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‘The onus is not on them’: Breaking down stereotypes, misconceptions, and myths about black women, marriage at the Free Library

A Q&A with sociologist and licensed clinical social worker Sarah Adeyinka-Skold about black women's marriage patterns and dating trends. Adeyinka-Skold will speak about the myths and misconceptions about black women marrying at the Free Library on Feb. 20.

Sociologist Sarah Adeyinka-Skold poses for a portrait on UPenn campus on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Adeyinka-Skold will speak about the myths and misconceptions about black women marrying at the Free Library on Feb. 20
Sociologist Sarah Adeyinka-Skold poses for a portrait on UPenn campus on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Adeyinka-Skold will speak about the myths and misconceptions about black women marrying at the Free Library on Feb. 20Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Love can be elusive. For black women, it can be evasive. But is this really the case, or just what we perceive?

It’s a tough marriage market for black women — on and offline, says Sarah Adeyinka-Skold, who is a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania where she studies the marriage patterns of black women. That perception is due to long-held myths and beliefs about black women, says Adeyinka-Skold, which have transformed into commonly-held ideologies. A 2014 OKCupid study of its user data showed that most men on the site rated black women as less attractive than women of other races. But many of the myths and misconceptions that exist today are rooted in stereotypes invented decades ago. Racism, she said, pervades every aspect of American life, including love.

Adeyinka-Skold will lecture about the myths and more on Wednesday at the Free Library of Philadelphia. There, she’ll break down commonly believed myths about black women and marriage.

Can you talk a bit about how you landed on this area of research?

I landed on this area of research basically because I’m a black woman who at some point was looking for love herself. I’ve had discussions in college, post college, about finding a partner, how hard it is. … It’s a great lens for examining racial stratification. I was [at Princeton University], in sociology, seeing all these other white women that I was friends with dating, and I was also friends with black women and we weren’t dating. We weren’t hooking up, nothing was happening with us. It’s not like there were no black women dating, but comparatively to the other women on campus, we just weren’t feeling the love. I had always imagined that I was going to go to college and I was going to find my husband … and I was like ‘Wow, this is going to be much tougher than I thought it was going to be.’

What are some noteworthy trends over the past few years regarding black women’s marriage patterns?

Two patterns that I think are noteworthy are that, interracial marriage is increasing among black women. In 2015, 12 percent of newlywed black women were intermarried, which is an increase from the past. While it’s not at the same rate as black men, which is at 24 percent. There’s this notion out there that black women are resistant to dating and marrying outside of their race but this data suggests to me that they are doing so and they are open to interracial relationships. … On the downside, black women’s local marriage markets are still not on par with white women’s marriage markets. … There’s still a shortage of marriageable black men for black women. The shortage of marriageable black men has been shown to be due, primarily, to structural issues, which are ties to racial inequality. There are fewer black men because of mass incarceration, declines in men’s wages, unemployment, just to name a few. … To me, that just shows that the lingering shortage of black men suggests a persistent trend of structural racism, and not a failing of black people.

What are some of the most common myths or misconceptions about black women when it comes to dating and marriage?

They’re too angry. They’re too independent. They’re too strong, and these are traits that make them undesirable as romantic partners. Some people say that black women don’t want to get married. That’s not true. Data hasn’t shown that at all. … People are saying that black women don’t want to date outside of their race. Clearly, the data shows that that isn’t true. We should think about, do non-black men want to date black women? OKCupid has shown that that’s in fact not the case. I think that those myths are out there, and they’re persistent, but there’s a reason they’re myths. They’re not true. The data just doesn’t support them.

Can you talk about where these myths and misconceptions stem from historically?

I believe that these myths go all the way back to slavery, and [have] followed black women into their fight for justice and equality. It has to do with the ways in which black femininity has always been pitted against white femininity as a way to strengthen white supremacy and to justify black women’s oppression in the United States. Patricia Hill-Collins says it best, when black women assertively protest their oppression, they are called loud, angry, independent, strong. Society, including black men, unfortunately uses these stereotypes to question black womanhood, black female liberation, and black women’s potential for romantic relationships.

Do you think this sentiment is still around today?

Those sentiments are definitely still around today. In my study, black women talked about how black men have told them outright they don’t date black women because they are emasculating, they are intimidating, that they aren’t easy to be with. They get this information from men that they actually date, so it’s not just from potential romantic partners, it’s actual romantic partners as well.

How have different social platforms like Tinder, Bumble, and honestly, DMs, transformed black women’s experience with dating, if at all?

In both good and bad ways. On the one hand, black women, like other women, can act on their partner preferences, and they have, ostensibly, a large pool of potential mates to choose from. On the other hand, these platforms have become a way for black women to experience racism instantly. In my study, black women came across profiles that both explicitly and implicitly excluded them as partners. Men of different races stated on their profiles, or made it clear in some way, that they weren’t interested in dating black women. No other women of any other ethno-racial background, in my study, reported seeing that kind of thing in men’s profiles.

How did these stereotypes and narratives become a part of culture?

Our marriage rates have always been low compared to other countries. I think what’s become a part of the culture is that there’s a sense or belief that black women are facing some kind of marriage crisis, but like everyone is facing some difficulty in finding a partner, and marriage is on the decline, so black women have become the face of something that’s national. While there is no crisis per se, I do think that it’s important to recognize that black women face unique challenges in finding love and staying together and these challenges are, in large part, due to living in a society that is racially stratified, where the color of your skin is associated with your life chances. Black people have to survive the questioning of our oppression, questioning our experiences of racism, questioning whether or not the black boy that was shot today by the police really didn’t deserve it. This is our existence and we are burdened with these realities as we live, and as we love.

Can you connect the dots on how these narratives became a part of culture over time?

White supremacy only gains its strength in opposition to defining itself as opposite of blackness and that goes back to when the first slaves were brought forcefully to America. You have all this rhetoric and these stereotypes that basically become ideology about blackness that follow us through time. … It’s not that suddenly black women were angry, no. When they were crying out, when they were yelling for their kids not to be put on slave ships, when they were crying out for them not to be sold into slavery, when they were crying out not to be lynched, when they were angry with masters, these are things that have been already in place from the beginning of time in order for whites to place themselves as superior to blacks, so it’s not that it’s suddenly popped up, it just gets re-transformed. When women in my study are telling me that people are saying that they’re too emasculating, they’re living out, they’re experiencing those tropes.

How should we re-frame the way we think about the dating patterns when it comes to black women?

Re-framing black women’s dating patterns, in my opinion, honestly, is simply acknowledging and recognizing that racism is alive and well in America and permeates every fabric of human life, including finding and choosing romantic partners. … If we continue to believe that romantic decisions and options lie outside of the consequences of racism or are not impacted by race and racism, then we have learned nothing from the mountain of scholarship that precedes my work and black people’s current lived experiences.

Given all the barriers, and misconceptions, what can black women do to address these issues? Or is the onus on black women, is it black women’s issue to fix?

Black women should find spaces where they can be themselves, be fully human, and completely appreciated for their humanity. That’s already hard work, so that’s all the work I’m going to ask black women to do. The rest of us need to continue fighting for black female liberation. U.S. Society was built largely on the stripping of black women’s humanity and freedom. If we can turn that around and create a society that is equitable and just for black women, then we will truly see a rising tide that lifts all boats. There are all these barriers, but the onus is not on them.I think that we have an obligation to change a society that made it such that black women have to have these struggles in the first place.

Where can we start?

Understanding that their patterns are not a reflection of their individual choices and are actually a reflection of living in a racially stratified society.


Marriage Patterns of Black Women

11 a.m. Wednesday, Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine St., 215-686-5322,