The Criminalization Of Unmarried Black People Reinforced A Dangerous Status Quo

wedding rings conjoined
Zain Murdock
February 10, 2023

During American enslavement, Black people had all sorts of family structures and relationship styles. Then, the Freedmen’s Bureau decided that had to change. 

In 1863, the American Freedman’s Inquiry Commission conjured a plan to control newly freed Black people through marriage.

Though the physical shackles fell, true freedom for emancipated Black people wasn’t present. Those who exercised their autonomy to refuse marriage and monogamy were punished. For some, that meant denied pension payments. For others, actual prison time.

The commission even reported that those Black people were “uncivilized, degraded, undisciplined, and ... unchristian.” And that’s still how they see us. 

Today, being “respectable” is still the norm. But respected by whom? A country that abused and bred us for our labor?

Black people who break these norms are still policed by actual laws and cops. Bans are even storming the nation, aiming to remove access to books that explore gender and sexuality in a way that contrasts white supremacy and anti-Blackness.

From Black LGBTQ+ people breaking gender norms, to those unpartnered by choice, to incarcerated people preserving romantic relationships, so many of us already empower ourselves and each other to exist unapologetically. Never stop.

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