Fathers, Fairy Tales, and Lies: Why We Can & Should Hold Black Male Celebrities Accountable for Their Crimes

I wrote this back in May of last year, but all the Bishop Eddie Long apologists I’m reading on Facebook brought it back to my mind and renewed its relevancy, at least to my thinking.

I will say the same thing here that I said on Facebook about some people’s refusal to be silent about the sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Long in the event of his death:

You recount the mistakes to distill the lesson.

The black community should’ve held Eddie Long accountable for the wrongs he committed while he was still alive if so many of its members find it distasteful to indict a dead man.

But what the black community shouldn’t do–through its parochial responses to Long’s accusers–is continue to make the black community unlivable for sexual abuse victims or make it a safe space for sexual predators.

That–if you ask me–is a sin.

MRS

Even though I grew up in a household that was an approximation of the black middle class ideal, I still wanted to be a Huxtable.

I wanted more siblings than my one baby sister, who, at eight years younger, could do nothing but annoy the hell out of me; I wanted to live in a brownstone in the biggest and busiest city in the world; I wanted to have all four of my grandparents within walking distance and visit with them regularly; I wanted a mother who allowed my friends to come and visit our home every day after school; and I wanted a father just like Heathcliff.

When I was young, my father was a workaholic with ambitions of becoming the next Johnny Cochrane; he was gone most of the time, and, when he was home, he was still busy with work. He had his own father’s heirloom sarcasm. He wanted his daughters to be ladies even though our mother was raising us to be women. His expectations could loom higher than a Detroit skyscraper at times, but his temper could be as ugly as the Detroit River. He never spanked me once in my life, but he did smack me up a time or two with doctrine—the proxy hand of God—when he thought I was getting too out-of-control with my damned independent thinking and insistence on eking out my own identity.

He was a lot more complicated than Heathcliff Huxtable–less fun and way more demanding–and, since I had that TV image with which to compare him, I often found myself wishing my dad was less himself and more like a sitcom character.

I would fantasize about him reacting to me in the warm, goofy way that Heathcliff reacted to his kids, and I would feel a bit cheated because it was work being his daughter, and no one applauded for me as I did it.

Now, at 39, I realize that work was some of the most valuable that I’ve ever don–that he–my father–and I were building me into a decent, hard-working, and responsible person (with a wicked sense of humor, enviable taste in music, an elegant sense of style, and a deeply-rooted notion of fairness).

I understand now that navigating one’s relationship with one’s parent(s) is one of the most influential parts of growing up, and I wouldn’t be anyone close to the thinker, writer, teacher, mother, sister, or friend I am if I hadn’t been my father’s daughter–and mother’s daughter–first.

I also see–in thinking through why Heathcliff Huxtable was such an appealing character to me–what a juvenile concept of the “father” most of black people retain throughout our lives.

This is important to point out because I think it has a lot to do with why so many us, who love(d) Heathcliff Huxtable, are having such a difficult time accepting that Bill Cosby is a rapist that deserves to be punished for his crimes.

Rather than an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, whispering to black people about what fathers are and are not, we have a fairy tale weighing on one shoulder and a pack of racist lies weighing on the other.

These two false images make it difficult for us to be realistic or real about our fathers and father figures.

The fairy tale is of the white father–a romanticized figure that is an amalgam of the Judeo-Christian God and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. This man–because of his social privilege and inherent moral superiority and intelligence–conferred by his whiteness–is the perfect father. He is always there for his kids; he always has to proper solution for their problems; he can provide for his children’s every need; and he never fails them. He is the polar opposite, conceptually, of the paradigmatic black father.

The lies on the other end of the binary are that black men are inherently bad fathers. That slavery stole the ability to parent permanently from them. That institutional racism bars them–across the board–financially, emotionally, and spiritually–from adequately supporting their children. That being the victims of oppression, suppression, deprivation, and violence makes them ineffective and even damaging.

Charles Blow of The New York Times does an excellent job of describing this manifold misconception: “[We believe],” he writes, ” . . . there is something fundamental, and intrinsic about black men that is flawed, that black fathers are pathologically prone to desertion of their offspring and therefore largely responsible for black community ‘dysfunction.’”

Both of these mythoi–of the good white father and bad black father–conveniently–or inconveniently for black men–ignore the facts–which must be considered in order for black people to gain a more realistic–and serviceable–concept of the “father.”

