By taking Wing's argument one step further, I argue that de facto polygamy is not just an African American anomaly, but an American cultural phenomenon that is occurs on many different levels.
I remember when I was in my teens, my father would constantly admonish me for listening to music- both "gangster" rap and hard rock- that were laden with disparaging messages about women. Though the lyrics were bad, sometimes the music videos were worse. In fact, the theme of many rap videos through the late 1990s and early millennium was pretty apparent. Every video had one man, surrounded the obligatory scantily clad 3 or 4 women who posed throughout the video in sexually compromising positions. Rap, techno, pop music- each of these genres most of the time incorporated misogynistic and sexist ideals into their lyrics and visual media.
Now, I want to reiterate that I am loosely, and generously, using the term polygamy. I am aware that many of these artists would never consciously admit that they approve of polygamy, or that their music was intended to convey this idea. But, one could not have attended an American high school in the new millennium without witnessing some manifestation of de fact polygamy.
To give a more brazen example of "de facto polygamy," I can recall one movie that most people will be familiar with. In Wedding Crashers, two men, played by Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, attend weddings, each time under a different facade, to sleep with multiple women. Personally, I think sexual liberation is beautiful for both men and women, and I don't want to chastise anyone who may be sexually promiscuous and sleep with LOTS of people. However, I would argue that movies like Wedding Crashers glorify the much celebrated idea of young, handsome men sleeping with as many women as they possibly can, without any strings attached. But, if these men formed semi-relationships with some of the women they slept with, would it in fact be de facto polygamy? As a corollary to this idea, if an individual woman has multiple relationships with several men, is she practicing de facto polyandry?
Although I obviously cannot speak for everyone, most people I encounter have an automatic disdain for polygamy. Many attribute polygamy to the oppression and abuse of women. Others believe that it takes away a woman's personal autonomy. Few will rejoice polygamy as a positive, social good for women. I think that once people have sorted through the negative feelings associated with polygamy, the actual practice of polygamy, if personal choice is involved, becomes a little easier to bear. One caveat to accepting a polygamous relationship is that personal choice must mean complete autonomy, absent any duress or emotional/physical coercion.
According to scholar, Michele Alexandre, in her article "Big Love: Is Feminist Polygamy an Oxymoron or a True Possibility," an anti-essentialist view may help Western cultures understand the practice of polygamy that so many of us condemn. Furthermore, when one acknowledges the various forms of polygamy that are present in contemporary America, it becomes possible to see that women sometimes choose polygamous relationships on their own volition. As someone who has long been exposed to the anti-Polygamist sentiment, I find it hard to believe that any women has truly consented to a polygamist marriage. But, others may find it incredulous that some women and men engage in other sorts of sexual activities without coercion from other sources (such as "cultural" coercion or peer influence.) Where there is physical or emotional abuse, as can be the case in certain countries where women have no rights, I cannot dispense with my "westernized" view that such women are acting autonomously. But, absent these blatantly coercive circumstances, I think that Alexandre has a point. I know after reading Alexandre's article and Wing's in the same day, I started to rethink some of my misconceptions about polygamy. While I have not changed my mind drastically, I have challenged myself to consider my beliefs. That may be the most that any of us can do, but its worth a shot.