"A final source of resistance to evolutionary psychology comes from the idealistic views of romance, sexual harmony, and lifelong love to which we all cling. I cleave tightly to these views myself, believing that love has a central place in human sexual psychology. Mating relationships provide some of life's deepest satisfactions, and without them life would seem empty. After all, some people do manage to live happily ever after. But we have ignored the truth about human mating for too long. Conflict, competition, and manipulation also pervade human mating, and we must lift our collective heads from the sand to see them if we are to understand life's most engrossing relationships."
-David Buss, "The Evolution of Desire", pp. 18
One of the local papers, Philly Weekly, advertised a groundbreaking event: journalist and author Gil Robertson hosting a "town hall" on the neverending topic of "Black Love", that took place yesterday at the Community College of Philadelphia. I didn't attend, but the topic itself makes me want to opine, so here we go.
You know, Thomas Sowell - seen by some in Black America as a pariah for his sociopolitical views - was nevertheless correct when he says, in his book on the darkside of public intellectuals out for "social justice", that any ideas and policies they or anyone else puts forth and implements, can, should and must be measured, not by their intent, or frequency of attempts, or clever arguments advanced in their favor, but rather on the basis of the results they have set out to achieve. Taking an empirical view of things is often unsettling to many, because so very often, so many of our most cherished ideals and beliefs are not in any way, supported by the evidence.
It's with this thought in mind that I approach round umpteen in the "talks" Black America - or, a certain segment of same - has about "relationships". I find the entire enterprise to be tedious, self-absorbed and exclusionary, all in one fell swoop, for reasons that I will layout below.
The ad in the Philly Weekly for this "town hall" leads off with three very interesting questions:
1. Is there a crisis underway in Black America's relationship department?
2. Where are all the "Good Black Men(TM)"?
3. Why are Black Women at the lowest end of the matrimony totem pole?
These, and presumably, other pressing concerns, were supposedly hashed out yesterday evening by Robertson and his panel of "experts", some borrowed, some new, all of whom seem to be a cresting army of "experts" giving their take on what putatively ails Black America along these lines. Of course, the questions above merit some hard-headed analysis and consideration, and vague, quasi-metaphysical asides to "deconstruct the good, the bad and the ugly of modern-day mate seeking", among other "inspirational" devices, just ain't gonna cut it - so let's do this, O-Man Style.
First, a response to the questions posed above:
"1. Is there a crisis underway in Black America's relationship department?"
O: I respond with one of the most profound lines ever uttered in the annals of Hip Hop history, by Mos Def: "If we're doing alright, Hip Hop will be doing alright; if we're smoked out, Hip Hop will smoked out - WE ARE Hip Hop." Given the locale in which this "town hall" panel discussion was to take place, Philly, where some 20 schools were recently closed, unemployment remains rampant among its Black citizenry especially, vital services like food stamps and the like are being cut, and more, and such circumstances will very much be similar in many if not most of the stops Mr. Robertson will make on his book tour - the question is, I think, ill-put. The question isn't whether there's "a crisis underway in Black America's relationship department", but whether there's a crisis underway in Black America PERIOD. And of course, it takes no rocket scientist to find the answer to that question, yes?
So, it seems to me that, if Black Americans are having inordinate difficulties finding enough food to eat, adequate housing, employment with which to make a living and healthcare with which to keep them alive and sane, then of course, there will be a corresponding crisis in Black relationships, whichever way one wishes to define that term - which brings to mind the third question:
"3. Why are Black Women at the lowest end of the matrimony totem pole?"