The first is that, historically, many white men have failed spectacularly at parenting. See Joseph Kennedy, who had his daughter Rosemary lobotomized at age 23 without his wife’s knowledge or agreement, or Woody Allen, who had an affair with the adopted daughter—Soon-Yi Previn—of his long-time girlfriend Mia Farrow. They have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that white men in general are not automatically “better equipped” for parenting.

On the other hand, black men are more than just the “serial impregnators” portrayed in the racist mainstream media.

Though 72% of black women having babies are single mothers, this doesn’t mean that they don’t live with the fathers of their children. It actually means they aren’t married to them. Many still live with the fathers of their children. Only 55% of black children live in single mother households.

And even though a lot of black fathers don’t live with their children, about 2.5 million black fathers do live with at least one of their children.

Too, according to the CDC, black fathers–in and out of the home–provide more actual child care than white or Hispanic fathers. Yes–black men regularly feed their children their meals (78.2% black>73.9% white>63.9% Hispanic), dress their children (70.4% black>60% white>45% Hispanic), and read to their children every day (34.9% black>30.2% white>21.9% Hispanic). They are not all flailing or failing to fulfill their parental duties, despite what even a large segment of the black community maintains.

It is fair to acknowledge, too, that many of the black fathers that are missing from their children’s lives are missing because of factors related to institutionalization.

As reported in The Washington Post, “Incarceration [is an]  overwhelming [driver] of the gap [in the number of black women and men in the free population].

“Of the 1.5 million missing black men [out of 8 million] from 25 to 54 [the prime age span for fatherhood]–higher imprisonment rates account for almost 600,000. Almost one in 12 black men . . . is behind bars, compared with one in 60 nonblack men . . .”

These numbers prove that black men are not pathologically neglectful of their children.

Black fathers are still more absent from black homes than white fathers, but their patterns of abandonment can be linked to the historical legacy of slavery–how it has shaped today’s law enforcement and justice system, created genetic pitfalls for black people in terms of their health (which result in earlier deaths), and facilitated the demonization of black men in order to justify its reprehensibility.

Often, it is their internalized self-hatred–their own belief in their badness–that impels black men to leave their children alone–in the wrongheaded attempt to protect them.

Because black men struggle on a lot of levels to be present for their children at the same rates as nonblack men, and black people as a whole have a lot of misconceptions about how structural racism impedes parenting, the absences of black fathers lead many black people to cling to idealized father figures like Heathcliff Huxtable.

They set these father figures, usually found in entertainment, on pedestals because these men seem to have overcome whatever obstacles they needed to overcome in order to “get it right” for their children and co-parents (which are more often than not their wives).

Those that actually are or that just feel fatherless worship these figures in a sense, and this may be because one of the predominant figures in this improvised pantheon of imaginary surrogates is, in fact, the Judeo-Christian God.

Just listen to the way that many black religious leaders speak about God. They very liberally and munificently humanize Him. They do this because they know that so many black people suffer from an acute psychological sense of fatherlessness. They want to fix it, so they offer their congregants a God that is an eternal, omnipotent father.

They take that Biblical address, that ancient, enduring metaphor—“Our Father”—and literalize it–to effect some sort of spiritual healing from parental abandonment. They create a model of fatherhood that–while it may not shape the way that real black fathers do their jobs–shapes the way that the fatherless envision the role of the father. Then, celebrities, cultural icons, and imaginary characters like Heathcliff Huxtable do the same thing, but on a lesser level.

These famous “fathers” provide the fatherless with an unrealistic ideal that they attach to as “theirs” to fill the absence of an actual father. These “fathers” give the fatherless ridiculously high standards for what a father is, but, since they appear to meet these standards, they also inspire immense amounts of love and loyalty. It is this love and loyalty–and the painful prospect of losing yet another “parent”–that make it so difficult for people to accept it when father (or maybe it’s more apt to say “fatherly”) figures like Bill Cosby commit terrible acts.

Since so many black people do suffer from fatherlessness–or even from the idea that their “regular” black fathers are inferior–they do not want to give up their adoptive fatherly figures.

They do not want to face the fact that a character like Heathcliff Huxtable is a personage and not a person.

They want their fatherly figure to be innocent, or, if he cannot be innocent, they want him to be exempt.

