About 3 years ago I wrote an article called Why I Married a Black Woman. In it I addressed why it was important for me to signal to other black males, especially here in the UK, why I considered it of importance. I won’t go into the details here, you can read it yourself.
The feedback was interesting. Some got it twisted and wondered (privately I may add) why I had to single out black women. I stated then and I will state again that was the subject and I don’t think it needs defending. I still think it is important to talk about this. Again I reiterate this is just my personal opinion but addresses some subject areas that I think are important because, if truth be told, and I am speaking heteronormatively here, many of us men are not taught how to love our black women.
How Do You Love A Black Woman?
As a youth speaker I always invite students to ask me questions about me. It is an opportunity for them to think about how they ask questions and the confidence to ask questions in the first place.
In the cities I can guarantee you that most black male students will ask me, when they find out I am married, whether my wife is a lighty. For those not au fait with that vernacular, they are asking if my wife’s complexion is akin to say, Halle Berry, Amber Rose, etc. (sorry most famous examples I could think of – we will revisit that). Worse still they then are brazen enough to say that I look like one who would be with a lighty. What the France?
When I talk to young men about dating women they have so much criteria of the “ideal woman”. Lighties. No weave. Curvy. Big back off (aka bottom). No fake lashes. And the list goes on. The scary thing is, I listen to these guys and realise this is the narrative that probably shaped my own choices as well. Whether consciously or subconsciously. How do we shift decades of this thinking? What advice can I give my daughters (not just my own but those in the wider community) about managing expectations? And how does one buck the trend and teach, like a rite of passage, a young man to love a black woman?
The Notion of the Nubian Queen
I would consider my Dad quite enlightened. He gifted me access to a library of black identity and strength. He told me that the higher I got professionally the more I needed to be sure of who I was so I wouldn’t get lost. Starting with the likes of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Patrice Lumumba, Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah, I managed to then find out about Shirley Chisholm, Nanny of the Maroons, Rosa Parks and subsequently Claudette Colvin.
My Dad always flirted with my Mum and in some ways put her on a pedestal as did I. This what I wanted from my woman. A strong black woman. Intelligent, sexy and able to stand alongside her king. A role my wife and I still laugh about. Mutual monarchs we state. However underlying that role was as strong biblical belief that as a man I was the head of the home. The spiritual leader. The protector. This was a clear role and to be honest one I still struggle to let go of sometimes.
In a society where notions of beauty are dominated by a white slim woman, I still cling clearly to promoting this queen. Purveyors of my tumblr blog will know that it has three core themes. Femmes Noir (black women), Fashion and Fotos. Something still drives me to promote this notion of black beauty. You’d probably see it on my Twitter feed as well where I have images of various black women of all shapes and sizes with the hashtag #salute. A push back against society as it were, and yet I am troubled with this. Why do I need to react? Why can’t it just be what it is rather than some continuous campaign to prove that black woman are beautiful? And who told me that they wanted to be queens anyway? And why just Nubia?
What do black women say?
I make no bones about being able to use my privilege in my work, to advance my beliefs as a feminist. Across the board raising my voice to ensure there is equality. Challenging this notion that assertiveness should not be confused for anger. And yet, there is a hell of a lot of mistrust from black women from men who do wave the feminist flag, overtly or not.
When I listen, I realise that many black women ARE angry. Its tough enough fighting the patriarchy in Western cultures which push them to bottom of the pile politically, professionally and socially. It’s worse still when as black males we reinforce these stereotypes through our religious communities, entertainment (are they still doing those flyers?), and even around our expectations of relationships.
I put my hand up and admit this journey is painful, especially when you are called out on your shit. I can’t stand weaves and I have a rather strong preference for natural hair. My wife had to point out how controlling and dominant my view was though and in many ways it hindered my daughters form exploring hairstyles which they wanted to work with. My flag bearing for feminism if I am honest here, was somewhat lowered and replaced by the domineering patriarchal archetype which I believed I kept on running away from. How wrong I was.
I am learning that so much of how to love my black women, be it my wife (eros), my family (storge) or my wider community (philia), is very much shaped in dialogue. Firstly in listening to the needs that she has, understanding that it is not limited to just a heterosexual male dominated frame work, and that like in any relationship it is a question of trial and error.
The new civil rights movement in America and emergence of female political figures in the African diaspora is an awakening for black males. Their voices are just as important and to be honest many are fed up of being strong, black queens, who are here at the beck and call of the black male. Or any other male to be honest. They just want to be loved for who they are.
It is this continuous learning path I wish to share.
How to love a Black Woman
This year I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage to Madeline, my wife. We started dating when we were 19 and give or take a couple hiccups we have been together for 27 years. We have both made mistakes, shouted, cried and learned from each other. I cannot speak for her, and I am not one for prescriptive lists, but here are some things I have learned on how to love a black woman.
1. Understand your expectations of each other.
This is a continuous curve and requires constant revisiting. Amongst other things we got together as Christians. I am now agnostic and navigating that spiritual space has been a challenge. Talking and acting on expectation is growth.
2. Don’t try to change or fix
Loving unconditionally is a big ask but a fabulous journey. My wife has a raucous laugh. At first I wanted to change it, but over time it became one of her most fabulous attributes. Of course sometimes I still say “shh” if we are in public but end up laughing just as hard most of the time. Never try to change the person you fell in love with.
3. Be Present.
My wife is a big fan of something called Love Languages. When she first told me I was like pshttt. When I realised it is was important to here it was critical for me to listen and be present. Whilst I may not totally subscribe to the theory of love languages, that she considers it important, is important enough for me.
Black men have been sold on an image of hypersexuality and dominance. From slavery to modern hip hop videos to dare I say it porn. Such narratives don’t leave much room for intimacy. Learning that buying her flowers is a big deal. Just holding her instead of giving advice or trying to provide a solution is more than enough. This is emotional intimacy that often us males aren’t taught.
5. Extending courtesy to other Black Women
I hate the notion of referring to black women as bitches and hoes. It is one of the biggest bug bears for me as a black male. Especially as a fan of rap. And yet part of my love for my wife is to be polite and extend common courtesy to the sisterhood to which she is affiliated. It is not enough to just love the black women in your family, that courtesy and respect must extend beyond it.
6. Love her wholly
When we got married we decided to be open and honest about all things. Money, thoughts, dreams, hopes. What we learned is that our relationship would always be a work in progress. Mistakes would be made. Challenges would be faced.
I can honestly say that I love her as my best friend. I love her wholly. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she complete me, as I did once upon a time, but she definitely makes our marriage complete.
The thing is this. Across the Diaspora the backbone of the black community has been shaped by the fortitude and deep abiding love of the black woman. Often this has gone unrecognised and in far too many instances it has been abused. I make no apologies at all for having an incredibly deep abiding love for the mothers, sisters and daughters who have shaped the man, I, and other black men have become.
Yes, as men we have made mistakes and will continue to do so for the future. But for those of us who will stop for a minute. To listen to the heartbeats, the stories, the dreams and desires of our black women, we can learn so much. We can make them happy and without looking for some pat on the back or something in return.
I still have a heck of a lot to learn. The learning curve is steep.
I am still navigating the waters but I am glad to be on the journey with my sisters.
I love you Madeline and thank you, along with the other black women in my life for teaching me How To Love A Black Woman. I hope my few words can be of help to my peers, my elders and the youngers coming up behind me.