[Editor's note: The gross generalizations when using the blanket terms of "black women" or "black men" are not to be understood as engaging the stereotype of "all" and lumping everyone into broad categories. But for the sake of easy communication in an already lengthy blog post, please adjust your comprehension accordingly. That is to say, if I'm not writing about you, then so be it; if the shoe fits, wear it, if not, then don't. JLL]
In the Age of Obama, the smoldering embers of black female and black male relationships roared to life most unexpectedly. For many years prior, the black female agenda had been relegated to novelists such as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker for example and was housed largely in the work of authors such as bell hooks or Jacqueline Grant just to name a paltry few. Black feminist and womanist thought had not yet received the shot in the arm that it desperately needed. Black women were not just mounting a defense against predominant culture, but also battling black men who promoted and supported forms or patriarchy that kept them at the bottom.
Black women in this country have only recently received their suffrage moving from object to subject within the past generation or so. Accounts of American history and specifically Black History have highlighted strong black women from Jarena Lee, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Diane Nash, Rosa Parks, Myrlie Evers, Hattie McDaniels, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisolm, Michelle Obama not to mention the countless wives of modern civil rights leaders who stayed with their family and as their husbands sacrificed, they to sacrificed as well. It has been of no question of the level of endurance black women in this country.
However, fictionalized accounts often tell of the glorious sacrifices that black women had to make. We love to tell the story of Rosa Parks, or Myrlie Evers or even Coretta Scott King. But even in the telling of the story of Coretta Scott King, we rarely talk about her husband’s proclivity for white women and stepping outside of the marriage; the type of pain that such a woman of prominence incurs that reduces her to an afterthought and ultimately back from subject to object. We don’t talk about the male dominance du jour that black women felt the sting of a backhand from many a’ husband. The level of physical and sexual abuse meted out from black man to black woman is certainly nothing to be scoffed at for the sake of sweeping it under the rug.
We have the fictionalized story of “The Color Purple” in more recent times that has stood as a benchmark for understanding the brutality that black women faced in the rural post-bellum South at the hands of black males and larger white society. But, I remember being ten years old and my parents letting me watch the movie, the first of only two movies that I cried on (I can admit that), but I remember hearing my mother make the comment that “Alice Walker uplifted black women at the expense of black men” and that has stuck with me until this day. So, four years later after reading Walker’s “The Flowers” short story essay about Myop, my 9th grade English teacher informed us that Walker was to be speaking at University of Chicago. I went with a friend, and her mother to hear Walker speaking to a packed house, mostly of white college aged students and older white liberals no doubt, went on this tirade about black men.
We got up and walked out.
Back in this Age of Obama, intellectual discourse is no longer relegated to coffee houses in elite enclaves of academia, but has become part of pop culture. While intellectuals have always made it their business to be cultural critics, meaning that there is a veritable and studied school of thought behind critical theory, means that pop culture has always been analyzed, certainly so in the years following World War I. However, what was being said no longer requires a subscription to a boring scholarly journal, or purchasing Harper’s Weekly or the New Yorker or even just reading an editorial in the Sunday newspaper, but now we can merely turn on the television and hear and watch news stories on these issues.
As the United States culture of American has participated almost single-handedly in the dumbing down of our culture both here and abroad, we less and less qualified person with the ability to speak. I refuse to lay the blame at the feet of one entity be it big business and corporations, mainstream media, politicians, conservatives, liberals or anything of the like, but the fact remains that in the Age of Obama we have produced a populace that doesn’t believe in reading, doing fact checks, thinking before they speak and actually promote mediocrity cloaked in a false sense of passion and intellect. Seriously, the way people throw and use stereotypes nowadays is absolutely appalling.
As the Age of Obama dawned c. 2008, the dominant culture was more than intrigued with seeing a perceived black man and his equally black wife being so prominent in the face of the myriad of stereotypes about black men and black women. As a result, CNN leading the charge with it’s abysmal Black In America series beginning in 2008 and has done equally wretched follow-ups since then. However, Lady Michelle Obama thrust black female imagery back into the forefront of American iconography. Not since John F. Kennedy had America had a young and photogenic couple, with kids in the White House. The only problem was that they were black.
The Age of Obama wouldn’t be the Age of Obama if he and Michelle weren’t black.
