.

* Quick note: There is a new Web site in the blog roll, called Beads, Braids & Beyond. It follows a mom of two biracial daughters (and I think the mom herself is biracial) as she manages their hair. She is a hairstyling artisan and comes up with quite a few creative looks. (I mourn for my daughter at times. The best I can do at the moment is pigtails, because I’m all thumbs when it comes to cornrows!)

For Richer or Poorer

The people at the National Marriage Project have released their annual State of our Unions report, which monitors the current state of marriage and family life in America. It’s a long report, so I didn’t have time to study the whole thing. But I did page through it, and found a few major tidbits:

• U.S. divorce rates in the country actually fell from 17.5 per 1,000 married women in 2007 to 16.9 per 1,000 married women in 2008 (after rising from 16.4 per 1,000 married women in 2005). This is not surprising, as I’ve seen at least a couple of articles in national newspapers say that fewer couples can afford to absorb the financial fallout of divorce, so more are staying together.

• Newlyweds who take on substantial consumer debt become less happy in their marriages over time. By contrast, new married couples who paid off any consumer debt they brought into their marriage or acquired early in their marriage had lower declines in their marital quality over time.

• Marriage serves more as a bond of companionship whose purpose is to satisfy emotional needs—instead of economic ones. So, marriage is less of a socioeconomic unit in today’s society.

The National Marriage Project  says it’s a non-partisan, non-sectarian group that aims to “provide research and analysis on the health of marriage in America, to analyze the social and cultural forces shaping contemporary marriage, and to identify strategies to increase marital quality and stability.” That sounds like a worthy endeavor to me, although I do have one suggestion for increasing marital quality and stability: tell a lot of these guys to be mature and considerate! Although the Latte Cafe is a non-political blog, I couldn’t resist pointing out some of their conclusions.

I have been married for five and a half years, and although my union is not a new one, Hubby and I have been together long enough to have learned a few important lessons about love and commitment. The first couple of years of our marriage were blemished by what I considered to be immaturity and insensitivity on Hubby’s part, and I’m sure there were many times when he thought I was uncompromising. Whatever the case, everyday life seems to be a lot better for us, as we’ve learned to put a house together, subvert our individual interests to promote the health of the household, and well, to appreciate each other more. I’m sure that a lot of the information in this report will affirm what we already know about marriage. There is nothing astounding, for instance, in the assertion that people get married these days more for companionship and less for economic reasons. But it’s nice to know that serious scholars are interested enough in the institution and to make a serious study of it. Marriages everywhere would be stronger if the individuals involved took the same approach to their relationships.