Saturday, April 3, 2010

Man sharing for Fools or Realists?

One man having multiple women is called many names. Cheating, Polygamy, Man sharing, Divine Marriage, Plural Marriage and some bad names I refuse to print. I want to explore whether, in 2010, there might be a way for men and women to form positive partnerships that are mutually beneficial to a male and multiple female partners. There is already sufficient drama in our relationships and looking around, I see large numbers of children being raised in homes with little or no consistent positive male interaction. Is it reasonable to consider men having multiple partners in a relationship where each knows their status in each other's lives as a possible solution to the chaos we are currently witnessing.

I first became aware of the fact that some men have more than one wife in the 1970's when I was in my early 20's. Do not start guessing my age, but I do consider myself a fine-tuned vintage model. I've covered some mileage but I follow my Maker's manual and I'm in nearly mint condition! I digress, back then I considered myself an African Nationalist, you can look that up, but in brief, I believed strongly that for African Americans to achieve better status in the United States we should be more closely aligned with Mother Africa.

Then, as now, for Black women, the viable options for a committed life partner of the opposite sex were limited. Lets deal with that. During a quick Google search, I found that the 2002 statistic for prison inmates in the U.S was well over 2 million. Further, 10.4% of the entire African-American male population in the United States aged 25 to 29 was incarcerated, by far the largest racial or ethnic group—by comparison, 2.4% of Hispanic men and 1.2% of white men in that same age group were incarcerated. Once a man has been in jail (has papers on him) do you know how unlikely it is for him to secure a "good job"?

In the 70's, 40 years ago, Haki R. Madhabuti, distinguished educator, author, publisher and founder of Third World Press, convened a forum to discuss and air views in the Nationalist community on 'Man sharing.' Everything goes in circles and so now 40 years later; this unresolved topic rises again to the top of the heap. I saw a recent forum on Black Love convened by a concerned sister and the topic was 'Man sharing' yet again. I have learned that when life tosses you a lesson and you cannot resolve it, it comes back to you. It is almost as if the Universe is saying, "Are yawl ready to deal with this now?"

I notice that, perhaps because so many men are being locked away together, there are increasing numbers of men who are same gender loving. In addition, large numbers of men are being killed in street violence or in the military, not to mention men who are just mentally unstable, pedophiles, rapists, or just hopelessly emotionally broken. Seriously, what are women to do?

Years ago, I joined one of the many Black Hebrew Israelite groups in the United States and migrated with them to West Africa. The group practiced Divine Marriage. Divine Marriage allowed for, but did not specifically require, a man to have more than one wife. Our guidelines required that the man be responsible in all the ways that he was responsible to his first wife, to additional wives and all the children. The intention was to infuse order and balance into the relationship.

An observation made recently by a long-time resident of Liberia was that having more than one wife is an African solution to a problem of having more women than eligible men. He understood from living in the mountains of Voinjama (Liberia) among the Mandingo that if you have more women then men in a tribe you want the women of your culture to increase your tribal numbers and to retain your culture rather than dilute it by marrying outside your tribe. Survival of the group is the issue. A man of stature gained respect by taking up the slack and marrying more than one woman. I've lived in situations where men have multiple wives and I've seen relationships run the spectrum from good to terrible, much like relationships between couples practicing monogamy.

As I witness some of the more recent scenarios play out in my community between men and their multiple women, the perception and the practice of relating to one another seems mainly negative. There is a lot of "baby mama drama" and women fighting other women over the attentions of a male, and men shirking their responsibility for their offspring. How can that damage be repaired for the good of the community?

Do we challenge the notion that it's wrong for a woman to pursue another woman's man, even when the chances for her having her own man are not in her favor? Should women feel bad for forming relationships with men already in other relationships? Is there a way to manage these relationships positively and productively? These are questions.

Women who feel they are safely in a relationship look outside at their sisters and say, "Get your own man and leave mine alone." However, when I speak to men, even those that claim to be in a good relationship, few can honestly say they have never had an extramarital relationship. Among Black women, our reality is, there is not a 1 to 1 ration of hetero Black men to hetero Black women. So how does a Yin balance her Yang?

I speak from the experience of a Black woman, but could my scenario fit women of other cultures. I’m not sure, but I don't think so.
At any rate, I was turning this topic around in my head. Has anybody else? I open the conversation.