Dear Black Women: Our Bad

Chris Rock has a binder full of classic lines. His career has been built on combining sarcasm, pop culture and political analysis and then viewing it from a black perspective. It’s what separates him from the glut of amateur comedians out there. It’s essentially what makes him dope.

In 2004, his stand-up special Never Scared dropped, and in it he had a bit about groups of people who, through history and circumstance, aren’t able to get along romantically. It was funny and the audience laughed it up. Then, suddenly, the crowd stopped laughing as he continued with this comparison.

“You're never gonna get a soul mate, the perfect person.  You're never gonna meet somebody that loves Seinfeld and the Wu Tang Clan. It ain't happening. Even if you meet the perfect person, it ain't gonna be the perfect time. You're married, they're single. That's right… You're Jewish, they're Palestinian. You're Mexican, they're a raccoon. You're a black woman, he's a black man.”


The laughs, which only seconds ago were spilling out like an overflowing bathtub, morphed into a slow, bass tone resonating rumble of “Ohhhh.” Why? Not because it wasn’t theoretically funny, because it was hilarious. It was because everyone in Washington D.C’s DAR Constitution Hall instantly felt a pain, like a carving knife thrust into their rib cages. That’s what the truth feels like. Chris Rock didn’t delve into some false analogy or over-the-top, hyperbole-laced routine as a way to scam cheap laughs. It worked because everyone knew the point Rock made was valid. Through years and years of neglect, an unyielding truth has risen. The state of black relationships are in the trashcan, and this can is covered by three-day-old Chinese food and a bunch of flu-drenched double-ply tissues. We Zero Dark Thirty’d the hell outta love. Worse yet, we seem okay with that.

Seeing the First Couple at Monday’s inauguration instantly brought back the same gushing comments that proliferated on the Internet and lively in-person conversations that we experienced during Mr. and Mrs. Obama’s first go ‘round in 2009.  Heavy praise at the living monument of love they’ve created, the pride of seeing a functional relationship occupied by people of color and the honor of knowing that this relationship is the envy of countless others. No black couple has ever been exalted and held up in high esteem like this before.  After the first inauguration, the mainstream media, shocked and awed by such a display of afro-romanticism, went looking for a comparative narrative in the lives of the thirty million people in America who classify themselves as black.

Though many instances of black love were and have been highlighted, when the stories came back four years ago, the numbers weren’t as high as many would have liked. Another story came to light. The dearth of stable, healthy relationships for black couples. Or, more specifically, why are there so many single black women? Or to be even more specific, the “single as a mofo,” “graduate degree or two having,” “barren uterus holding,” “no legit prospects in site,” “broken down emotionally but trying to front like everything’s cool,”-black woman.

It’s hard to say when this train of thought left the station, but this story from ABC News certainly qualifies as the crossover moment. Nightline, usually a bastion of serious and pressing matters, such as Middle East peace initiatives, clumsily tackled black relationships. (This is also around the time that Steve Harvey, who appeared on the show, went from a king of comedy to the nations foremost authority on black coupledom.) The report was ignorant and foolish, and engineered a significant level of pushback from progressive black women’s sites and publications.  But the disagreement didn’t change much of anything.

From here the match was lit and mainstream media outlets stumbled into a mosh pit of incongruence that most black folks knew already existed. A large faction of black relationships for the under 40 set aren’t healthy, productive or inspiring and now the whole world knew.

 * * * * * * * *  * * * * *

When I asked a group of young black professionals to, in one phrase, explain what black relationships need more of and need to get rid of, these were the answers given:

Black relationships have an abundance of what?

Cathy, 33, Marketing executive: “ratchetry”

David, 32, Writer/Journalist: Love

Charles, 32, assistant news director: An abundance of baggage.

Taneda, 32, Social Worker: Unnecessary complications

Tracy, 30, Businesswomen: mistrust


What do black relationships need more of?

Cathy: Love and Trust

David: Stability

Taneda: Peace and understanding

Tracy: Mutual respect

Charles: Love and responsibility

The answers are strikingly similar and moreso reflect a general consensus of uneasiness.  This discomfort exists on a subatomic level, so it’s invisible to the untrained eye. The reflex is to always avoid admitting pain and keep a tight chin regardless of the dire straights of the situation. It might be true, but we can’t let the world see our flaws. All the mainstream media did was air our proverbial dirty laundry. Those upset about that are missing the bigger picture, even though it’s hanging in their living room, crooked, with peeling paint and cracked glass.

To paraphrase US Attorney General Eric Holder, when it comes to black love, we are a nation of cowards.  There has been a collective shoulder shrug, a lack of respect for the value of a committed relationship from both men and women. We’ve gotten used to drawing lines in the sand and blaming the other party for not living up to our expectations – ya know, the typical “men and women are different” stuff. Except that it isn’t typical. It can’t be, because the stakes are too high.

Whether you read stories like this 2011 NY Daily News article:

Black women can also become dispirited because they confront a relationship market with too few black men who are stable and employed. Unprecedented numbers of black men spend some portion of their young adulthood incarcerated. More than 1 in 10 black men in their 20s or early 30s is behind bars; a black man's lifetime likelihood of losing his freedom is 1 in 4. And however much they understand the social circumstances that lead black men to criminal activity, most black women, like women of all races, don't want an ex-convict as a husband.

The paucity of desirable black men is most glaring on college campuses. Nearly twice as many black women as black men earn college degrees. Twice as many. Even those black men who might seem to be the most appealing marriage candidates – affluent college graduates – are less likely to marry than are their white counterparts


Or this from MSNBC:

Children of unmarried mothers of any race are more likely to perform poorly in school, go to prison, use drugs, be poor as adults, and have their own children out of wedlock.

The black community's 72 percent rate eclipses that of most other groups: 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of Native Americans were born to unwed mothers in 2008, the most recent year for which government figures are available. The rate for the overall U.S. population was 41 percent.


Or any of these articles from such renowned publications as the The Economist, The Wall St. Journal and even the United Kingdom’s The Guardian. The storyline is being created, administered and processed by other people. We can chalk it up to media outlets exploiting the topic for ratings and page clicks – and I don’t doubt that’s the primary motivation for these outlets – but that’s beside the point. While the rest of the world opines on this topic, the demographic that should grab ownership, sits on the sidelines with their hands in both pockets.

A few black men’s sites have tried to tackle the topic, but haven’t dedicated themselves to determining the real reason. Or find the issue an easy mark to try and flip it on women.  But the truth is that black men, by and large, have dropped the ball on this subject. We’re not invested in seeing a solution either because we reap the benefit or our disdain for black women has now reached detestable levels.

There will undoubtedly be those who will push back at the assertion that black men need to do more. Or at least, more so than anyone else. Not wanting to feel exploited, or have our bad moments highlighted with a fluorescent pen, we’ll say something to the effect of “we’re not the only ones” or “it’s only an issue when it happens to black folk” or some other sissified response. They’ll make excuses, point figures and reply with antiquated black protectionism garbage.

But that’s not gonna work here.

Any attempts to assuage this argument, with considerations of the trials and tribulations of other racial groups, will fall on deaf ears. The old saying of not worrying about cleaning another person’s house until I tidy up my own place takes precedence here.  This is strictly “for us, by us” business. Men have to take charge of the category of black love. It’s no longer just a woman’s issue. We have to do better. Nut up and make it happen.

On Sunday: In the second part of this series we start answering questions.

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