Michael Eric Dyson: Marriage Pledge

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show,Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University and author of Can You Hear Me Now?: The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson, discussed the Family Leader's "marriage pledge," as signed by Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, that included the passage, "a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President."

Putting the 'slavery comment' in historical context

Dyson said slavery did have a disastrous effect on African American families--because it literally outlawed the family. African Americans could not be married under slavery, and slave owners purposely separated family members. Yet they came up with their own rituals, such as "Jumping the Broom" that recognized bonds, and as soon as slavery ended, African Americans married in great numbers.

The familial bonds, even though officially restricted by the state were so powerful that Black people were attracted to them nonetheless.

The modern context of African American 'broken families'

Dyson pointed out that there are societal injustices that compound the difficulties facing Black families, particularly the public policies that prevent men from being strong presences while receiving aid from the state for their children.

There's no question that African American families are under assault and that the marriageable pool index of Black people is being undermined by what--over-incarceration of Black men. Black women are being left alone because many Black men are being unjustly and unfairly imprisoned, besides the destructive practices that may be nurtured within the culture.

The statistic of children born out of wedlock in America is rising very fast across the board, but within African Americans it has reached 70 percent. Dyson doesn't deny the legitimacy of concerns that young African Americans are choosing not to marry, but he doesn't chalk this phenomenon up to the legacy of slavery.

A lot of families are under assault, marriage is declining in general across the board, and we know that when people have a lot of money and they happen to be White or richer, they end up not necessarily being indicted in the same way. If you have a child out of wedlock and you happen to be able to provide for them then fine. So it's not the moral stigma that's attached, it's the racial and sometimes gender stigma that's attached to people.

The Family Leader may be trying to address legitimate societal concerns with its 'marriage pledge,' but Dyson is concerned that they are distorting history through their ideological lens.