The Political Economy of Monogamy
“See, you gonna get caught.”
As the cousin of a close childhood friend tosses a packaged condom he finds laying inside a semi-closed laptop.
That moment opened up a whole conversation between my friend and I about his cheating ways and the ways black men and women deny their own sexuality. I asked him why he cheated and he didn’t know why. Instead of him being honest with his partner he chose to hide his desires and create a future scenario where he would lose the trust he built. I suggested he try to be honest and find someone, maybe even his current partner, who would be ok with polyamory in order to create a relationship where he could fulfill his desire to be with more than one person and everyone would be ok and have to consent to that. He thought that would just create trust issues.
After our discussion, we agreed that the foundation of any good relationship WAS basing it on an ethics of trust whether polyamorous or monogamous or even platonic.
When I look at my own parent’s relationship they were together and stayed together since I was born. My father worked while my mother stayed home to raise my older brother and me. They never married even though at one point later in their relationship my mother wanted to.
I realized that black and poor people’s relationships because of disenfranchisement and lost opportunities due to racist policies and practices under capitalism in America precludes them from going about relationships in the traditional ways we are conditioned to go about them.
Historically folks would be out in the world going about your business and you meet a potential partner through mutual interest, go on a few dates and learn about each other and it moves to finally consummating that relationship with sex, an act of intimacy that is held as the peak of cementing most romantic relationships. You get married and build a life together for the rest of your life. It goes without saying or is a given that people are to eventually find stable employment conducive to a family with two parents and children, traditionally man and woman, with 2.5 kids, a house, a car, and many other amenities that are social status symbols of the correct way a household is suppose to be, the ‘nuclear family’ concept.
That concept is useful for the roles capitalism and society needs the family to play in order to perpetuate itself. The person designated as head of household, usually the man, does all the outside wage labor with the woman staying at home doing unwaged “free” labor via upkeep of the house and the nurturing and caring of their spouse and children. With the state of the economy dying for its last gasp of air in the modern world, both parents need to be gainfully employed and it sets up a differently functioning and I would dare say, ‘uneven development’ in familial bonds due to the inequity of time coupled with the amount of income the duo can procure.
The reason I believe these are precarious roles for black people to assume in particular is because of the current and historical economic disenfranchisement that has been imposed by the American government and civil society onto the majority of black and poor women and men throughout history that have longstanding consequences. The statistics on divorce bare out the lasting effects because upwards of 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. Only 45% of African American households contain a married couple, compared to 80% for Whites, and 70% among ‘Hispanics’. Also, the divorce rate for African-Americans is nearly double compared to the white divorce rate.
I don’t state these facts as evidence of a ‘gap of achievement’ towards a mainstream ideal of marriage needing to be closed by black folk, or, to point some flaw out in black culture that needs to be fixed, but to give evidence to and problematize these differences that imply there’s a need to reject the concept of marriage and the traditional family unit while showing how much more this ideal is a problem for black folks in particular as a group.
Even the means in which folks meet each other and are able to develop a romantic relationship is mediated via the quality of labor. If one is overworked between one or more jobs and/or school, is chronically unemployed, and makes less compared to other groups, when is there time to meet or share in resources with a potential partner? What is being held up as a prerequisite for romantic, intimate, and healthy relationships is being able to forge those relationships in times of leisure which, people who work to support themselves that much or have limited options for gainful employment, have limited amounts of, with lots of romantic relationships being initiated at the workplace or through mutual acquaintances.
The fast food relationships of modern time are partly due to cultural changes of a more liberal society. Cheating is a big problem and is based on a lack of communication that creates the future dissolution of the relationship. The lack of leisure time or quality family time creates a scarcity of time, time that otherwise could be devoted to building sustainable relationships.
Furthermore, normal issues that are faced in any relationship are amplified by socioeconomic positions that restrict the gaining, accumulating and sharing of resources between two people and the children they provide for. If no resources exist or are sparse, it creates tension and resistance towards a sustainable relationship that needs to be constantly and consistently reproduced over time.
“No romance without finance”, as the old cliché says, and without an abundance of resources and time that provides the space for people to relate to each other, scarcity rules and people disregard the roles they can play in relating to each other in mutually empowering ways as communication breaks down and becomes disarticulated through the real tangible needs and desires of the people involved.
Setting communication as a priority in any relationship isn’t anything new but creating/having surplus time for communication and setting aside ample time for relating with others in varying degrees is mitigated by labor itself and because of the long lasting effects of economic and social disenfranchisement, black folks as a group, should divorce themselves from old ideas that don’t reflect their reality but work within the framework of their desires.