Posted on May 28, 2022

Unmarried Black Women Aren’t the Problem

Ekemini Uwan, News One, May 22, 2022

Much has been said on the subject of single Black women , our marriageability rates and the abysmal dating pool available to us. You might even say too much has been said about all this, but I have yet to hear the perspective of one who is perpetually single like myself. There is no shortage of people within and outside our community telling us that our standards are too high, and how we need to be “high-value women” or settle for whoever shows us a modicum of attention.

As if that weren’t enough, it seems like mainstream media can’t get enough of this subject, either. In the early 2000s, there was a flood of exposés on all the major U.S. news outlets about the “Single Black Female,” which often focused on the question, “Why can’t successful Black women find a man?” Much of the reporting devolved into paternalistic advice, false assertions about Black pathology, and overworn stereotypes about “the strong Black independent woman.” Not unlike a frog cut open during a middle school science experiment, Black women were prodded, poked, sliced, and examined like specimens as our interior lives were dissected under the microscope of America’s paternalism.

The preponderance of such reporting, seemingly intractable statistics which reveal that 62% of Black women – like myself–are more likely to be unpartnered, and the convergence of my experience as a lifelong single Black woman who desires to be married to a Black man has stirred up within me a “righteous discontent,” to borrow the prescient phrase from Nannie Helen Burroughs. I posit that Black women who desire to be married yet find themselves single are not more broken than anyone else on the dating market. And I categorically reject the idea that our single status is due to some pathological phenomenon within the Black community, as some researchers, journalists, and pundits have suggested. Rather, Black women are ensnared by interlocking social structures that render them single for far longer than they intend, with fewer intraracial dating options.

I share my story of singleness merely as a vignette of what it’s like to be a Black woman ensnared by structural mechanisms of mass incarceration, colorism, and desirability mapped onto me and other Black women whose dating experiences track with Black heteronormative dating patterns. {snip}


When I read Dianne M. Stewart’s “ Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage ,” I felt seen in her descriptions of the systemic forces working against us. Stewart lays out the issue masterfully when she says, “Most heterosexual Black women in America today, whether parenting offspring or not, are single by circumstance, not by choice.” Stewart continues, “The trouble is not with Black women failing to value marriage; it is the shrinking demographic of those whom Black women want to marry . . . In some cases, Black women lack dating prospects within their socioeconomic group, and in other cases, they don’t have any dating prospects at all!”

She characterizes Black women’s lack of opportunities for love and marriage with Black men as “the nation’s most hidden and thus neglected civil rights issue to date.” Stewart provides the historical receipts that reveal Black love as a contested site in this nation and details the way that the “war on African American marriage” was waged in the past and present.

Undoubtedly, there are structural realities that have contributed to my singleness, like mass incarceration. {snip}

Additionally, colorism is an intraracial dynamic that has played a role in my singleness. Researchers have found that dark-skinned Black women like me are less likely to be married than our light-skinned counterparts. Dark-skinned Black women are also disproportionately impacted by the depletion of the Black male marriage pool. {snip}


The far-reaching tentacles of oppression via the transatlantic slave trade, chattel slavery, and mass incarceration have depleted the Black male marriage market. Meanwhile, what’s left of the market is further complicated by colorism and beauty hierarchies, leaving heterosexual Black women who desire to be married to a Black man, single for far longer than they intend. It is one thing for a Black woman to choose singleness—which is their prerogative; not everyone desires marriage. It is another thing entirely to desire marriage and to have your agency with regard to your marital status stripped away from you due to mechanisms of oppression that have been in motion for hundreds of years. Part of what it means to be fully human is to exercise our God-given agency. When this is stripped from us, injustice is afoot– and righteous discontent is a reasonable response.