How Social Justice Work Keeps You Single
Image by Andrew J. Swain via Flickr/Creative Commons
Today is September 1, 2013, so it’s official: it’s been one year since a man asked for my number.
To be more accurate, it’s been well over a year because the last time I gave someone my number was before August 31, 2012, but I couldn’t remember the exact date, so I decided to mark the occasion once August ended. And August 2012 didn’t ask for my number. I met him at a networking event and we exchanged business cards, although I’m sure we both knew our interests were personal. The last man to ask did so in May or June of 2012. And it’s not like I’ve seen someone I wanted to talk to and just stood by wishing he would ask for my number. While I’m rather traditional about human mating rituals and shy in all social situations, and I would have trouble asking for a number if I did see someone I wanted to talk to, that hasn’t been the reason I’m 0 for 365.
Wait–366. 2012 was a leap year.
I blame location, lifestyle and social justice work. I live in Louisville, Kentucky, a place black people who aren’t from here land when they’re looking for a black studies graduate program that offers good assistantships, or when a good diversity recruiter from UPS, GE or one of the hospitals convinces them Louisville is a great place to raise a family. That means black men–and yes, that would be my preference–coming here are either 22 or married with children. In my experience, the ones who are from here and in a reasonable age range for me are either married or too enmeshed in the criminal justice system for me to go there.
My life in this no-black-man’s land doesn’t leave much room for meeting people anyway. I’ve been in a constant state of “busy” for years now, in part because that’s how well-intentioned people assured me I would meet someone. I shouldn’t try to force it, they said. I should be open to possibilities, but instead of structuring my life around finding a date, I should focus on developing as an artist and do the things I enjoy, and I would find someone doing the same things and know right away we have something in common. That would make sense if writing were a team sport or if I were into billiards and beer. I like to exercise, but I’ve been a YMCA member for 10 years, and exactly 3 men at the gym have asked for my number. (And one of those men was married. I know because his wife found my number and called me, but that’s a story for another time.) I don’t find any men in my writing group, Women Who Write, and going across the country to writing conferences like AWP or workshops like VONA hasn’t helped. More than two-thirds of AWP conference attendees are women, and it appeared 90% of the people attending VONA were women or gay men. Faith is a big part of my life, and I know plenty of couples who have met at church, but that hasn’t worked for me, and with my congregation being 25% male at last count and most of them married or old, I’m not counting on the Holy Spirit raining down cupid arrows anytime soon.
And what am I doing when I’m not writing, exercising or worshiping? I’m at work, at an institute for social justice research, either in the physical institute or out in the social justice/social change community.
Confession: I almost didn’t take the job because I knew the job would dramatically decrease my chances of meeting someone. I’m surrounded by many wonderful people every day, but most—certainly not all but most—fall into some combination of the following three categories: female, white, or gay. Looking for activities that will put you around straight black men? Hope you’re not that into social justice.
At least, I hope you’re not that into a broad definition of social justice. For example, if you attend a black church where the preacher is teaching liberation theology, there are probably some heterosexual black men in the congregation agreeing with what the pastor says about racism, the prison industrial complex and economic inequality, but not with what he says about feminism or LGBT rights or immigration, because the pastor isn’t talking about them. Neither is the straight black man leading the charge for education reform or starting a school for black children. Neither is the one working on restoring felons’ rights or keeping kids in his neighborhoods out of gangs or teaching art to black youth.*
All of this is the work, and I believe people should stick to what they’re passionate about. But some social justice organizations embrace intersectionality while others don’t. Some are sexist. Some anti-gay. Some are so tired of the “white people, please come save us” narrative that they would rather get less accomplished solo than join forces across racial lines—if mostly white organizations ever thought to reach out to them.
This isn’t a criticism of the social justice organizations black men are running or participating in. It’s an unscientific observation of how good people with good goals don’t work together. And it’s my unhappy anniversary.
*These are examples or composites, not specific people and not all in Louisville.