So when their fatherly figure is put on public trial, these “children” argue that his positive contributions to society or culture or the black community must outweigh his crimes. They vilify his victims in order to lessen his culpability and depravity. They deny that his behavior is actually harmful, or, worse, they say that his victims are the ones doing the harm, by ruining the fatherly figure’s so-called legacy.

They make that same tired argument every time–that if Guilty Black Fatherly Figure were white, he wouldn’t be held nearly as accountable for his transgressions, as if that somehow justifies his transgressions. But the truth remains.

Despite how prevalent fatherlessness is in the black community, or how painful it is, we—the collective—cannot use it as an excuse to dismiss the crimes of our famous black men. Our imaginary “fathers” are no less responsible for their actions than our actual fathers. Fame, wealth, and talent–while they are rare–impressive–enchanting–still do not cancel out brutality, cruelty, perversity, or decidedly unchecked psychopathy.

The ugly truth is, then, that Bill Cosby is somnophiliac that–because he prefers to secretly drug women rather than gain their consent to have unconscious sex–has allowed the pursuit of his paraphilia to make him a rapist.

He has admitted on the record to drugging women and raping them. He has paid these women–by order of the court and on his own—as his atonement for raping them.

He has exploited his image as a fatherly figure, his power, and sexist stereotypes like that of the female groupie or gold digger to ruthlessly cover for his crimes.

He has been allowed and–yes–encouraged–by his wife, entourage, the Hollywood establishment, the legal system, the patriarchy, and, yes, the black community–that deifies him–to violate a group of 50 women–that we know of–between 1965 and 2008–without suffering any losses to his fame, wealth, reputation, or freedom.

And before any of you reading can make the reflexive argument that erroneously links the veracity of their accusations to how long it took certain of his victims to come forward on the record, let me let you know–

American culture and the nation’s justice system are criminally inhospitable to female rape victims, and this has a profound effect on their willingness to report their attacks.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to police.

This is because when women are assaulted by a friend or acquaintance (neighbor, classmate, coworker, boss), they fear they will not be believed.

They fear retaliation from the accused, other people finding out they’ve been assaulted, being branded as a rape victim, and/or being disrespected and/or mistreated during the trial process.

They believe that the police will not do anything to help them.

They believe that they have a lack of adequate proof or evidence.

They have their own misconceptions about what actually constitutes rape and do not actually know or believe that they have been raped.

Men may not be able to relate to these reasons–or they might refute them in order to abstain from inverting and being implicated by them–but women–if we’re being honest–know that they are very real.

Too many of us have either been raped or molested and experienced these paralyzing fears or doubts firsthand, or we have imagined being raped or molested and projected these fears and doubts onto our imaginary selves and into our possible futures.

Another reason not listed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that women don’t report sexual assaults is the terrible lack of credibility attributed to them by certain principles of rape culture.

Patriarchal notions that men hold–about how desperately women want to please them, how deserving “promiscuous” women are of punishment, and how important maintaining a “good girl” image is to women–make it easy for men to believe that women are lying when women say they’ve been raped.

Men like this think women are so universally “afraid” of being typed as sluts that any and all of them would lie about having consensual sex–call it rape–to avoid retribution or requital for exercising their sexual freedom.

And these men hold to the unfortunate truth that some women have lied about being assaulted—they have falsely accused men to avoid shame, exact revenge, or hide infidelity.

In the case of Cosby’s accusers, we must also concede they were up against the unlikelihood that a woman that is a “nobody” would be believed over a cultural icon.

Look baldly at how his accusers have been treated, and it’s easy to see why so many of Cosby’s victims felt for so long that reporting him to the authorities would be pointless.

People conflate Cosby with Heathcliff Huxtable. They think Bill Cosby is Heathcliff Huxtable. And, as devotees of the character, it is impossible for them to imagine Heathcliff raping a woman. So they struggle with believing that Cosby is a rapist. Still, the numbers of victims—as well as Cosby’s own accounts of his encounters with them and court settlements to which he has agreed—make it impossible to ignore that Cosby is guilty of a pattern of illegal behavior for which he deserves to be punished.

It looks as if the same thing, unfortunately, can be said about legendary hip hop culturalist Afrika Bambaataa, who has been accused in the last couple of months by four men of sexually abusing them during the 1980s.

Allegedly, he showed them—as boys—pornographic materials then performed oral sex on them.

