The Black Woman’s Dilemma

L.A. Johnson, Toledo Blade, March 12, 2006

PITTSBURGH—Melissa Norfleet is young, gifted, and black.

In her third year at the University of Pittsburgh law school, she’s looking forward to graduation in May.

She also would like to start laying the foundation for the part of her life that will take place outside the law office.

“Everybody is engaged at this point in law school when you’re about to graduate,” says Ms. Norfleet, 25, of Pittsburgh.

She doesn’t want to be young, gifted, and black—and alone. She’d like to meet a great guy with whom she can eventually settle down, and she’d like that man to be black. She is uncomfortable dating outside of her race.

“My preference is black men, not that I’ve not seen white gentlemen that I’m attracted to,” says Ms. Norfleet, who plans to go into international business, human rights, or real estate law. “It takes a lot more for a black female to date outside of her race, and I feel that it’s less accepted.”

A 2000 statistic in a newspaper article that 42.4 percent of black women have never been married inspired the filmmakers behind Something New, a romantic comedy that explores a professionally successful black woman’s issues-fraught decision to date a white man. The film stars Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker.

“I know a lot of fabulous, sharp, professional women that are still single and I thought, ‘This is a movie,’” the film’s screenwriter Kriss Turner says in the movie’s press materials.

“When you get to your late 30s and you’re still single, the thing that comes up—especially among black women professionals—is, are you going to go outside your race?” Ms. Turner says. “If you want to find love and get married, you are probably going to have to open it up and think outside the box.”

In 2004, the percentage of never-married black women 16 and older was 42.3 percent compared with 22.7 percent of white women, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington.

Between 1950 and 2004, the percentage of never-married black women more than doubled, increasing from 20.7 to 42.3. During that same period, the percentage of never-married white women increased from 19.9 to 22.7.

In Toledo, one in 14 children under age 5 has two or more racial backgrounds. That’s 10 times the rate of the city’s senior citizens who are multiracial, according to a Blade analysis of the data released inJune, 2001.

When the territory is expanded to the entire 18-county northwest Ohio region, the rate of multiracial infants and toddlers drops from 7 percent to 4.4 percent, but the formula still holds. The region’s rate of young, multiracial children is still 10 times the rate of its multiracial seniors. That means the multiracial population is roughly growing at the same rate from tightly compacted city neighborhoods to the one-stoplight towns that dot the region.

“In a nutshell, the real crisis facing black women is too few men with too few resources,” says Larry E. Davis, author of Black and Single and dean of the School of Social Work and director of the Center on Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh.

“The education and professional advancements of black men have paled in comparison to those of black women. Two-thirds of all college degrees that go to black Americans go to black women.”

If a white man were to ask Ms. Norfleet out, she’s not sure she’d give him a fair hearing.

“I’m paranoid,” she says. “I’d be thinking, ‘Why are you dating a black girl and will your parents be OK with this and what about our kids?’

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