Fox News and it’s minions ranging from Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh made so many underhanded, and mean comments about Michelle Obama making dirty comments about her height, her arms and her legs which of course do not stand to the white female image of beauty: Michelle Obama has curves and she’s not afraid to show them. Naturally and rightly so, most black women were severely offended, and so was I. That in 2008 and forward we were really listening to middle age white men say such things into microphones on syndicated radio shows–that had corporate sponsors.
Somehow, out in the ether, moderate mainstream outlets capitalized on this issue with black women and produced these news specials addressing black women in America and just how single they are and how depressing it is to be a successful black woman in America and then all hell broke loose.
We all remember the tragedy that was the Nightline special with Steve Harvey.
And we remember the further successive flunks that brought by ABC as well:
It’s like seven parts, so feel free to find the rest on YouTube if you want, but I realised we had entered silly season when Sherri Shepherd decided to say she wanted a black man who could take her braids out with her.
In my own opinion, when pop culture made this decision to place the battle of the sexes into the public sphere, it gave the power for women to objectify themselves. I think what has happened is that pop culture, combined with some highly problematic philosophies of black feminism and womanism has allowed for black women to place themselves on an objectified pedestal that renders them untouchable. That’s why Sherri Shepherd and the fineness that is Jacque Reid can sanctimoniously sit up on Nightline, get a check and essentially play the role of a pitiful, yet strong and independent black woman. Just like most blacks are convinced that there’s a cure of HIV/AIDS out there, I’m convinced these black women can find a man. But, just as there’s no money or profit in the cure, there’s no profit or money if black women start getting married.
If black women started getting married, then what would happen to black feminism and womanist thought that is so female-centered that there is no room for a black man? Seriously, would “The Color Purple” be such a great movie if there was even ONE decent black male character that they had developed (since it was a fictional work)?
Black women are dominating the discussion. Anytime a black woman in a room full of single black men says to the effect that “there are no good black men; the good ones are taken and the rest are gay” she has objectified herself into thinking that she’s an object of desire. Aside from the personal objectification being problematic, anytime a decent brother tries to check her about it, he’s labeled a male chauvinist and complicit in the issues of male patriarchy–we become the enemy! Basic common sense (although arrived at through a series erroneous and horrible jumps to conclusions) would tell anyone not to sleep with the enemy. So when black men become the enemy it’s easy to run around saying “there are no good black men” although, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: black women that choose to subscribe to this line of reasoning will never find a black man.
It also seems that black women are using the victim excuse of just how badly they are being portrayed in the media for the #NWNW (No Wedding, No Womb) internet campaigns, or just as a reasoning behind being an “independent black woman.” Frankly when I hear a black woman use negative media images as a reason behind their thought processes, I feel insulted as a black man. It seems as though you’re suggesting that black men aren’t negatively portrayed in the media either. Fact of the matter is that blacks, as a whole which would include males and females don’t rank high in positive media imaging.
Understandably taking the victim role I think does aid in the healing process, but when we’re left battling each other for who’s story should be at the bottom, I think it defeats the purpose of actually healing the wounds. Black women seemingly turn their attention to the easiest target of black men rather than deal with the hegemony of the dominant culture that brought us over here and turned us one against the other for the sake of American progress.
What pop culture has shown me through the wonders of the black blogging world and social networking is that often times these women who follow this line of thinking are often single well into their forties and give up or marriage, have married white men, or are actually lesbians. I really couldn’t care less about one’s life choices, however, if that logic is followed, then no doubt I see why those black women end up making those life choices.
So where does this leave black men?
I know plenty of black men who are my age and have gotten engaged or who are indeed married. However, there is this smaller cadre of black intellectual males that I encountered once I got to grad school that is left operating in this rarefied space of academia not quite knowing what to do with this new found intellect. The constant struggle of the public intellect is to make their ivory tower musings applicable to everyday life; I personally believe one without the other is futile. From this vantage point, I stand and make my claim:
I get the impression that the self-labeled “independent black woman” want her independence, but also wants to be dependent on her man (husband) as well. Okay, as awkward as that sounds, I think a lot of black women are just saying that and don’t really know what that means. But because they’ve been inculcated with this idea that “there are no good black men” out there, when on the first date, the guy makes the mistake of actually disagreeing with you on something, you label him as domineering and patriarchal — and you’re on to the next one. What these black women fail to understand is that if you keep treating black men as though they are merely an option, we’ll do the same and you can’t get mad at it.