Along with assaulting them, he gave them shelter, food, and money when they needed it, and he maintained a “father-son” relationship with at least one of them into adulthood. That is—in fact—what the boys called him: “Poppy.”

It’s reasonable to assume that fatherlessness, shame, machismo, and a distorted sense of loyalty are what kept them from reporting their abuse until now.

Again, before those of you that are inclined start doing that victim-blaming “thing” we so often do when we hear that victims of sexual assault have waited to name their accusers, I want to go back to one really significant concept I brought up previously, and that’s loyalty.

I honestly believe that malformed and misdirected loyalty are what keep a lot of black people silent about the terrible things that other black people do to them or in their presence.

We have such a profound mistrust of law enforcement and the courts that we do not want to turn a supposed “brother” or “sister” over to them if we can help it.

So many of we black people refuse to report crimes committed against us by other black people—and we uphold our own abusers in a lot of instances—in order to show our racial awareness and solidarity.

We romanticize our victimization as a sacrifice of sorts, and we shame those that don’t adhere to this dysfunctional “code” of honor and silence. But this behavior is a throwback to the plantation and the inhumane treatment our ancestors often suffered when they didn’t cover and/or lie for each other.

As a people, we have to start moving past our past, in this sense. We either have to abandon this anti-“snitching” ethic and turn the offenders in our community over to the law, or we have to figure out our own ways to hold them accountable for their choices to damage others and refuse to seek help for their sicknesses.

I said it before—navigating one’s relationship with one’s parent(s) is one of the most influential parts of growing up. James Baldwin even said that loving someone—that act in itself—is a growing up.

It’s a process of shedding the pretty, pretend ideas we get from fairy tales, and the hyperbolic or fantastical ideas we get from lies, and embracing new ideas about ourselves—bolder concepts of ourselves—that protect and empower us, female and male.

And here are a few—

We can love Heathcliff Huxtable—what he represents—the will to father black children lovingly and joyfully—without reifying him.

We can admire Bill Cosby as an entertainer, philanthropist, actor, and producer without deifying him.

We can condemn Bill Cosby for raping those women without killing the image of Healthcliff Huxtable.

We can support a conviction of Bill Cosby’s guilt and maintain a sense of our highest and not our basest form of integrity.

We can condemn Afrika Bambaataa without indicting hip hop culture or erasing his contributions to the culture from its history.

We can support a conviction of his guilt.

We must.

Nothing can justifiably counterbalance wrongs like the ones Cosby or Eddie Long committed except confession, contrition, reparation, and rehabilitation.

So we cannot keep perpetuating this cult of fragile black manhood—this concept that black men cannot answer for their actions—if we want black men that ultimately inspire more than pity, mistrust, resentment, or fear in us. Or that can only truly be great when they are standing framed in our blind spots.

We cannot keep perpetuating this cult of fragile black manhood if we want to evolve into a culture that is characterized by more than its pathologies.

In order to grow out of the desperation of fatherlessness and demand what is actually attainable from our famous men–decency–we have to leave the childish notion that fathers are faultless behind us, once and for all.

We have to process the ugly truths about our fatherly figures. Topple them from their pedestals. Let them shatter and clean up the messes they’ve made.

This will help us to not only heal from their abuses, but it will help us to better appreciate our real fathers.

It will open us up to accepting that many of them are bending over backward, being their best for us.

 

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Being Insecure: The Complication of Wanting Romantic Love as a Cis Hetero Black Femme Feminist

So I watched the final three episodes of “Insecure”–

If you don’t know “Insecure,” then you should get to know it. It’s entertaining as hell.

Even though it trades on some of the most tired paradigms of black entertainment–my least personal favorite being the funny fat friend (since she is who I battle with myself on a daily basis not to be–another blog post for another time), it also delves into some new and poignant territory with its portrayal of the darker-skinned protagonist, her even darker-skinned best friend, and their shared plethora of confidence issues.

It gets a lot of things right about twenty-something, thirty-something educated black women trying to navigate adulthood with the kind of exquisite baggage that only America can gift.

SPOILER ALERT: The protagonist is Issa. She is characterized by her deep ambivalence. She hates her job at a non-profit that runs after-school programming for inner city kids, but she doesn’t have the balls to pursue music, which is her love (she raps). She loves her boyfriend, Lawrence, but she resents him for having sat, unemployed, idle, on their sofa for the past two years. She admires her best friend, Molly, for having achieved a high level of career success and financial stability, but she questions whether her approach to dating is strategic or self-destructive.

