The Washington Post surveyed 800 black women—and published the wrong story about the results on A1 today. Readers learned that black women are more religious than white women, less worried about romance than others, and feel pretty good about themselves. But if they wanted to know how black women compared to other groups, they’d have to go online to look at the survey data—which paints a more useful “portrait.”
For instance, the story and its accompanying graphic note that black women are more religious than white women. But it neglects to mention that 70 percent of black men also find it “very important” to lead a religious life—a sign that there’s a clear balance being struck between whether and when black women identify as women or as black. Context-free data point after context-free data point make up the body of the piece.
While black women are less interested in marriage, there’s little context given beyond speculative quotes. There’s no mention that marriage is on a downward trend for all Americans—-particularly poorer Americans. (Black women, it’s worth noting, are more likely to be poor.) Instead, the story compares black women (40 percent of whom think it’s important to be married) to white women (55 percent of whom think it’s important to be married)—rather than comparing black women to their most likely partners, black men. Only 47 percent of black men think marriage is very important.
Author Krissah Thompson says there are “a number of significant differences in the outlooks and experiences of black and white women,” but she fails to point out that in most of the questions where black and white women’s opinions diverge, black women’s responses tend to be in line with black men. Which is to be expected, but bears some exploration. (The group most frequently out of touch with everyone surveyed? White men. Still waiting on the story about their hopes and dreams.)
While black women and white women tend to align when it comes to domestic or “women’s” issues, black women and men are more similar on race and self-perception questions. Ignoring that is a glaring omission in an article that purports to tell the whole story. It would have been far more interesting to explore where and why black women line up with other surveyed groups, and then hone in on questions where they are truly unique.
For example, 73 percent of black women are worried about not having enough money to pay their bills. Considering that the majority of poor people in the U.S. are women, this isn’t a surprise, but it’s an important question that gets the short shrift in the article in favor of platitudes about how black women are strong yet neurotic. Meanwhile a question about stress begs for an exploration that never comes: Women are more stressed than men, but why are black women less stressed than white women?
The editorial direction for the first story in their “Black women in America” series (tomorrow, they’re writing about Michelle Obama, who is so unique that it’s hard to believe there could be a relevant argument made about perceptions of her) is bizarre. Thompson opts to go over the data points in only the most superficial manner, pulling quotes like, “According to the stereotype, African American women—educated women—are b———, and they run men out of their lives because they are so mean and they don’t want a man and blah, blah,” from one Atlanta lawyer. But that’s a trope that frequently applies to educated women of all races. It may be more common for black women—or not, depending on who you ask.
And she quotes one student who says, “You still have to make sure you lay all of your credentials out there — your transcript, your portfolio, your résumé. They show why I am here.” But who doesn’t have to do that? Again, you could argue that black women have to do it more often, but as presented, it’s pure speculation and no proof or context. What about young black men? Or Latinas? Do some of them feel the same pressure? Probably. Does it depend on the field they’re going into? Possibly. Each quote just brings up more questions and very few answers.
Photo by Matt Dunn