Don’t get me wrong- Jill Scott is my girl, but the minute I saw the link to the story, I thought to myself, “This is about to be some ish.”
Jill’s comments in Essence Magazine last week were fuel on the fire, sparking the latest blow up in the black women and love debate. While the interracial dating topic is not a new one, the media forecast was just right for a high profile uproar. Not only is she the May cover girl for Essence (again), showing off her acting chops on Law and Orders: SVU and starting the first leg of her tour with Maxwell, Jill was getting ready to walk the red carpet for “Why Did I Get Married Too?”, the sequel to Tyler Perry’s 2007 box office smash. Jill normally keeps a low profile, and with people watching Erykah go streaking in Dallas, I just was hoping, that maybe, just maybe this story wouldn’t get a whole lot of attention.
I love hearing black women speak their truths, it’s one of the reasons why I love Jill’s music. But lately all the talk about black women and their damnation to inevitable, eternal singledom has been kind of exhausting. It feels like just when you’re getting over Steve Harvey’s intervention, Reggie on the cover of Essence sparks Reggie-gate. Talking about being black and hopelessly single has become the new filler story. And I know it’s a problem, that it’s a real concern but sometimes I just want to be single without it being a part of a larger national crisis. If everyone would just ease up, I would be able to go one whole month without (a) gnawing off my nails thinking about how I’m missing out on the festivities of another Black Marriage Day, (b) wondering if Lauryn Hill’s comeback album will beat my march down the aisle or (c) having an anxiety attack as the latest study scares me into thinking all my future prospects for a husband are going to end up in Rikers Island making beats with Lil’ Wayne.
Some days, I just want to keep my sanity, so after hearing about it initially, I hoped this whole thing would go away. Needless to say, you’re reading this because a week later- it hasn’t.
For the past week, Jill has been everywhere: on tips of bloggers tongues, in comments on Essence.com, she was even on CNN responding to live tweets and convincing all of middle America that she loved love. Folks have gone in on calling her a bitter black woman, a passive aggressive racist to just straight up a racist. Thankfully, Jill is a sharp woman and defended her words gracefully.
Jill didn’t just put the comment about “the wince” out there and then leave it alone. Jill spoke on where the wince comes from, why as a black woman, she feels that way, why other black women often feel that way and most importantly made it clear to people that she was not saying that the wince came from a place of hate. In fact, after her explanation of the relationship between black men and women through slavery, through emancipation and then through the Civil Rights Era, Jill writes that:
“These harsh truths lead to what we really feel when we see a seemingly together brother with a Caucasian woman and their children. That feeling is betrayed. While we exert efforts to raise our sons and daughters to appreciate themselves and respect others, most of us end up doing this important work alone, with no fathers or like representatives, limited financial support (often court-enforced) and, on top of everything else, an empty bed. It’s frustrating and it hurts!”
Now, I don’t share Jill’s feeling of betrayal. I have seen interracial relationships in my family that have love more real than the ground we walk on. So whether I see a happy interracial couple or a happy pair of Barack-Michelle clones, I smile. I smile because if they could find a love that fits like that I know I can too. But while I don’t share her feeling of betrayal, I understand where that comes from. It is not a logical feeling and after listening to her interview on CNN, I don’t think Jill was trying to defend her feelings as such. Initial reactions often aren’t logical or well thought out, but they are always real.
Not every black woman may agree with Jill or agree with me, but you have definitely heard this conversation before. Maybe it was in the house with your aunts or doing manis with your girls, but you and I both know that what Jill said is nothing that black women everywhere haven’t discussed behind closed doors. And in some ways, I’m glad Jill made her statement and then stood behind it. Why should something that’s hard to talk about be denied?
However, re-reading Jill’s piece, something struck a nerve inside of me. It was the example she chose. The man whose marriage made her wince, was not the average guy working a nine to five. He was a professional athlete, well off and good looking. But isn’t that always the type that we use for the ‘he-found-himself-a-Becky spiel.’ Looking through Jill’s words again, I wonder if Jill, if any black woman would have felt the same way if the black man in question had been just a blue collar brother instead of a fine ball player?
Reading through Jill’s thoughts on how black women have “been there” for black men, I have to say that while I understand we went through many struggles together, black women need to stop using the rhetoric that “all black men belong to us” to justify hating on someone else’s bliss. I don’t know about you, but ladies I will say that as long as I am single, I don’t belong to any black man but my father. We have no right claiming ownership on black men and we have to reevaluate the hypocrisy with which we call them “ours.”
Somehow, the black men we want to claim as “ours” aren’t the ones that are still caught in the struggle. We are quick to point out when an affluent black man chooses a white woman as a partner but spend time hemming and hawing about what we’d do when we realized our man makes less than us. I say us because I know I’m included. If I was to tell you I had never thought about the income gap between me and the black man I was sitting across on a third date, I’d be lying. Somewhere in the back of my head I can hear Kanye West saying, “Now, I ain’t saying she a golddigger, but she ain’t messing with no broke, broke…”
Thinking about a man’s financial status is not wrong in and of itself. All women do it. As we get older and think about our careers more seriously, we will do the same to the men we date. But many of us suffer from what I call the “commodity syndrome.” We are quick to go calling a black man “ours” only after he’s done all the things that make him our perfect candidate. For many women a college degree and/or right income are the biggest factors that allow us to give him the ticks on our checklist. But what about those men who aren’t that? The ones who don’t have the degree you have but treat their momma right? The ones who will probably never make the six figures Sheree Whitfield wanted from her divorce, but makes dinner for you when you get home? Are we so busy tagging the most eligible bachelors list as “ours” that we don’t want other brothers to share in the title?
Now, I realize that not every working class man is a gem. Despite my examples, there are broke guys who won’t make you a meal let alone make an effort to be on time. But there are also a few who get ignored as we are with our girls dancing to Keri and Keyshia singing “Get Your Money Up.”
Jill’s feelings weren’t bad but her example is too often the man we are all looking for. Black women have a challenge in dating because for many of us, there aren’t men who match our academic and professional profiles. And ladies, do know I sympathize and am going through it with you. But instead of looking for our mirror image we need to start realizing that while income and title can be items on our wish list, they are not the things that keep strong relationships together.
So don’t go throwing your lists out the window. Just look them over one more time. Remembering your heartaches and lessons learned from your past, I’m sure you will start making some changes. My list freshman year of college was longer than the one with recommended items for my dorm room. Now, what remains are the values I want the man in my life to have. The spirit and the priorities we need to share. As I have grown out of my list making phase, came back from heartbreak and embraced living as the woman I want to be, my profile of the perfect man has been stripped down, revised and edited. I still have my parameters, because it wouldn’t be fair for my children to have a father who is a 40- year-old aspiring rapper. But salary is nowhere as high as trust, commitment and respect. I’m more concerned with character than cheddar because a man who can prove to me his worth and fully respect my own is the man I’ll be calling “mine.”