Educated, ‘Modern’ African Women are in Marriage Crisis Claim is a Myth

A recent article titled, “African moms: Be patient with your unmarried daughters” has been making the social media rounds amongst African circles this past week. The writer, China Okasi, a daughter of Nigerian parents, makes two main arguments: that “modern” African women – whom she defines as daughters of African parents living in the western world – have a unique problem. Their problem is the expectation of being married early and married “well,” and that their mothers are in a deep crisis because their daughters are late in marriage. Why are they late in marriage? Because they are empowered women who are educated and are searching for love and not necessarily marriage, something their mothers presumably did not have or did not want.

Generally, I agree with Okasi’s underlying claim that women of my generation who identify as African and American have it tough when it comes to marriage expectations. Balancing both African and American identities, and balancing both traditional and non-traditional cultural norms, puts us 1.5 and second generation African women in an interesting position. As daughters of African immigrants (or perhaps even immigrants ourselves) who came to the United States for financial and educational opportunities, as Okasi points out, we face challenges when it comes to getting married. For example, should one get married after getting a bachelor’s, or a master’s degree? Should we marry strictly within our own African culture, or will our parents and families be accepting if we venture into relationships or marriage with men of different backgrounds? Okasi mentions that many African parents expect their daughters will find their future husband in the land of the American Dream, without foreseeing some of these challenges. And so, in this way, “African daughters” face overlapping pressures.

However, after reading Okasi’s piece, I couldn’t help but feel confused and uncomfortable by many of her claims. Confused because I didn’t understand Okasi’s main point, and I felt like her piece was based on many broad generalizations about African mothers and their daughters. I am uncomfortable because her assumptions come off as patronizing to “African mothers,” who seemingly are not as educated, empowered, or as in love as their daughters are or will be. While attempting to critique the so-called pressures for “modern” African women to marry young, Okasi actually falls into the trap of perpetuating stereotypes of Africa and Africans. She essentializes a whole continent of cultures and practices into a stereotype of “arranged marriages, dowry and bride price.”

Also, Okasi’s terminology is confusing. What is a “modern African woman”? And why create a dichotomy between “African mothers” and their American, supposedly more “global” daughters? As if our mothers aren’t global, even more global, than we are? She sets up a false dichotomy between African women and their daughters: we daughters are more knowledgeable, global, modern, educated, and forward-thinking, and our mothers are backwards, and belong to a different time, times past. This is actually quite offensive, and disrespectful; our African mothers in reality are our essence, the reason we are where we are today. Our African moms and generations of black women before us are our “beautiful black anchors,” to quote rapper Lupe Fiasco.

One also must wonder who Okasi’s real audience is. She seems to be writing to African moms, but considering the prevalence of the digital divide and language barriers in our communities, I doubt they are actually her target audience. Actually, her target audience comes off as non-Africans and non-African women, ironically. I also wonder if this – an article online, which is patronizing at best – is truly the best medium and process by which to create sincere and loving dialog with our mothers about issues such as love and marriage. If there is a problem in our communities, we should try to meet our communities and our parents where they are at, not approach our own with a self-righteous attitude that, for all we know, is not being accessed by the target audience anyway.

In short, Okasi is making an issue out of a non-issue, vis a vis claims that I doubt most first, 1.5, and second generation African women relate to. As a daughter of parents who were raised in Ethiopia, and as a proud African woman myself, I can’t say I feel the marriage crisis or extreme pressures Okasi talks about. I can’t say I have irreconcilably different views on love and marriage as my parents do, although my views are also a product of my generation.
However, I believe that shifting views on marriage have always been a matter of generational differences that affect women regardless of their racial or ethnic background. This is a global and historic phenomenon that isn’t specifically tied to African women, and shouldn’t be labeled an African women’s crisis.

I love my mother and know that regardless of my status as an African and also an American, my “African mom’s” input and global perspective will always be invaluable to me in anything I pursue in life. Despite generational differences and at times conflicting expectations about love and marriage, our African moms are unbelievably supportive, globally-minded, and smart. That, to me, is the true story that is being missed here.

Lolla is a contributor to Sahan Journal and a journalist based in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Follow her at www.twitter.com/lomonur and check out her blog www.lollamohammednur.tumblr.com

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