Another issue is that this is highly a class issue. Black members of society who don’t make a certain amount of money and don’t reside in certain zip codes or who don’t have college degrees, certainly not those with advanced degrees, aren’t having this conversation. The stereotypical Boom’quesha and Jowakatema can always find a man. Similarly the Rae’Kwons and Jer’Marios of the world can always find a woman.
Black male intellectuals consider suicide when black women are too much.
Black male intellectuals have watched bastardized versions of black feminism and womanism pervade pop culture through the black blogosphere, social networking sites and mainstream media outlets. We saw it in Deborrah Cooper’s article “How Black Churches keep African American Women Single and Lonely” from summer 2010, to the now famous YouTube clip entitled “Black Marriage Negotiations” and even to Jacque Reid’s response on The Root entitled “A Viral Video Attacks Single Black Women” blaming it “having standards.” For the record, a list of non-negotiables isn’t having standards, but rather being an uncompromising individual who would be hell to live with in the first place.
I think black women need to be honest with themselves and stop hiding behind the mask of “independent black woman” or this warped idea of “what’s wrong with having standards.” Be honest with yourselves that you are in search of perfection. Black men know this and admit it often enough amongst ourselves, black women I’m sure in all female enclaves lust over the body of a Boris Kodjoe just like black men still daydream about Free from 106 & Park. But, this type of black woman doesn’t want to admit to their male counterpart their secret — the funny thing is that we already know it.
Black men know when a black woman has lost interest. If the man doesn’t know and still keeps on trying, well he’s a fool and isn’t really a part of this discussion anyway. What this leaves is the black male intellectual, left alone in the halls of academia trying to make sense of it all.
What I’ve noticed, from this vantage point of gearing myself up for one day embarking on a terminal degree is that black women have a warped sense of what stands as black male sexuality and black male masculinity which of course all plays into black male identity. Black women are defining the images of black maleness for us, and that was fine to a point. But the enlightenment that we have experienced in the Age of Obama and even the anteObama era has given license for black males to push back. Black men wear skinny jeans, and carry a murse (man purse), and go get facials and identify themselves as metrosexual, but still it doesn’t affect their personal identity of their manhood, their sexuality and their masculinity.
In fact, black women are just as vocal in using “gay” as a weapon to cut down a black man. Black women will call a black man gay if he doesn’t show interest in her. This not only continues her own self-objectification, but also cuts down black men in the process. It’s one thing if another black man challenges the masculinity and manhood of another black man using whatever weapon he will, that has more to do with the male ego, but it’s another thing when black women are also complicit in that.
Black women know what it means to call a black man a bitch. And they do it on purpose.
As the black male intellectuals stand operating in the rarefied air, many of them can’t find support from black women for much of the same reasons that black women list under the reasons why “there are no good black men.” Black men with a Ph.D. or even with a masters degree don’t want some waterhead female with a high school diploma no more than black women with advanced degrees want a working brother with a high school diploma. Both want to have a mate who can at least hold a conversation with them about some of the work that they’re doing. Just as I made the claim about black women marrying white women, black men also marry white women as well. Black women make this an unfair double standard because they justify their marrying outside the race, but vilify a black man if he does it.
Also, there is a higher percentage of black males who are actually gay the higher up in academia you go. Without stepping on toes, I really wonder if it’s for the same reasons some black women magically become lesbians the older they get: were these the black men that were unable to find woman for the same reasons that black women claim they can’t find a man?
I write this to wrest back my own black male masculinity and sexuality and identity from black women who have bastardized already problematic philosophies of black feminism and womanism. This is me sending notice to black women that you will not define my maleness, my manhood, my masculinity, nor my sexuality just to support your warped understanding of what it means to be an “independent black woman” or to “have standards.” I am here to declare and decree that you need to accept me for who I am with all of my faults and accomplishments and take me for who I am. If you can’t accept this, then we wouldn’t work out in the first place. If you view this is the epitome of patriarchal and chauvinistic, then so be it, but I am unapologetic for my masculinity and unashamed of being man. Take it or leave it.
My mother told me “A Black man is good enough,” and dammit, she’s right!
This is my Uppity Negro manifesto.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL