Share With Joy

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What I Couldn't Say in Ebony

"Make sure you say something positive."

When I got the assignment from Ebony Magazine to write the State of Black Marriage, quite a few of the people I interviewed made that statement. But I have to tell you, there's not a whole lot of positivity to report. Complicated and unproductive trends are a prominent feature of the state of our relationships. And it's hard to address these issues without stepping on toes or hurting some feelings.

The family activists who are giving serious thought to these matters have made some suggestions as to ways we need to change or think differently about our behavior. They had some thoughtful - but hard to hear comments that didn't make it into the article. Here's what they said:

Bill Stepney, a family advocate in the New York-New Jersey area said that "The post-sexual revolution generation has a hard time defining on a common basis what marriage means." He pointed out that there is a difference between family formation and merely relationship formation and that we have to stop "decoupling having children from marriage."

Nisa Muhammad is the founder and director of Wedded Bliss, an organization based in Washington, DC that promotes black marriage. "Our family structures, although they may seem to be 'politically correct', aren't serving our families very well" she stated.

For example, 53% of black children live in low-income families, black teens have a high teen pregnancy rate and our boys' high school graduation rate is only 47% - and the preponderance of these situations are in homes headed by single mothers.

"If someone breaks the window on your car, you get your car fixed," said Muhammad. "It seems we should do at least that for our marriages."

Serious relationship repair and marriage rehab is in order. I, for one, don't believe in marriage no matter what, no matter who. I have seen enough people caught up in emotionally wretched situations where divorce did seem like a reasonable answer.

However, it can't be our first reaction or our only response. We're extraordinarily creative when it comes to arts and entertainment, exceedingly persistent when pursuing our rights. Can't we bring to bear that same exceptional inspired and forceful energy to guide our families into recovery? 

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Tiger School

Does pressure and punishment make you work harder, perform better, reach higher?  It's not the most fun way to get things done, but stress encouragement and strict discipline has its place, especially if you believe Amy Chua. 
In case you haven't heard, Amy Chua is the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, where she talks about some of her child-rearing practices.  Her two daughters were not allowed to have sleepovers or play dates, watch TV, or play computer games.  She forced them to play the musical instrument of her choice and spend loads of time practicing.  If they brought home any grade less than an A, they were insulted and punished - even for an A-minus.  

On one occasion, when her daughter was making mistakes playing the piano, Chua threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, and no birthday presents for the next two to four years.  Chua told her daughter she was 'lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic." 
In another incident, she made her then 3 year old stand outdoors until she performed better at her first music lesson - in 20 degree weather.
Chua's approach - which she says is not uncommon among Asian American parents - is aggressive, ambitious, some say abusive.  But it does yield results: one daughter has played piano at Carnegie Hall and Asian American students in general have a reputation for excelling at academic achievement and being a dominant presence in science and math careers.  However, this approach may not be as alien an approach as you may think. 
Chua's tiger techniques are already in play - in the arena of sports.  Coaches often have a reputation for an attitude of tough luck, buddy - if you can't tolerate the tough love and tough tactics that are a requirement to be on the team.
Challenging players, sometimes by insulting, threatening or punishing them is often the rule of the day.  To excel as an athlete one is charged with constant daily practice and forgoing hanging out with friends, watching TV, playing computer games.  The expectation is for the athlete to bring his A-game - anything less just won't cut it.  It's not enough simply to play a good game, you have to win it.
The result is that African Americans have a reputation for excelling at athletic achievement and being a dominant presence in professional sports. 
Chua calls herself a 'Tiger mother' because the tiger is a symbol of strength and power which inspires fear and respect.  
Only 50% of black students graduate from high school.
Is it time we also took a 'Tiger' approach to academics?
Blog it out:  Are we too lax in promoting academic achievement?