Bree-Ana Dukes, University at Buffalo
Conversations on dating and relationships within the black community are often plagued with negative connotations attached to them. On the part of black women, popular sentiments held are those of not being worthy of relationships, for reasons I can’t stand behind of course. For the sake of this article however, some common reasons include being seen as too independent, loud and outspoken, and single motherhood just to name a few. The contradiction in all of this is, black men are not viewed in similar ways that deem them unworthy of relationships. What you hear instead are things like, “black men have been through so much”, “we must care and stick up for our brothers”, and their single fatherhood status is constantly rewarded. The fact of the matter is, black brothers and sisters are all survivors of the war on black families and we are all trying to cope and heal from its destruction, yet black women are the ones who continually receive messages that we aren’t enough or need to change who we are. Healing cannot occur if we do not attribute this attempt to eradicate the black family on the system of racism and oppression, and instead blame black women. If you are unfamiliar with the institutional and systemic agents of destruction of the black family, consider the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, the war of drugs, the war on poverty, the prison industrial complex, and the many other various forms of oppression faced by black people in America.
In spite of these tragedies, black women prevail and still aspire to be in happy and healthy relationships. How many of us however, ask ourselves questions like, who am I? What am I passionate about? What do I believe or not believe in? What are my boundaries? How do I want to contribute to society? I know a lot of people who continuously go through this back and forth limbo of dating and being in relationships without allowing ample time to reflect on the last. Ladies, think about how selective we are in choosing our friends. We’re unsure if this woman is trustworthy or whether or not we even have enough in common to build a solid foundation, why don’t we apply the same sense of caution when it comes to men? Do we fear coming off as too difficult or confrontational, and essentially not getting “chosen”?
Let’s grapple with the notion of being “chosen” for a moment. In its most obvious sense, it is problematic because it gives credence to the patriarchy. Essentially it perpetuates the idea that women must conform to stereotypical gender roles in order to be likeable and lovable. For example, be soft-spoken, submissive, cook, clean, and other things of the like. Men are rarely held to the same standard of adequacy and in fact, many women feed into this “being worthy of a man” business. What makes a man above the notion of being worthy of a woman? Rhetorical obviously, but I challenge men to seriously ponder this question and consider how unfair it is to expect so much of a woman without providing an inkling of reciprocity.
I have reached a threshold in my life, having dated and been in multiple relationships, where being single has become necessary for aspects of my mental and emotional health. I spent a lot of time blaming myself and thinking that it was something wrong with my personality or quite possibly my womanhood. Women overwhelmingly possess these feelings of inadequacy, which can lead to the adaptation of eurocentric gender norms. History has shown just how much conformity does not equate to ones’ desired results, especially as it relates to black people. Frustrated by the lack of real conversations around this topic, and my failed dating and relationship experiences, I concluded that the most important thing any person can do for oneself is to embark on the journey of self-discovery. I find this to be especially important for black women and men because America has been creating false narratives about who we are for far too long. Additionally, I strive to be able to stand firm in who I am, while avoiding the risk of internalizing society’s false narratives.
Which leaves me to the men. For starters, let me just say that I love black men with all of me, and I’m sorry that the world continues to exemplify just how much it does not. However, all of the immense subjugation that you face is not an excuse to project your insecurities onto the vulnerability of black women. If you find yourself blaming a woman for “catching” feelings when you’re the one who took her fishing, you need healing sir. I must also acknowledge the fact that black women are doubly subjugated by the same world. The difference is, black women are fighting for themselves and everyone else, but who's fighting on our behalf? While black women continue on their quest for black love even when these same black men are not checking for us, consider how you as a man or a woman take part in the eradication of black families. This is my call to my black brothers and sisters to forgive yourself, love yourself, and heal yourself!