A Black Woman’s Truth for and To Herself
Memo to Black Women: Get Real!
You are not Michelle Obama, and you will probably not end up with Barack … or Denzel. If you want to find the right one, lose the high ideal and get your priorities in order.
I sympathize with black women because it’s true that 71 percent of black grad students are female and that they outnumber black men in the general population 7 to 1. But maybe you’ve heard the one about successful black women being unable to find suitable black mates is not about ineligible men. And if you are doing this by the numbers, ladies, then your outlook is bleak. But it’s not about the numbers—“successful” black men made the same lame claim back in the day. It’s about choices and how we measure success. Black women seem to resent black men because, with all the educated black women, we seem to have choices in mates that they don’t. I promise you, quantity and quality are different. Please trust that it takes more than an education and a successful career to be wife material. And women think if they wait long enough, they will find their own Denzel Washington. The problem is, there isn’t enough Denzel to go around. As I mention in my upcoming book The Denzel Principle, if black women want to marry a black man, it seems as if they have only a few choices:
LOOKS LIKE: Your Dad
SOUNDS LIKE: Barry White
YOU KNOW IT’S HIM: When he collapses dead on top of you
Daddy-O is frequently the old guy in the club wearing a Chess King suit and Stacy Adams on his feet. He’s married and has worked at the same factory for 20 years. His wifey’s breasts are getting long and veiny, but he’s got the money to pay for the attentions of young ladies. So he sneaks out after second shift, goes line-dancing at the club and builds himself a stable of tenderonis who eventually break him for rent, clothes, cars and food, and he breaks them off four whole minutes of lovin’—if he can get it up. Wifey finds a hotel receipt, they fight, make up and it starts all over again.
LOOKS LIKE: Kanye West
SOUNDS LIKE: He needs some bass in his voice
YOU KNOW IT’S HIM: He carries a croquet mallet everywhere he goes
Pierre thinks he is better than everyone, including you. He has a nice ride, an Ivy League education and the personality of an English muffin: White and flat, with lots of nooks and crannies to hold the remnants of his blackness, that inherent connection most of us have with people of color from all walks of life. He’s got an English accent even though he’s only even been to London, Ontario. Pierre is a trifle dandy and intentionally doesn’t exude any masculine qualities people might find offensive, leading people to call him “Dela-question-mark.” Secretly, he wishes he knew who he was.
The Bar-Napkin Poet
LOOKS LIKE: He lives in a cardboard box
SOUNDS LIKE: He’s whining, whether he’s reading poetry or not
YOU KNOW IT’S HIM: Pretending to read Mao’s Red Book.
You see this brother at all the poetry readings, cultural convocations and Afrocentric happenings. He’s draped in kente cloth and walks with a cane that he calls a “verb stick.” When asked his name, he’ll say “I am called Talib,” except that he hasn’t legally changed his name, so his Mama, when she calls him up from the basement for dinner, addresses him by his given name: Rufus. He can be seen at the open mic functions sitting in a corner jotting down profundities on a napkin, with just enough poetic flair to get you to pay for the room. Nine months later, you’ll be at open mic, knocked-swole and angry, with your new girlfriend Riki in tow. You will raise your bastard child as “gender neutral.”
LOOKS LIKE: A mailroom clerk
SMELLS LIKE: Dirty khakis
YOU KNOW IT’S HIM: He’s driving your car.
Like the main character from Herman Melville’s short story of the same name, Bartleby is railing against The Man by refusing to work for The Man. Scratch that. He works—kinda works—the system, if you know what I mean. He works, but just hard enough to keep a gig but not hard enough so anyone would notice. He’s nice enough, if only he wanted something out of life. He goes to work (late) and becomes what people pejoratively call the “goldbrick-on-shift.” He sometimes does enough work to get by, sometimes not. Sometimes, he lacks drive and just settles into a mailroom gig, where he can nap between mail runs. He often just keeps a job long enough to collect unemployment. He works fast food sometimes—which is a laudable, honest vocation—and will sometime get promoted to key manager (aka Straw Boss). He’ll keep that key for 10 years or better until finally someone asks him why he doesn’t try to get promoted. “I prefer not to,” he says.
…and the list goes on, and it doesn’t get any better, right? So by looking for an eligible black man toting a brand-name education or an advanced degree (if earning potential or whatever is to be our measure for eligibility) they are effectively chasing a minority within a minority because we think that most black men are all out stealing hubcaps, sucking on neck-bones, chasing down white women or, as magical as Negro men want to be, maybe all three at once. Eligible black men, we think, can have their pick of educated black women (assuming they even date black women), as if merely having a job, an education and a pulse makes a woman “wife material.” While there may be a lot of women available to black men, MOST are not women you would want to spend your life with. I’m twice divorced, currently single and not taking applications because no qualified applicants have come down the pike. They are mostly variations on a few themes:
LOOKS LIKE: She needs some sleep.
