- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Let’s call this “ladies’ comeuppance,” part two. I recently attended a forum at the Congressional Black Caucus Conference called “Single Women, Unmarried Men: What Has Happened to Marriage in the Black Community?” hosted by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat.

The event was standing room only, with a largely female audience. The topic du jour was, of course, men behaving badly, but guest speakers Audrey Chapman, whom I wrote about last week, and Shane Perrault aimed their tough-love talk primarily at the ladies.

For black America, the best of times are that “we’ve got our first black family in the White House,” said Mr. Perrault, a psychologist and founder of African American Marriage Counseling in Silver Spring.

“Frankly, I was amazed” that President Obama made it to the White House and did so safely, Mr. Perrault said. “But I got to tell you, as a black man, I was equally amazed that he ain’t got no drama” in his home life.

Mr. Obama is smooth, articulate, educated and talented, “I got a man-crush on him,” he confessed to cheers.

“But then I started reading about Michelle Obama, and for 10 years - 10 years! - this woman was the breadwinner” for the family, he said.

To do this amazing feat, Mrs. Obama had to “look at the trajectory over time” - she had to see her man for his potential, not how much money he brought home today.

There’s a lot of black women who want to marry “a Barack,” but they don’t want to do what Mrs. Obama did - work and pay bills while he spends years in school, Mr. Perrault said. In fact, many black women don’t want to be with someone who’s “less than eye-level.”

“So what are we going to do?” he asked.

Blacks can’t blame the white man and past injustices, he said, noting that slavery-era marriage practices, though not recognized by the white owners, still kept the black family as intact as possible.

And getting married is not the problem. “Two fools can do that in Vegas,” he said. The problem is “getting married and staying married.”

Based on his years of counseling, Mr. Perrault said, the underlying issue for black American couples is “an inability to create a win-win situation.” Black women see black men as noncommittal, emotionally distant, egocentric and “dogs.” Black men see black women as strong and capable - but also stubborn, jaded and full of attitude. Queens. But no Kings.

The result is a lose-lose situation, where neither sex trusts, respects or loves the other, he said.

A revolution is needed. This means marketing new, healthy images of black men and black women - with the Obamas as a key role model - and introducing gender roles that are respectful, loving and win-win.

Black women may balk at the idea of a husband being the head of a household, Mr. Perrault explained. But please remember, he said, recalling his own savvy stepmother, even if men are the head, women are the neck - “and when that neck turns, the head follows.”

“If we don’t accept or start to understand our gender roles better,” he said several times, people will stay stuck in the “lose-lose situation.”

Mr. Perrault closed with an observation by scholar William Galston, a domestic-policy adviser in the Clinton administration. To avoid poverty, Mr. Galston said, young people should “finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of the families who do this are poor; 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor.”

Change is imperative for black America, said Mr. Perrault, who thanked Mrs. Norton for being “such a visionary” about marriage.

“We need to have more forums like this, and we need to have them all over the country,” he said. “With about 33 percent of our kids being brought up in two-parent households - I mean, that’s a plague, y’all.”

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at


• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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