In Response to Shaming of Singles, Cacophony of Voices Says ‘Not This Time’

MSM busted for singlism, over and over again

Posted May 04, 2010

They tried so hard to make us pity all those highly successful people because they were single. What good is any accomplishment, no matter how fulfilling or impressive, if you have no spouse with whom to share it, the program seemed to suggest. We singles have heard this so many times before. This time, though, we aren't buying it. And by "we," I don't mean just me.

That's the joy of what I have to report here. You can no longer host a pity party for single people and be certain of getting away with it. The singles in question in the instances I'll describe this time are successful black women. If you've followed this blog, though, you have probably noticed that, lately, attempts to perpetrate singlism against all sorts of single people have been increasingly critiqued and mocked.

The guilty party is supposed to be one of the remaining bastions of respectability in the MSM - ABC's Nightline. Over the winter holidays, the late-night newsmagazine brought in thrice-divorced comedian Steve Harvey to offer mate-snagging advice to the accomplished single women. I just had to write about it not only because it was so offensive, but also because so many readers had contacted me with their own reactions of annoyance and outrage.

Noting that their story had "sparked an outpouring of praise and criticism," Nightline hosted a follow-up segment. Call it Pity Party Part 2. Wow, are they hearing about it.

My favorite so far of all the commentaries I've read was authored by the brilliant Melissa Harris-Lacewell. Maybe you've seen her on The Rachel Maddow Show, where she reliably respects her listeners by offering thinking points rather than talking points. Take a look at her entire column on the matter over at the Nation; there's so much to it. Here are just a few of her insights:

"Like other discussions in the genre, the Nightline special began with the Disney-inspired assumption that marriage is an appropriate and universal goal for women. Any failure to achieve marriage must therefore be pathological. With this starting assumption panelists were encouraged to offer solutions without needing to fully articulate why low marriage rates are troubling."

"In the 1960s, the Moynihan Report blamed black women heads of household for social deterioration in black communities. In the 1980s single black mothers were vilified as welfare cheats responsible for the nation's economic decline. In the 1990s black women were blamed for birthing a generation of "crack babies" that were predicted to burden the nation's health and educational systems. The Nightline conversation was suspiciously reminiscent of this prior reasoning. As the nation copes with its anxieties about a black president, a shifting economy and a new global position, black women suddenly reemerge as a problem to be solved."

"Despite its role as a news program, Nightline failed to call on any sociologists, psychologists, historians or therapists who could have contributed context, statistics or analysis about the "marriage crisis" among African Americans. Instead, these delicate and compelling issues were addressed by comedians, actors, bloggers and journalists."

Several Huffington Post bloggers spoke out. Probably the most popular was the post by Farai Chideya titled, "How does it feel to be a black, female, single problem?" It has been tweeted 1,224 times since it was first posted on April 24. Here's a snippet:

"At moments of frustration with the narrative imposed on black women, I turn to the wisdom of multiply Grammy-nominated singer Ledisi. She sings, "Get outta my kitchen, telling me how to cook. It ain't none of your business. Ain't no need to look." I would turn that a bit and say, at the very least, if America is looking for a problem, there's plenty of folks whose kitchens we might want to take a look at."

At the Atlantic magazine, Ta-Nehisi Coates had his say, too, including the following:

"I always find that living as a black male is much easier than listening to other people talk about how hard it is to live as a black male. I suspect the same for black women. I don't mean to minimize racism or sexism, but engaging societal forces from the perspective of entertainment just doesn't help."

As Stephen Colbert might say, "Nightline (and anyone else tempted to caricature single people), you're on notice!"