I am single and dating and it is painful. Disclaimer: *I believe one can date whomever they like, but this particular piece is about black people dating one another and some of the things that can get in the way. *
I recently saw the article: The Top Twelve Reasons Why So Many Good Black Men Are Still Single. For anyone not familiar with that article all but one of the reasons, fault women. Take number “11. They meet too many women who don’t recognize a good man when they see one. “
There are countless blogs, and articles, and books about black love. I do agree that especially in America, we have some hurdles to overcome when it comes to love and trust. African American feminist and cultural critic, bell hooks, has written extensively about the role of slavery and segregation in the deconstruction of black families and its legacy today.
In 2013 though, I wonder if we should not begin to focus on removing the blame. Black women and men should realize that the whole population of us, is not homogenous, therefore, it is not to blame for any particular person’s lack of love or partnership.
This is political. When I was younger I used to be ashamed when I would see a black person on TV having committed a crime. “They make us all look bad” I thought. That is the fundamental idea of internalized racism, that you are somehow connected to the bad acts of others, Melissa Harris-Perry calls this “fictive kinship”. A person with racist thoughts sees a small group of people’s actions and categorizes these acts as evidence of the overall behavior and character of an entire group of people despite numerous examples to the contrary. Anyone can see many black folks doing amazing things. To think “all black people are criminals” because of a few people on a news program is racism at work. We need not buy in and it is not our fault, nor should we be ashamed by the actions of anyone in our “group”.
Yet the internalized racism that this example illustrates is very much at work when black men and women blame each other fundamentally for any individual’s lack of black partnership. The moment we say “black women are too..” or “black men don’t…” we are oppressing ourselves.
When any group propagates stereotypes about themselves consciously or subconsciously, they become disconnected from one another. There is a confirmation bias that occurs. When a man believes that “all black women have attitudes”, when the woman he is dating has a bad day — as ALL women and humans in general do — it will be easier for him to leave the woman behind. Or to quote one from the list in the article referenced above: “they meet too many women who don’t really know what they want”. Let’s be honest, most women take time to know that they really want, this is not exclusive to black women. The same goes for women who have low expectations of men. If a man needs to spend some time alone and his behavior is interpreted as secretive because “all men cheat”, a woman may leave a perfectly loyal man because she is buying into stereotypes. We have to be patient with one another, and ideas like these make it easier to give up on each other as we flippantly categorize and discard perfectly lovely partners.
Unfortunately these stereotypes can also strain relationships when they are positive. If a man expects his black woman is going to be a great cook and an excellent mother, he may not want to marry a woman who doesn’t like to cook or does not want to have children. If a black woman thinks her man is supposed to look like Idris Elba and be the one always taking the lead, then she may not date a man who is thin and introverted. This is of course not limited to the black community, as many people spend time looking for their ideal partner, instead of meeting the person that is actually in front of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe we have things to work on, but those things can mostly be addressed if we first commit to self-reflection, and then commit to being honest with those we are close to. I may not have a problem with recognizing good men, but I may have a problem with unrealistic expectations. Another woman may have a different set of barriers, or none at all. We are dynamic, as obvious as that is, articles like that one keep trying to squeeze us into a suffocating box.
I started the article by saying that I am single and dating and it is painful. I recently asked a friend how she knew her fiancé was the one. She replied “because everyone else I dated treated me like crap, and he was loving and good to me”. It was then that I realized that dating is hard in general. For everyone. Until it is right. When it’s right all the struggles and insecurities, mistakes, and confusion make you and your partner stronger. You get to be your imperfect self and be accepted. I am hopeful that it will work out for me because I have opened myself to being loving, open, and happy outside of a relationship, so it’s that much easier to be those things in one, when the time comes. I don’t blame (Black) men for my singleness; it just simply hasn’t worked out yet.
What stereotypes do you harbor about men or women in your particular group? African (Black) American women are…? Zulu men are ….? Ghanaian women don’t ….? How many of those stereotypes limit how you see a potential date? How many of those stereotypes lead to disappointment or restrict the type of man or woman you would date (as the black women are good cooks example illustrates)?