Frankly, most black men I have come into contact with were broken. Whether that’s a result of their inability to connect emotionally, hold worthwhile relationships with women, father their children without projecting insecurities, articulate emotion in a healthy fashion, trust anyone other than their mother, or communicate effectively.
Streams of blood trickled down my hands, as I tried to piece back together this glass figurine of a man that was supposed to support me. A house too weak to withstand the storm, and I was left to sort through the debris. The many nights I wept trying to figure out how I could fix him. In moments of rage he’d shout out childhood hurts and his disbelief that he, “deserved me”. I cowered, fearing that I would be the next target for his tightly bound hand.
Oh, how many times I have heard, “I don’t deserve you, Devin.”
Yet and still, they let me down, stepped out physically in our relationships, whispered empty promises of “forever” and family in my ear, didn’t show up when I needed them, fled at the first sign of difficulty, made me feel less than a sister who was lighter than I, robbed me of my joy, and made me wonder if “black love” was just some shit I saw on Instagram.
Listening to Jay Z’s album 4:44 was extremely triggering for me, as all of the hurt endured from black men raced to the forefront of my mind. As badly as I wanted to nod my head to the rhythmic beats and gracefully strung lyrics, I couldn’t. And moreover, I felt that I shouldn’t. This album was more than something to be played on repeat and given a “thumbs up” on a Pandora station, it was a reminder that there was a much needed discussion regarding the relationships between black men and women.
Shortly after the album’s exclusive release on Tidal, social media was buzzing with reactions and the sharing of memorable lines.
“Yeah, I’ll fuck up a good thing if you let me…”
“Look, I apologize, often womanize. Took for my child to be born, see through a woman’s eyes….”
“You mature faster than me. I wasn’t ready….”
“…and because I fall short of what I say I’m all about your eyes leave with the soul that your body housed and you stare blankly into space thinkin’ of all the time you wasted in on all this basic shit…”
While the album touched on other points such as supporting black businesses and investing, following public occurrences with Jay Z and wife, Beyoncé, it was interesting to observe just how similar our lives can be to the ‘rich and famous’.
Hell, if Beyoncé can’t get her man to stay faithful, how am I supposed to?
But seriously, the relationship woes and struggles with fertility made transparent in this album hit home, and more so, made me take a step back to evaluate my current and previous relationships with black men.
First and foremost, who do we even blame? Who is responsible for our broken boys that blindly venture into adulthood projecting their hurt on others? Mothers? Absent fathers? School systems which count them out before attendance is even taken? Representation in media that paint the black man as violent or only valuable throwing a ball? Lack of access to mental health resources? Being told to “man up” when they cry or express emotion? False ideals of what it means to be a man? Past lovers?
Surely, I don’t have the answer. Yet, I have found that black women are the ones often left to rehabilitate men we didn’t break. Raising children on our own, holding on to broken relationships hoping that he will change, and fighting toxic masculinity that places women in prisons with no opportunity of release.
Following a recent break up, I had to do some soul searching and ask myself, why. Why I am trying to love a man who isn’t loving me the way I want or deserved to be loved. Yes, he cared about me, but ultimately he viewed our relationship as a deterrent to get to where he needed to go. Our definitions of love were different, and I am not sure which one was more fucked up.
He carelessly discarded me when it was time to “focus on him”. Packed his things, said goodbye, and left. Chucking up the deuces to over two years of memories and what i believed to be love.
Leaving me behind wondering, “what the hell did I do wrong…again?”
Candice Benbow beautifully captured my feelings following this difficult time in her post, 4:43, where she touched on how selflessly black women love on black men who leave, become “better”, and then love another woman, a woman who ultimately reaps the benefits of her sacrifices, love, pain.. you get my point.
“Because if we’re going to go through this shit, it should be for a purpose. Right? Do we not love to be loved? Or have women like me mastered the art of being starter relation/situationships? Do we provide men like you with everything necessary to become the men you want to be—without us? Is that how this works? Who made these rules? I’m glad you’ve grown and are finding your way. But how am I supposed to celebrate growth that happened at my expense? What am I to make of a strength, nourished by food I cooked and dreams I fed, that I’ll never experience? There are far too many of us doing the emotional labor of birthing men we’ll never get to have and hold.” – Candice Benbow
I wanted answers, but I was tired of discussing this with black women. Tired of leaning on my sister’s shoulder, breaking down every time a black man hurt me. Tired of feeling like love between and with a black man was next to impossible.
Much like discussing issues of race amongst members of the minority race, much can’t change until we include our oppressors in the conversation. I wanted to hear from black men and know why.
A flicker of hope was restored when I came across a post this morning by Anthony Boynton, Let Us Not Wait: a Black Male Feminist Response to 4:44. I eagerly shared this post on every social media site and sent links to my friends. To see a black man not only recognize, but offer obtainable goals for black men to do better in regards to self love, relationships, and mental health was amazing. And more importantly, a starting point.
It is time for black men to take on the labor of deciphering Jay-Z’s misdoings and the historic measure of black women’s pain groomed by our emotional unavailability and seeds sown in patriarchy. Black men’s conversations about the album have been relegated to conversations about the capitalism that appear in “The Story of Jay-Z” because it is easier to analyze how systematic poverty and racism affects us than to hold up a mirror to how we are just like Jay-Z.
This is a call for black men to do better, for us to love black women, black folx, and ourselves more fully. To not wait to find new fields and land where we can live better lives. – Anthony Boynton
Black women can’t fix this. We can’t ya’ll. Hell, we’ve tried and we’re tired. As Boynton said, it’s a call for black men to do better. To do a bit of that soul searching I talked about earlier, and just love. Genuinely love one another better, and most importantly love themselves.
While one of my own personal goal is to love a black man, and one day have a family that would give the Huxtables a run for their money, what I really want is for my bothers, fathers, and friends to be whole, to live black boy magic to its fullest extent on a daily basis, love deeply, and be unafraid of commitment.
I didn’t use to believe this, but no one loves black men more than black women. No debate. While we can’t fix ya’ll, we can be here for you and support you during your process in healing.
Do better. Be better.