O: Again, I find the question ill-put; it presumes that all, or even most, Black Women WANT to BE married in the first place - and that is something I for one am not at all certain is the case. Often in these discussions, as Robertson gives considerable witness to in his interview over at The Grio earlier this year, a certain class of Blacks hijacks the conversation around these issues and frames it in such a way that its actually something of a trick bag to enter into if one isn't careful. Who is saying that getting married, for anyone, is the only way with which to experience a relationship, or love within it? And who says that all Black Women everywhere in the nation, actually do want to be married in the first place? For that matter, who says that Black Men want it?-per US Census stats as recently as little a decade ago or so, that isn't the case. Instead, I argue, contrary to notions of some "Legacy of Slavery", that the reason(s) why Black Women may not be marrying may have more to do with the events following 1965, rather than 1865. The Sexual Revolution - which included a lessening of the stigmas of premarital sex, being able to end bad marriages easier and sooner, the advent of the Pill and Abortion on Demand, and the opening of doors to economic and educational opportunity for Women - have played a powerful role in how, and why, Black Women are among the least likely to marry in our time. Indeed, prior to 1965, Black marital rates were not only strong and constant throughout the Reconstruction and Jim Crow years, but were never higher since. So, the notion that "The Man" was keeping Black Men and Women from finding and getting together, is at best, a tenuous one. No, the Sexual Revolution made it possible - for Black Men and Women both - to craft lifestyles more suitable to their own individual needs, aims and desires. For many Black Women, not needing a Man to survive meant that they didn't need to marry the first guy who came along; and being able to care for children on their own, without significant financial hardship or social stigmas, meant that fulfilling the desire for children wasn't wedded, pardon the pun, to finding, having and keeping a Man. I often find, that this very important aspect of Black American history - the Sexual Revolution aspect of it - is curiously left out of any "discussion" on Black relationships, and suddenly we're all transported in time back to Django's era, complete with the chains and lash. And such a framing of the discussion along these lines isn't just simple and foolish, it's romantic in the worst of ways.
So, I question this notion that all Black Women want to be married; indeed, quite a few seem quite comfortable with not doing so, and I don't think foisting some kind of "mission" to "Save the Black Family" will work and sounds hopelessly out of step with the times. The simple truth of the matter is that marriage has fundamentally changed in our time - from one of economic and social necessity, to one of personal desire and fulfillment, and oh yeah, that thing called love. Speaking of which...
I reject the premise that Mr. Robertson puts forth in his interview with The Grio, that the only way people can successfully navigate life is by walking down the aisle - clearly, a simple look around will prove this false. Just a quick trip around a Black neighborhood will turn up many couples who have cohabitated, in some cases for years, quite happily in fact - it's just that they don't make the panels and chapters of books and the like that "relationship experts" in Black America like to crank out. Moreover, we all know that simply being married, does not guarantee marital success or bliss, and in more cases than we'd all care to admit, quite the opposite. Black folks of Mr. Robertson's stripe need to let go of the idea that ending a relationship or even a marriage, is ipso-facto, a bad thing; more often than not, it ain't.
"But what about the children, Obsidian?", many of you may ask - and it's a fair question. My response?
What about them? Let's stop pretending that we've ever cared about kids first and foremost. For most of human history they have been our pawns to use when and where we like, and that very much continues to this day - no one here needs me to recount the umpteen ways kids are used as levers of advantage over each other, especially when it comes to family/divorce court proceedings and the like. Then, there's the aforementioned abortion rates - which Black Women tend to have the highest, by the way. None of this is to say that kids shouldn't be important, but the time is way past due to stop deluding ourselves into thinking that we place them front and center of our lives - we all know this isn't true, most of all the kids themselves, and you know something? That may not be such a bad thing.
For those of you out there who wish to suggest the hard data findings, that kids who come from two parent homes fare better in life than kids who do not, my response to that would be that it's one thing to look at things in the aggregate; something else to look at it on the individual level. How many sociologists would have predicted, based on the aggregate data, that Barack Obama would never become President of the United States? I know, I know, he's an exceptional figure - or is he? How many people, Black Men and Women alike (Ben Carson, Wesley Moore, Oprah Winfrey, the list is extensive), who've come from familial situations very similar to Mr. Obama's - and have gone on to lead full, productive lives in their own right? None of this is to say that marriage in itself is a bad idea, or that kids cannot benefit from same; it isn't and they certainly can. But it IS to say, that ours is a different world, one in which the definition of family and what it means, has changed as well, and does not guarantee success or failure. We all know, personally, kids from single parent homes who've done well in life, and kids from two parent homes who've done poorly. Can we honestly say with a straight face that, in the times in which we now live, that the only way to have a family, or to raise healthy, successful kids, is one where Mom and Dad are married and together?
Finally, we tackle my personal favorite question of the three, the second's "Where are all the "Good Black Men(TM)"?
You may notice that I've phrased "Good Black Men(TM)" in a certain way; I use it as my nod to a kind of meme in Black America, that in White America would be recognized as equal parts Nice Guy(TM) and White Knight. In the Black community, this term usually refers to a at least nomimally middle class Black Man with at least some college education if not an outright graduate, who works in some kind of profession and is therefore deemed, on these and related metrics (having the right sociopolitical views, particularly as they relate to Black Women, et al), a "Good Black Man(TM)", and as such is in purported high demand by the Spinstahood who wrings their hands at these events year in and year out. The threadbare premise that hangs in the background of such a question, is that because so many Brothas are in the joint or the graveyard, there's a shortage of such "Good Black Men(TM)" to go around.