SOUNDS: Angry. At everyone.
YOU KNOW IT’S HER: She’ll tell you.
She has five undergraduate degrees, a Ph.D. and three cars, but can’t butter toast. She was so focused on being a successful black woman that learning the finer points of the womanly art of wifery slipped from her agenda. She can do outpatient surgery, but doesn’t know what a dustpan is for. She can draw up a budget for the entire year but can’t get down in the bedroom to save Baby Jesus.
SMELLS LIKE: Patchouli and Kools
EATS: Hummus. And other women.
WORKS: Ha! Draws a check on some kind of work-study/SSI scam
Poetess is usually a reformed wanton woman of some sort trying to convince you that she’s healed her life through the power of poetry. She spent half a semester in Creative Writing 090, and she quotes Hemingway, for Christ’s sake. She normally has a typical name like Bobbi Ann or Faloojah but has taken to calling herself “Bush Queen” or some made-up African name she found in Ebony magazine. She writes poetry and reads it at every opportunity, these mildly lyrical rants. She’s so deep; she stopped wearing deodorant and decided that fellatio is “not the way of the goddess.” Perfect.
LOOKS LIKE: A million bucks
SMELLS LIKE: Drug-store perfume
TALKS: A lot of mess
Goldie is nice to look at. She’s ambitious, with big plans about big things. She wants to start her own restaurant, go to grad school overseas and become a marine biologist. The reason you got with her is because of her drive to conquer the world and make something happen. And she could if she could just get out of bed and make things happen. Instead, she lies around waiting to be struck by good fortune and is jealous of anything you may have going on. She just got her AA at Bryant and Stratton and wonders if she’s too good for you.
And so it goes. So you see, black men don’t have the kind of choices black women think we do. There are a lot of women, but not a lot of GOOD women to choose from, educated or not. For some reason, every woman with a college degree now presumes herself to be a Michelle Obama looking for her Barack, when few of them have any of the other qualities that made Michelle a good catch: patience, vision and a sense of purpose and priority. She wanted a career, but she wanted to be a wife and a mother more, so she figured out what was important to her and made the necessary sacrifices. She didn’t just have a child baby-mama or turkey-baster-style—she wanted a husband and a family. You see? Love came first, it was the first consideration beyond her career. (What kind of lawyer-on-the-rise shackles herself to a broke community organizer driving a hoopty?) And her decisions paid off.
Love was first: that was her choice.
Others choose to put their careers over their personal lives, and those are the women who ultimately end up without a career, man or child, whining and wondering where their lives went. They are quick to raise the question of the lack of eligible men but don’t wonder if their standards were unreasonably high, if their myopic vision on career blinded them when the Right One came along or if their own priorities were in order. There is no secret to catching and keeping a man: When your priorities are in order, you won’t have to worry about sloshing through the leftovers or fresh-outs. When you are ready, the right man will find you. Because the wrong men? Only want the Wrong Ladies. It’s funny how that works. The one that’s right for you will see you with your mind right, your game tight, knowing that love is not a consolidation of assets, a corporate merger or pretext to a breeding ritual. It is the commitment of two souls to make each other happy until the end of time. Marriage, by the numbers, is a zero sum equation. Who knows if it actually eludes “successful” black women: You can find statistics to prop up any preposterous hypothesis you have, and white folks love reporting, repeating and drawing inference from this brand of cheap seat cultural anthropology. Yes, the story of the hard-working, over-achieving black women being held back by the shiftless watermelon-stealing, generally no-account black man is always good copy. As cultural tropes and apocryphal tales go, fractured fairy tales of lazy Negro men are timeless. Truth to tell, you could start a whole magazine blaming black men for the failings of black women, specifically, and human-kind in general, squeeze in some beauty secrets and quasi-feminist bulls*** and make yourself a tidy sum of money. That is, if someone had not beaten you to it.
I love me some black women—all the most important people in my life are black women. My daughter will be a black woman one day. The truth? Many “successful” black women have simply made choices they can’t reconcile. They have skewed measures of success. Because if you are the other of 35 with an advanced degree, a high-level career but no man or family to share it with, you have successfully isolated yourself, but I don’t know that we could call your life a success story by any measure.
That may not be what you want to hear and I know it’s hard … but it’s fair.