This book began as a purely scholarly book, and I had a variety of more academic titles in mind, such as Race, Marriage and Inequality; The Evolution of an American Institution; and The Effects of Economics and Culture on Intimate Relationships. My research assistant at the time told me that my suggested titles were all boring, and that if I wanted people to read the book, I needed a more attention getting title.
The title comes from a young African American boy in Washington, D.C.. When a journalist visited his 6th grade class, one of the other boys said he wanted to learn about being a good father. The journalist volunteered to bring some married couples to talk about child rearing, but the boy said he wasn’t interested in learning about marriage. Then his friend interjected, “Marriage is for white people.”
The boy’s statement jarred me. It captured more poignantly than anything I had ever read not simply the fact of the black marriage decline, but also its emotional valence. The boy’s observation stirred in me a whole range of feelings, anger, sadness, confusion.
I embraced his observation as a title though because it confronted directly the sort of unpleasant reality that adults often seek to avoid. I transformed his statement into a question to match the sense of exploration and curiosity that pervades the book. I hope for the book to open a conversation not to end one.
I chose the title for another reason as well. The title asks not only whether marriage isn’t for black people, but also whether it isn’t for white people. An understanding of the marriage decline as a society-wide development is a central point of my book. The African American marriage decline represents a particularly extreme expression of developments that are reshaping the terrain of intimacy for everyone. As never before.