theconversation
The Conversation Cover

Hill Harper's newly released book on relationships got a step up on recent competition simply by displaying the actor-author's adorable face on the cover. (Nothing against Steve Harvey's looks.)  But it offers more than that. Like the ideal mate, The Conversation: How Black Men and Women Can Build Loving, Trusting Relationships has as much good stuff inside as out.

As Felicia Pride, The Root's book blogger, points out in her response, the book isn’t exactly exploding with earth-shattering dating revelations. Instead, with nuanced explorations of topics ranging from old standards like “crossing the color line,” to novel concepts like “lightness of being,” it takes its unique value from the way Harper tackles the potentially sore subject of black relationships: intelligently, humbly and firmly all at once.

Even quick-to-get-irate, everything-is-a-personal-attack-against-me types should find the book fair. The Conversation goes to great lengths to present a thorough, balanced analysis. It should satisfy women who flipped out over my What Single Women Can Learn From Michelle article because it didn’t take men to task. It will be fulfilling for those of us who found the mixed metaphors in Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like A Man (men = “fishermen” who only want support, loyalty and "the cookie") a bit gimmicky. If Jimi Izrael's recent response to sad marriage statistics left you simultaneously perplexed and put-off, you’ll be relieved that Harper’s take offers hopefulness instead of bitter attacks.

Importantly, each issue the book tackles is solidly grounded in statistics about the state of the African-American family. These should preempt "Why does it have to be about black relationships?!" responses from those who hate to be put in a box, as well as from those who hate any box into which they’re not invited.

Thanks to a painstaking effort not to overgeneralize, the book is chock full of caveats, clarifications and quotations that can water down the analysis and become a tad tiring. True, we probably didn't need to know that Hill's friend Eric prefers “petite shapely ladies with caramel or chocolate skin tones,” or that cat hair is high on the list of his buddy Brad’s pet peeves. And certain interview questions would have been better answered by experts than the author’s dinner companions (some of whom are poster children for the bitter stereotypes the author insists we have to let go).

Still, what we get in exchange for these detours from the main point is that the book refuses to take any shortcuts. The extensive quotes make it feel accessible. The clarifications make it fair. True to its name, The Conversation has the tone of a discussion rather than an argument. It inspires you to add your voice instead of provoking you to defend yourself.  With a topic like this, that’s huge. Read it and get to talking.

--JENÉE DESMOND-HARRIS