Tuesday, December 28, 2004

In Search of the Black Family We Once Knew...

My cousin raised an interesting point as it relates to the demise of the Black Family and the prevalence of absentee fathers and single mothers in our community. I’d never looked at the situation from this perspective, but I have to admit that it makes sense.

My cousin points the origins of the problem to slavery. During that time, a Black man’s purpose was to work and breed babies who would then be used for labor. The responsibility of raising those children and being a husband was seldom his role or his right. My cousin suggests that this sad tradition is among the many lingering “side effects” of slavery that have become so embedded in Black culture that it is difficult to break the cycle. The end result is what we see today.

Of all the psychological analyses of the Black Family that I’ve been exposed to, this one really struck me. I never wanted to believe that so many of the men in my culture were just lazy, no-good sperm donors who squirt their goods into as many snatches as they can without so much as a thought about the number of kids that might result. But could the baby-mama/baby-daddy syndrome truly be a vicious bi-product of slavery?

It certainly makes sense when you consider that Blacks have spent more time in this country as slaves than as free men and women. There are many in my generation with great grandparents who were slaves as children. So, we can’t actually profess to be as far removed from those days as some would like to think.

And considering the fact that Black men aren’t inherently evil, lazy or irresponsible by nature, there’s got to be something we can point to as the culprit. I think my cousin may have hit the nail on the head.

Far too often these days, you hear about the fact that there are so many more Black women than there are Black men, and that us women need to learn how to “hang in there” with our men if we plan on having a mate. That’s true, but only to an extent. We shouldn’t “hang on” to shitty relationships that will never be right. Nor should we allow the excuse of “there are so many women for every man” to somehow justify shitty actions like unfaithfulness and disrespect in a relationship because we are afraid of being alone.

But where’s the point of compromise? Certainly, there is some degree of accountability on both sides of the equation…or at least there should be. But for some reason, both sides are content with pointing the finger at the other. All in all, nothing changes. And confused people just end up raising more confused children who grow into even more confused adults.

Are Black men and women slowly moving in opposite directions? Is there anything we can do about it? My cousin’s outlook only provides some background data on the potential origins of the problem. But what is the solution? I can’t figure it out, and I guess nobody else can either or I wouldn’t have anything to write about.

The conversation with my cousin caused me to do some inner soul searching about my capacity to “deal” in a relationship. My cousin suggests that men marry the woman who “hangs in there” with him. So does this mean I’m supposed to just wait on him to finish acting like a fool so we can be happy? My name is not Cookie Johnson, and I’m not interested in going through a lot of the bullshit I’ve seen some sistas go through these days.

I’m not interested in hanging onto a man who dips his thing like it’s an oreo in some milk. There was an article in this month’s Essence (the one with Vivica Fox on the cover) that said that out of all the African American men who participated in a survey, at least 40 percent of them admit to carrying on multiple sexual relationships for an average period of more than a year! They called it, "the new man sharing." Considering the fact that the husband I’ve always envisioned is a Black man, does that mean I’ve got to put up with crap like that? The statistics for White men in this survey were far less frightening. But, like I said, I’ve always envisioned a Black man as my life partner.

I guess the real question I’m trying to find an answer to is…how do we bridge the gap that seems to be growing between Black men and Black women? We used to be all each other had, and it would be nice to, once again, see ourselves as partners and not enemies.

And since there is such a prevalence of absentee fathering and single mothering, how do we, as women, raise Black men to truly be MEN? I know I don’t have the first clue about what it takes to be a Black man in this society…despite how many examples I can point to that demonstrate what a tough road they face. I can certainly surround my future son with positive male role models, but if they’re not my husband, their involvement can’t be as in-depth as it needs to be. So, how would I be able to buffer my need for nurturing with my son’s need for strength? I’m not trying to suggest that a woman can’t raise a productive man. We have too many examples that prove otherwise. I’m just saying they shouldn’t have to face such an enormous responsibility on their own.

Okay, I’m rambling now which only shows how confusing all this is to me. However, the deeper I get into my 30s and the closer I get to wanting to be married and have kids, the more I think about stuff like this. It’s starting to seem like the Black Family that I knew and loved, the one I was raised in, is as much a fairy tale as Hansel and Gretel. And it’s just sad…

Somebody help a sista out with some insight… Brothers, your comments are especially appreciated.

Some Simple Rules of Etiquette

While eating breakfast on Christmas morning, I happened to come across an interesting book published by Random House in 1956 that offered a laundry list of tips on proper etiquette. It’s amazing how many rules still apply (or at least they should). Take this one, for instance…

Children should be taught early that a store, bus or office is not the place for loud noises, arguments, singing or any behavior which would bother others. The same reasoning should be used to discourage staring, particularly at handicapped people, and audible personal comments about strangers and members of other races.

Somebody should tell that one to 90 percent of the kids I see in stores today.

Here’s another one that speaks to the bling, bling culture of today…

There are strict conventions surrounding masculine jewelry, all of them based on the concept that, except for a ring, a man should wear nothing that’s not absolutely functional. It is in poor taste for men to wear diamonds of any kind, except chips or tiny rose diamonds on evening studs or cuff links. Men don’t wear rubies, emeralds or any light-colored stone. Although, for some reason, sapphires are considered properly masculine.

This one’s for Lil Kim and all the other chickenheads…

Specific rules about modesty change with the styles. However, modesty is based not on fashion, but rather on appropriateness. A woman boarding a subway in shorts during the rush hour is immodest not because the shorts are in themselves indecent, but because they are worn in the wrong place at the wrong time. A well-mannered and self-respecting woman avoids clothes or behaviors that are inappropriate or conspicuous.

Another one for the chickenheads and the chickenhead-lovers as it relates to men, women and money…

No girl worth your time is going to judge you by the amount of money you spend on her. There is really no reason not to be frank about money, and the better you know the girl, the less you have to worry about sharing with her your financial ups and downs.

For the plus-sized chickenheads with too much booty in those pants…

Unappealing as it may sound, if you are on the “heavy” side, you should stick to what is known as “vague” clothes—clothes that are not cut to reveal the figure precisely. The dress that is designed to show off a slender rib cage, emphasize a tiny waist, and hug the hips and thighs is not for you. You need clothes with a comfortable softness so that ridges pressed up by your brassiere straps or girdle do not show. You will also look better in loose clothes than in tight ones. It is a pathetic mistake for large women to try to cram themselves into clothes that are too small, under the mistaken impression that the smaller size will magically make them look slimmer. Scant clothes are not for you—not even in evening dresses or bathing suits. Avoid, too, sleeveless blouses, unless your arms are slim enough to look well bare.

And my personal favorite message to the Snoop-Nelly-50 Cent-type “gangster” rappers of the world who like to brag about the number of groupie legs they part…

A well-mannered man does not talk about his conquests. He does not, in fact, say anything about a woman which would give others a questionable opinion of her integrity or morals. Most men automatically accord this courtesy to their wives or sweethearts, but they may be less respectful about a woman whose relationship with them is more casual. Locker-room bull sessions about women are poor manners.

And there you have it...the rules of etiquette, 1950s style.


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