Lawrence lost his job and invented a computer app at some point previous to where the timeline for the season starts, but, unfortunately, the app failed to take off, and he was left with dashed hopes and minimal income. His own confidence took an understandable nosedive, and, correlatively, Issa’s did, too.

At the post at which the season starts, she is the breadwinner in the relationship, and she is resentful and I think embarrassed because she has opted to stay with a man that can’t seem to get it together and doesn’t fit the textbook definition of “successful.”

Rather than break up with him, she starts texting her ex to boost her confidence, though she doesn’t see that. She doesn’t recognize that classic pattern of romanticizing an old relationship when the one you’re in isn’t satisfying you. Daniel is someone with which she’s always had chemistry, but never a healthy dynamic, yet she pushes that aside when they begin communicating again.

She remains with Lawrence in the meantime. They go back-and-forth for a few episodes, but then he realizes how unattractive his situation has become to her, and he goes out and gets a retail job to tide him over until he can get more gainful employment. He and Issa pledge to work at their relationship; he starts interviewing for better jobs; and things get better.

That is until a video of Issa at an open mic, rapping, goes viral. She is afraid it will affect her job, and she goes to the ex–Daniel–for help to track down the person that posted it (he had been at the club the night of the open mic) and get it removed.

Daniel agrees to help her, but, when they have no luck finding the person that posted the video, he proposes a detour, and she goes to the studio with him to sit in on a recording session (he’s a producer) and clear her mind.

There, Daniel gasses Issa’s ego; he tells her she is an amazing writer and emcee, and they make a track that is passably decent. She lets the excitement of the experience–exercising her creative muscles and having her art be accepted and appreciated–totally overtake her.

Issa has sex with Daniel, but then realizes it was a mistake and sneaks out of the studio. She spends the next few weeks scrupulously avoiding him and focusing on Lawrence and the planning of a work fundraiser instead.

The fundraiser is, of course, the place where the shit hits the fan. Daniel comes to confront her about cutting him off, and Lawrence sees them arguing through a window. He waits for Issa to get back to their apartment after the event, and he confronts her as well. She confesses, and he stalks out on her.

Fast-forward: Lawrence has a really grim moment in the champagne room at the strip club and thinks maybe he better take Issa back. He calls her, on vacation with her girls, and says he is going back to their apartment, and he is willing to talk to her when she returns. She jumps the gun and leaves her vacation right away to meet him there.

Apparently, though, returning to the apartment triggers him because when Issa arrives, he is gone with all of his things, and the only thing she finds is Lawrence’s Best Buy polo, hanging in the closet.

The epilogue is the dramatic portrayal of the cliché that men do not know how to process romantic pain except with sex. Lawrence is going harder than he ever did with Issa onscreen with the flirtatious bank teller that used to cash his unemployment checks and give him cute little pep talks in-between reckless eyeballs. Cut to Issa, and she is curled up in Molly’s lap, sobbing.

The whole time I was watching Issa go back-and-forth with the ex, previous to the sex, I kept warning her aloud to be smart, be strong, stop playing, and stay away from him. It was only partially because he had told her in the first episode he wasn’t looking for a relationship, though. The other reason was I thought she would ruin a solid relationship–with Lawrence–if she messed around and fucked Daniel.

Now, I didn’t think Lawrence was this amazing catch because I am at least feminist enough not to think of men as catches–because I am adverse to the idea that women should chase men for love, sex, or validation.

However, I did find myself thinking Lawrence was a “nice” guy, and Issa should be careful with his emotions not just because he was her man, but because it might not be easy to find an equally “nice” man if she and Lawrence broke up.

I’ve read quite a few other responses to Issa fucking Daniel–from black women–some of them feminists–and many of them cheered her on for scratching her sexual “itch” and leaving Lawrence stuck in his career rut with his failed app and pretentious refusal to take an entry level IT job.

They thought Lawrence was a masquerading “nice” or “good” guy, and the fact that he’d fallen into that rut disqualified him from deserving a certain level of respect and affection.

They made sure to say that Issa was messy for ending their relationship by fucking Daniel, but they also insisted she was right to end their relationship and should’ve ended it months earlier, before Daniel re-entered the picture.

I’m not going to lie. Reading these responses led me to question my own: I wondered whether it was heteropatriarchy that had me thinking about the situation the way that I did.