And while there would be a kernel of truth to the aforementioned premise, it is often blown out of proportion and serves to catch all the flak that a more honest discussion along these lines would serve. For one thing, as violent crime rates go down, and as fewer Brothas are sent to the pen, more of them will likely enter school - indeed, one of the best kept secrets over the past decade or so has been, just how many Brothas are indeed entering university and the like. In fact, if you listen closely to Sistas of the younger cohort - and by "younger" I mean under 30 - you won't even hear this kind of "the sky is falling" talk, and for good reason:
Because many of these Sistas know and understand, that they saw quite a few Brothas on campus with them, and that "on paper" they looked good - they had all the credentials of success.
But, the problem you see, is that they didn't have other things said Sistas might have wanted in a mate - or they possessed them, but also possessed other personality characteristcs (read: he was an A1 Jerk, or a chronic cheater, or abusive in a myriad of ways). Then, there's just the simple truth of the matter, that often times, such guys don't make the ladies "tingle" - he's not physically attractive, or has mannerisms and behaviors that are off-putting and lessens, or outright kills her attraction. In other words, the argument that has driven the "Black relationship" discussion over the past few decades, where said ladies today are at the least in their latter 30s and most are in the mid 40s and beyond, are becoming more and more, passe'. Sistas of the current and younger cohorts, simply don't experience the same concerns that their older Sistas did and do.
So, a big part of the reason as to why there are so few "Good Black Men(TM)" out there today, has at least as much to do with the fact that fewer Black Men can or will offer "the full package" quite a few Sistas in our time demand - because, as I point out above, they can.
But, as with any Power to Choose - and Black Women in our time today have far and away more agency than many of them would have us believe - there is a downside. Be a bit too picky, and you run the risk of staring down Spinstahood past a certain age.
This leads us to the second part of my answer to this thorny and perrennial question - the definition of what a "Good Black Man(TM)" is changes over time, due to the ladies' circumstances changing over time. Indeed, this was the topic of a recent post by me over at Just Four Guys, where I spoke out as a Blue Collar Brotha and weighed in on the matter of Black relationships; I quote:
"The hits just keep coming, when all of those articles and discussions attempt to make the case that Blue Collar Guys aren’t all bad; “why not give them a chance?”, many of these “voices” say, again, not a single Blue Collar Brotha to be heard among the chorus. Well, allow me: who said that we were clamoring for you dusky princesses to “give us a chance” in the first place? By all accounts, Brothas, Blue Collar and otherwise, have left the building a long time ago – I’ve written about how so many Brothas, Blue Collar and otherwise, have been quietly voting with their feet for quite some time now; Sistas of a Certain Cohort, have made it all too-clear as to which Brothas are to step upfront, and which who needn’t apply – and the Brothas, have listened to you. Hence the anywhere from 3-6 to 1 Sista to Brotha ratio at various “meet market” events, designed to ostensibly bring the two together; many Brothas rightly reason, that there is precious little to be gained in turning out for such gatherings, only to run headlong into Sistas who turn their noses up as if a stink bomb had just gone off – and only when all other options have been exhausted for these ladies – when they’ve been pumped and dumped by the guys of their dreams, could never get his attention at all, or have come out of bad marriages and the like just the same, do they ostensibly turn to me and mine to save them from relationship oblivion – but only if we’re showing the proper amount of reverence and awe in their sight, dontcha know. The idea that somehow you are doing us a favor by gracing us with your presence, isn’t exactly what we’d consider all that exciting or romantic. I’ve personally either witnessed, or experienced, those Sistas (again, NOT “all”), who act as if they’re doing you some grand gesture, by “giving you a chance” – the same Sistas who makeup the client rolls of relationship experts, and keep same on the New York Times’ bestseller’s lists, bemoaning where “all the good Men have gone”; am I the only one who sees the Great Irony here?"
The piece merits reading in full, because it brings forward quite a few facets of the discussion that, for some strange and odd reason, just doesn't make it onto the panels and into the anthologies on "Black relationships" that seem to always drop once or twice a year by someone in Black America.
In summation: I find the current "conversation" on the question and issue of "Black relationships" to be quite myopic, incredibly ignorant and exclsive in extremis. What is ostensibly supposed to be an examination of these themes and issues, is in fact little more than yet another round in Black folk of a certain cohort and class, ruminating amongst themselves as to how and why someone took a wee-wee in their Wheaties.
Color me far from impressed.
Now adjourn your arses...