The Conversation: Do Black Men and Women Need to Have a Sit-Down?
Hill Harper's new book suggests that the problem with black male/female relationships is the lack of communication. What do we need to talk about?
Lately, there's been a lot of talk about relationships between Black men and women. Well, actually it's mostly not talk; it's a lot of finger-pointing and avoiding responsibility. What's new, right?
Then there's the dating book genre, geared towards women—because apparently we're the ones obsessed with relationships—that tries to profit on the lack of communication and understanding that can plague unions, and the fact that relationships are work, period; there’s no way getting around that. But if you create a catchy title that can also serve as a twisted affirmation—think "He's Just Not That into You" or "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man"—you (it helps if you’re a celebrity) can impart advice on how to capture that coveted, loving committed relationship.
Now here's Hill Harper, attempting to broaden the coupling discussion with his new book, "The Conversation: How Black Men and Women Can Build Loving, Trusting Relationships," which he views as a "dialogue across the barricades that men and women have erected to protect themselves from each other." And in the first line of the guide, he puts forth his disclaimer: “I am in no way representing myself as an expert in relationships, but rather as a man on a journey, attempting to figure it all out for myself.”
The actor's third book isn't supposed to be a traditional dating how-to, but, in many ways, it is. There are the usual, clichéd topics such as "Dating a Divorcé," and "Dating with Kids," and the ever changing what women want versus what men want analysis. There are also plenty of "duh!" moments and although the book is aiming to be a two-way discussion, it is focused more towards women. And unfortunately, like most dating books, "The Conversation" is only reserved for male-female relationships, not acknowledging gay brothers and sisters who are also trying to build strong "Black families."
Harper does inject his personal fears, relationship problems, and baggage, to make the conversation a little more intimate, which helps to show that no matter who we are, we all need to take responsibility for our roles in unhealthy relationship choices. There are eyebrow-raising dialogues throughout where Harper talks candidly to Black men and women. Sadly, their thoughts sometimes reveal the stereotypical, close-minded views that many of us hold about the opposite sex. There is a lot of work to be done.
The rudimentary premise of "The Conversation" is valid and not new: Black men and women need to talk on varying levels in various spaces about how we view and treat one another, not just to figure out how to maintain romantic relationships, however. We need to face the issues—often caused by our shared history and struggles—that threaten our camaraderie and community-building.
Here are a few excerpts from "The Conversation," areas of discussion that Harper encourages Black men and women to talk about. What do you think?
On our feelings towards relationships:
We are growing jaded, cynical, tired, and world-weary before our time. We are expecting less and demanding less, and those lower expectations are making us unfulfilled and taking us farther from each other. The walls between us do not serve us. I would love to see women talking to and asking questions of men, and vice versa, to bring more clarity and peace to the way we deal with each other. (pg. xviii)
On male/female relations:
...I started to wonder whether men and women even talk to each other. I mean really talk—easily and freely, without reservation—like we do with our friends. I even started to wonder whether men and women considered each other friends, or if we automatically compartmentalized our relationships: We're either lovers or we're platonic friends, but not both. Truth be told, the comments I heard made me wonder—despite all the emphatic "I love men" and "I love women" declarations—whether men and women really even liked each other at all. (pg. 21)
On opposing views regarding sex:
A lot of men say and do whatever they need to in order to have sex with a woman, and they don't see anything wrong with that. In the man's mind, it's recreational, nothing more and nothing less. Seemingly, what's important is for both men and women to recognize these different views and not judge each other. If both consenting adults know the other's expectations going in, there's no reason it can't be enjoyable and satisfying for all concerned. (pg. 46)
On Black male accountability:
We as Black men rarely hold other men accountable when we clearly see that they are not living up to their responsibilities with the women they are dating or married to and, even worse, with the children they have fathered. It's easier to look the other way, pretend to not notice what's going on, or to make excuses for a friend. At times, we even cover for them. (pg. 237)
On interracial dating:
I won't discourage anyone from trying "something new." However, I would encourage us to not give up on one another. Believe me, there are millions of brothas out there, myself included, who love Black women, cherish Black women, and greatly appreciate all the beauty, nurturing, and companionship that our amazing Black women have to offer. And I know there are so many sistahs out there who love and appreciate a kind, considerate brotha of high character. (pg. 165)
On one of the roots of the problem:
Has our community's lack of cross-generational wealth building had an effect on other aspects of our community? The quality of schools? The incentives for young males to make so-called quick money and not get an education? Is it possible that we can trace our severe problems with sustaining healthy Black female-male relationships directly to our lack of financial literacy? (pg. 189)
So what do you think? Do you agree with any of Harper's thoughts? Do Black men and women need to have the type of conversation that he is suggesting? If so, where should it begin?