First, I thought it was compassionate of Issa to stay with Lawrence while he struggled, not weak, and that was a healthy reaction in the context of a long-term relationship.

I have this concept that people have their own developmental paths, and one of the mistakes we make in relationships is trying to pull people off of these paths or insisting they take shortcuts so the relationship can follow some fairy tale or rom-com narrative.

In order to insist, as a cis hetero black femme woman, that my man allow me to make decisions about my life that further my growth even if they stretch the relationship out of conventional shape, I feel like I have to extend him that same space to explore his individuality.

And, when those decisions lead me to fail, in order to request or expect compassion and comfort from him, I have to be willing to give it. That’s equality.

In that same vein, I thought it was unevolved of Issa to consider breaking up with Lawrence over money and not an issue in their dynamic.

Again, as a feminist, I don’t expect a man to support me financially; I expect us to sit down and map out a sensible and fair plan for how we will navigate money matters as a team.

The only thing I need a man to do, if we are paying bills together, is to cover what he says he will cover and take care of his own needs with his own money.

If he isn’t able to do that, I am willing to stay with him, but I will move out or make other living arrangements so that I am not supporting him financially because I am not his parent or caretaker. That, to me, is making sure the relationship is reciprocal and as balanced as it can be.

Too, I thought it was unfair for Issa to expect Lawrence to take a job he didn’t want just because she had a job that she didn’t want.

That was her decision to make, as was her decision to continue living and paying bills with Lawrence after he lost his job.

Like I said before, I want the space, in a relationship, to make choices for myself that are empowering and affirming, and I don’t want my partner putting pressure on me to subvert my dreams or desires and “take one” for the proverbial the team. That shit can be soul-crushing.

So I have to be willing to give my partner that same space and not invoke the whole “breadwinner male” ethic, which is just as much a product of heteropatriarchy as the ethic of the “dutiful wife.”

Finally, I thought it was codependent and unrealistic for Issa to think Lawrence “should have” gotten off the couch and out of his funk to save her from her own decisions to stay with him and take on paying the lion’s share of the bills.

Issa is a grown woman, and it is her job to be honest with herself and the people around her about what she wants and needs.

If she told Lawrence that she had his back, but, then, she changed her mind, it was her job to say that. It was her job to extricate herself from their situation; it wasn’t his job to solve himself for her; he is his own problem.

In playing the “dutiful wife”–when she wasn’t even his wife and her heart wasn’t in it anymore–Issa played herself and put Lawrence in the position to play her–the exact reason you never play the “dutiful wife” or any role that subverts your real identity or desires(.

Yes, Lawrence was wallowing in his disappointment, but people wallow–depression is real and alienating–and we all have to be our own protectors and advocates against unhealthy influences, even in romantic relationships.

If we are going to insist on being treated as strong, intelligent, evolved women, then we can’t play the damsel and wait for men to save us, on any level, and especially not from themselves. That is when we become the unrealistic ones.

(To me, a feminism that expects men to voluntarily come out of their conditioning to care about our struggles is like a black consciousness that expects white people to voluntarily give up their white privilege.)

When I originally thought about writing this post, I played with the title “‘Insecure’ & Conundrums of Cis Hetero Black Femme Feminism.”

Because I think that we feminists that are cis, hetero, black, and femme have to navigate very carefully in order to ensure that we are not operating out of our heteropatriarchal conditioning when we deal with men.

It is easy when you love men romantically and sexually, and they are black men, to prioritize their needs and wants over yours because that is how most of us are taught: We are taught that we need a man, should want a man, are lucky to get a man, and should do what is necessary to keep a man because of the supposed scarcity of livable hetero black men.

Many of us are taught that a man that doesn’t beat you or cheat on you–or a man that discreetly cheats on you–is a “good” man. A man that makes more money than you and/or has more education than you is a “catch.” The endgame for romantic relationships is “catching” a man–getting him to marry us.

We are taught to pursue “successful” men; to put price tags on our time and attention and sex; and to dismiss men that cannot afford to pay these price tags. We are taught to objectify ourselves in anticipation of being objectified by men and break our necks to look a certain way and fit into whatever mold of respectability or sexuality in order to please men and “keep” men.

One of the first things you do–or at least that I did–when I became a feminist was to dissect all of these teachings in order to identify which of my ingrained behaviors were oppressing me. Then, I brainstormed ways to change them.

