We have come into a time where the sociology of black people is changing drastically. The black woman no longer wants her story to be told on her behalf. In fact, not only does she want a different story told about her, but she wants to tell it herself. The black woman no longer accepts her given role as supporting cast. She no longer wants to be the sacrificial shadow “behind every successful man”. Hers is not a romanticised desire to stand with, behind or next to any man unless that position is rooted in her own ambitions and aspirations. She wants to be the author of her own story, in her own voice and by her own hand. She is here to dream her own dreams. She is here to feel what she feels. She wants to not be ok, when she’s not ok, and for that to be ok. She wants the external cause of her pain to addressed rather than for her to be praised for the dignity with which she carries it. She will not be martyred on the altar of being “a strong woman” for the self-interested sake of society.
On the other hand, the modern black man comes of age in a time vastly different from what he had anticipated when he was growing up. The man he expected to be is an irrelevant notion born out of nostalgia rather than informed by practicality. He is standing in the rubble of traditions half taught, half-understood and wholly decaying. The definition of a man is one has only experienced partially at best, if at all. Many men are charting manhood with no map and no guiding star. All he has to show him the way is bits and pieces of street proverbs, his own resolve not to relive the moments that scared his youth as well as his own desire to pursue what he defines as happiness.
Yet, both the man and the woman are expected to engage in a pursuit that is quite un-revolutionary; being an in a relationship together. It is within the confines of a relationship that the strength of all these theories of self-definition is tested. This is not to say that being in a relationship is the ultimate achievement. However, it is in an intimate relationship that we expect every single aspect of what we define as ourselves is laid out. It is here where we give of ourselves, where we are not guarded. It is here where we are most vulnerable and, most importantly, it is here where we are expected to compromise.
The transgressions of the black man against the black woman are many. Some of these transgressions are as a result of ignorant neglect, while others are born out of tragic, patriarchal intention. Yet, while men are busy policing women’s bodies and behaviour, women are policing relationships and love.
There is the unspoken belief that women understand relationships better than men, that they possess an innate ability to define what a good relationship is. This belief, however, is not entirely far fetched. It goes without saying that women have a far wider, more nuanced emotional range than men. But the challenge that we face is that this capacity to feel is invariable – and loosely – translated as an ability to construct a relationship.
So strong is this belief that many women would never admit to being the reason a relationship falls apart. Unless it is outright the guys’ fault, to ask a woman why a relationship failed is to wade through the murky waters of “alternative facts”. Nonetheless, the newfound rhetoric states that women demand to be loved on their own terms. Granted. Yet, while women know how they want to be loved, they also believe that they know how to be in a relationship and, interestingly, they inherently know how to love. She is, however, quite challenged by a man who is adamant about his own definition and practice of what love and relationships are. She views the concept of a man’s “expectations” as the pinnacle of patriarchal privilege.
The question is though, could it be that very same assumption of women being better at relationships that makes women so reluctant to admit when they are at fault? Do women feel more pressure to make relationships work because they are expected to be biological better equipped for them? Do women feel more shame when they mess up a relationship than men do?
On the other hand, in trying to not repeat what they experienced when they were growing up, many black men are avoiding long term relationships in the hope that they will be better at it the older they are. Also, ironically, what many men have experienced in their “none-committed” relationships has made them sceptical of long term ones. More importantly, what they have been able to get away with has cast a lot of doubt on their view of relationships. Ironically, much of this doubt comes from him coming across women are fully in charge of themselves, their bodies and their sexuality. Women who will not be emotionally invested in a man because of anything else except her own decision to do so. Unable to process this, many men resort to being malicious and spiteful. Others, however, want with all their heart to be in committed and loving relationships. They are willing to give of themselves in every way possible. So strong is his belief in his desire to be committed that he has set an uncompromisingly high standard for the woman he wants to be with. Only to find that compromise becomes the deal-breaker.
Ultimately, it is partly within a relationship that ideas of self-definition become family traits that define generations to come. It is how we build a collective identity. Yet, the more our ideologies seem to be pulling us further apart. We are becoming increasingly intolerant of our different understandings of what a relationship is, how do we love each other?