Welcome to Operation Reach B.L.A.C.K.

Operation Reach B.L.A.C.K. is a Pan-African Blog with an acronym that stands for Building Leadership Awareness and Cultural Knowledge.

The goal of this blog is to become a "Blog of Black Thought" focusing on matters of social, economic and political awareness through education (re-education), self-affirmation and cultural expression. Above all, this blog will DEMAND respect and appreciation for one another as black men and women.

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(Opinions, Observations, and Commentary)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Parallel Frustrations: A Follow Up to "The Conversation"

In reviewing Hill Harper's new book, The Conversation, I highlighted two observations that seemed quite powerful in their relevance to the discussion:

Harper goes through great lengths to convey what black men and women are looking for in a relationship. The answers vary, but two requests, in particular, were quite poignant:

1. Black men have a desire to feel NEEDED; and
2. Black women have a desire to be TAKEN SERIOUSLY

And before the cynics attack such requests as being unearned - hold it right there! Harper does an excellent job of focusing the spotlight on successful black relationships . . . relationships that are built by men and women who don’t fit the stereotype . . . relationships that take time and cooperation to build. Harper makes it clear that these men and women are the norm, NOT the exception, and that, as such, they deserve the respect they seek.

Perhaps my interest stems from a conversation I had some years ago on the message boards of Essence.com. IF we were to strip away our false bravado and allow our vulnerabilities to come through, we might find that much of our anguish stems from a desire for validation from one another as black men and women.

I happened to have saved my post from that conversation. It deals with certain insecurities we demonstrate that stem from a long history of racial baggage and the struggle to juxtapose traditionally white standards of "success," "masculinity" and "femininity" with black skin. As you'll see, I think this sets an easy trap for black men and women to engage in flawed (if not tortured) logic. It becomes a process through which we begin to accept and internalize negative stereotypes about each other.

Here it is . . .let the conversation continue:

I've read your comments a couple of times and I'm struck by parallels that exist between black men and women. . . The following is how I see the black male/female conflict in general (sans kids, deadbeat dads, baby mama drama, etc.)….

The way I see it, black men and women both share similar levels of frustration. The difference, however, is that we tend to seek fulfillment in two different manners. Black women have a strong desire to feel APPRECIATED. Black men, on the other hand, have a strong desire to feel NEEDED. This is consistent with many of the complaints that we've seen in this discussion.

A black woman's desire for appreciation is fulfilled through reciprocation...a "real man" must reciprocate her similar tastes, drive, goals, and even professional aspirations. This is a search for empathy. A black woman demands that her man possess the ability to RELATE to what she wants out of life. This is clear cut…”either you’ve got plans for your life, or you don’t.” Thus you'll see some women assume that love can be predicated upon objective standards (this constant discussion of "standards") such as profession and education. She thinks, “This is proof/documentation that this man has been where I've been and is headed where I'm going.” “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!”

The black woman's frustration and ultimate disappointment with the black man comes when she feels that she cannot relate to him. Why? Well, she feels that he lacks the capacity to reciprocate...he lacks the degree, drive, experience, goals, etc. Even worse, he lacks the simple DESIRE to reciprocate. This is depressing. The black woman thinks, "Surely, if there is anyone who would share my drive and passion, it should be a black man." Yet it is his LACK of drive that disgusts her and plants the seed of doubt in her mind that there are any good black men.

Black men, on the other hand, ultimately want to feel NEEDED. Status is of less importance here. In fact, one might feel more "manly" if his wife/girlfriend is of a lesser status than he because that increases the chance that she will need him (an unfortunate hang-up considering the upward mobility of black women). NEED feeds the male ego like APPRECIATION feeds the female ego. We’ve all heard this before: “A man needs to feel like he’s THE MAN.”

A black man's desire to feel needed is fulfilled through SUPPORT. I am not talking about financial support, but emotional support - a support so strong, it can be called loyalty. The black man looks at the world as a constant assault. Yet he’d happily die, a soldier for the cause, if he knew he were fighting to preserve the undying loyalty of his woman. Above all, at the end of the day, he needs to know that he and his wife/girlfriend are ON THE SAME TEAM. “I need a ride or die chick!”

The black man’s frustration and ultimate disappointment with the black woman comes when he views her as competition, rather than an ally. Why? Well, he feels that she doesn’t “support” him. Yeah, she’ll “loan” a brotha $20. She’ll care for the children and help keep a home (all of this, which he foolishly overlooks). But she’ll never say that she NEEDS a man in her life. Never. More specifically, she’ll never say she NEEDS A BLACK MAN in her life. Quite the opposite, the black man is bombarded with message after message…book after book…talk show after talk show of black women ranting about their trifling, no good, deadbeat, no-job-having, poor excuse for a man. This is depressing. The black man thinks, “Surely, if there is anyone who would proclaim her need for me, it should be a black woman.” Yet, ironically, it is her bravado that disgusts him and plants the seed of doubt in his mind that there are any good black women.

Yet the parallel still exists…black men and women both searching for VALIDATION from each other (although neither side will ever admit it). Both equally stubborn, yet equally fragile in the context of their BRUISED EGOS. Most importantly, these bruised egos are fueled by an envy for what other races seemingly have. The grass always looks greener on the other side doesn’t it?

Furthermore, our definitions of masculinity and femininity are trapped in and obsessed with white traditional standards. Take the black woman’s desire for appreciation: This desire, in certain ways, is an envy for the “Cult of True Womanhood” – the traditional view of gender relationships that placed white women on a pedestal to be admired (admiration often confused for being the ultimate APPRECIATION). Of course, history tells us that this concept has its pitfalls. The Cult of True Womanhood was truly more oppressive than uplifting. However, some black women become fixated on what white women have…the IMAGE of success. She wants what the white woman has….yet everything she sees screams that she was NEVER meant to have it.

Now look at the black man’s desire to feel needed: This desire is, in many ways, an envy (a lust) for the white, alpha male concept of masculinity. It is the traditional role…man is king of his castle…father knows best, etc. No one makes a decision without his approval, not because he won’t allow them to do so, but because his input is NEEDED – valued at such a high premium so as to make things almost impossible to accomplish without his influence. He is their leader and they support him as such. Some black men become fixated with the IMAGE of support. He wants what the white man has….yet everything he sees screams that he was NEVER meant to have it.

Not surprisingly, after centuries of obsession with and submission to white standards, black men and women both flirt heavily with the notion that they can only find happiness with white mates – that there is an endemic character flaw within us as black folk that prevents us from ever realizing happiness through new standards that we create for ourselves.

Black men and women, both with similar stigmas – an almost mirrored history of negative stereotypes related to sexuality, education and HUMANITY – wanting that special validation that we’ve been trained to deny each other since we first stepped on these shores as slaves.

Just some food for thought.




Video: Perspective Piece