'Is Marriage For White People?': Stanford Law Professor's Views on Black Women, Marriage Deficit

Stanford law professor says there is a shortage of eligible black men.

September 27, 2011, 7:05 PM

Oct. 19, 2011— -- When it comes to black women and marriage, perhaps the only thing more disheartening than the dire statistics -- 70 percent of them are unmarried, studies have shown -- is the tedious conversation itself. But a new book adds fresh ideas and a new tone to the conversation, suggesting black women need to start looking for suitable mates outside their race.

"Many women would do well to expand their options in the same way people of other races have, and look beyond black men in their search for a partner," Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks told "Nightline." "Black women are the most segregated group in our society when it comes to relationships."

Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET

For his book, "Is Marriage for White People?", Banks conducted roughly 100 interviews with African-Americans about their marriage and dating ideals and experiences. His explanation as to why marriage rates are so low among black Americans is that there is a shortage of eligible black men.

"There's a social catastrophe going on in terms of black men," he said. "Imprisonment numbers, unemployment numbers, under-performance academically, these are crisis not just for African-Americans, but for the nation."

Tomika Anderson, a 35-year-old freelance writer living in Brooklyn, is all too familiar with the notion that 70 percent of black women are unmarried (meaning either having never been married, divorced, separated or widowed), compared to 45 percent of unmarried white women.

"It's really getting old," she said. "I think by focusing so much on the negative, you're missing out on the positive, and the positive is that at any given time, you can decide for yourself not to be a 'statistic'"

In 2009 "Nightline" spoke with four single, African-American professional women in Atlanta about the relative difficulty they and others like them had finding husbands. One of them called it the "black girl curse." Almost two years later, they're still dating, but no one has put a ring on it.

Last year, "Nightline: Face-Off" put the question -- "why can't a successful black woman find a man?" -- to an all-star panel, which included Steve Harvey, Sherri Shepherd, Jacque Reid, Jimi Izrael and Hill Harper, and opened the discussion up to a wide audience. Almost 1,000 people showed up to the Porter Sanford Performing Arts Center in Atlanta to watch.

"Women are looking for men that don't exist," Izrael said at the time. "They're looking for this picture-perfect archetype."

The general consensus among the black men who were on that panel: black women need to scale down expectations and stop being so picky. Misguided advice, according to Banks.

Only about 9 percent of black women are married to men of a different race -- compare that to 41 percent of Hispanic women, 48 percent of Asian women and 58 percent of Native American women in the United States. However only 8 percent of white women marry outside their race. To Banks, it seems like it is time for a change.

"Interacial marriages have actually been rising for everyone," Banks said. "Black women have fought the good fight. They have engaged in what one friend described as a 'noble effort,' trying to lift black men. That's praiseworthy, but at the same time we should recognize that, that strategy hasn't really worked."

'How the African-American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone'

It's fair to say that strategy of trying to find a suitable husband within her race hasn't worked for Tomika Anderson.

"I think there definitely have been challenges in terms of finding compatibility, especially in a city like New York," she said. "Even if you do have compatibility, there's not always the marriage-mindedness that we women sort of have around this time frame."

Anderson said she is eager to get married, and she didn't wait for a book to suggest dating outside of her race.

"I love black men. There is an absolute loyalty that I feel toward black men and will always feel," she said. "But there's also a loyalty that I feel toward myself. I do know women who have been sort of conditioned to think that they only should date black men, and I think that's the challenge. I think that when you start limiting yourself, then you may be a little bit upset with what comes out in the end."

Critics of Banks' book say that he is just a profiteer who is benefiting financially from black females' anxieties at the expense of black male egos.

"I have been called a racial pimp," Banks said. "I think the view is wrong."

After earning his bachelor's degree from Stanford and his law degree from Harvard, Banks then married a black woman. His contention now is that black women would be better served if -- in his words -- they don't marry down, but marry out.

Another thrust of the book is included in its subtitle: "How the African-American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone."

"The same trends that engulf African Americans, they will reach the rest of society," Banks said. "So we ignore what's happening with African Americans at our peril."

Banks argued that while divorce is widespread in the United States, more babies are also being born out of wedlock across demographics, and as an example, he pointed to the 25 percent of white children born to unmarried parents.

But the bigger question is still how realistic is it for black women to marry outside of their race. Of all interracial marriages between blacks and whites, statistically only 25 percent of them involve a black female.

"The story of why black women and non-black men don't come together is a complicated one," Banks said. "Part of the story is that black women don't see interest expressed by white men, in part, because you're not looking for it. White men in fact might not express interest in black women who they would otherwise be interested in partly because they don't think it would be reciprocated."

The dating website, OKCupid.com, conducted a study with over 500,000 profiles at random that calls Banks' ideal that true love is color-blind into question. The website found that black women replied more to compatible matches than any other race or gender, yet they received by far the fewest replies. After factoring in compatibility between white men and black women profiles on the site, OKCupid's study found that white men responded 25 percent less frequently when they were matched with a black woman. But Banks fired back a defense.

"What people neglect to mention though is that there were a lot of other men included in that study as well," Banks said. "Men who were neither white or black -- Asian Americans, Latinos, Middle Eastern -- They wrote back to black women not only more than white men did, some of them wrote back black women more than black men did."

In Anderson's case, she said she rarely gets hit on by men of other ethnicities, but is hoping that would change.

"I wish I would, it would be a lot more fun," she said. "Maybe I'm not meeting men of other ethnicities because I just don't know the right places to hang out."

Tune into "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET for the conclusion to this story, including what happens when Anderson tries speed dating in New York City.

ABC News' Lauren Effron contributed to this report.