However, I’m not going to lie and say that I am a feminist warrior in my romantic relationship every single hour or every single day. There are those conundrums of feminism that come up when you want to be true to yourself, but you’re dealing with a black man and all his patriarchal baggage, and you want things to go smoothly.

One of the most frequent ones, for me, is wanting very badly for your relationship to work. That in itself can feel anti-feminist because it can very easily slip into codependency and unhealthy attachment.

You are always walking a fine line between being invested and committed and allowing yourself to be misused and possibly even abused in the name of “love.”

When I was watching “Insecure,” I was compelled to ask myself over and over whether Issa was settling for staying with Lawrence, which, to me, is a benign (when the man is not violent or abusive) form of self-abnegation or self-denial.

I thought she was being a committed partner, but, then, after I read what some other smart women had to say, I wondered whether I was wrong. Then, I wondered whether attempting to partner with a male period is a form of self-abnegation that cis hetero feminists just have to accept and navigate as carefully as they can.

Any cis hetero black woman or femme black woman knows how delicate black men’s egos can be. You know how lightly you can feel impelled to tread in their emotional landscape, which can feel like it is nothing but a maze of booby traps.

When being strong, independent, and self-determined is a mandate, dealing romantically with men can very easily lead to endless power struggles and really ugly splits because they can’t handle you. Mind you, they can have a hard time handling you because they refuse to do more, or you are doing too much, but I digress.

Being a feminist and hetero is complicated, yet, as a human being, you crave companionship, sex, love, and maybe even commitment. Take me. I’m big on monogamy. I want marriage. Yet, I feel guilty for wanting these things, and afraid of them, because they seem almost intrinsically not just anti-feminist, but anti-female, with all the double standards, antiquated thinking, and stringent politics that govern both.

It occurs to me that I am insecure at times. Not about my cis hetero black femme femininity or womanhood, but about my feminism. I can be really shaky sometimes when it comes to enacting all these concepts I have about how to conduct myself in my romantic relationships.

Because on one end, I am afraid of playing into patriarchy, and, on the other, I am afraid of enacting a feminism that doesn’t allow me to be who I am.

I am a romantic. I am a monogamist. I have a fiancé. I think women are sexy as hell, but I only want to sleep with men.

I want to wear make-up and earrings and still be taken seriously. I want to be fat and still be considered sexy. I want to be loud and opinionated and still be romantically and sexually attractive (though I do not just want to be attractive).

I want to be educated and make money and not be subject to male hostility or inconsideration. I want to be sexually open and expressive and not be subject to attack or disrespect. I want to be vulnerable, compassionate, and affectionate and not be mistaken for weak or treated like shit or an idiot by inadequate, insecure, or manipulative men.

But I also do not want to be mistaken for weak or treated like shit or an idiot by women when I am vulnerable, compassionate, or affectionate toward men. I don’t want other feminists dog-walking me because I refuse to vilify men or refute tenderness.

I want to be free (imagine that) to exist along the full spectrum of emotions and behaviors. That, to me, is the aim of feminism.

Yes–all of this from a sitcom. I thank Issa Rae and her writers for coming up with a plotline that was so provocative. I love when black entertainment isn’t the typical slick, manicured minstrel show.

And I guess what I am saying is–the way we view “Insecure” or the lives of the real women we know can provide some really interesting and useful clues about what we feel about our relationships and ourselves.

With “Insecure” and my own engagement weighing on my mind, I forced myself to spell out–for myself–what I think about issues surrounding support and money in relationships–very important ideas to parse when embarking on a lifetime partnership.

And I don’t fault Issa for staying with Lawrence or wanting him back in the end. I don’t think he’s a “good” guy or a “bad” guy. I reject that binary. I don’t think it helps to think of people in types because it impels us to act off of scripts and not our true feelings, desires, and needs.

I also don’t think that cis hetero black femme feminists like me are betraying ourselves when we try to work it out with men that don’t fit neatly into boxes–that aren’t knights or panty-droppers or alphas, but just regular, decent men interested in healthy, constructive love with a woman that is in control of herself.

I think we need to embrace this ethic expressed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity. And I want to be respected in all of my femaleness because I deserve to be.”

Because if we are letting any rule tell us who to love or how or what to do in general, we are not free or independent.

If we are not living out our own individual ideas of what it means to be female, or we are suppressing our femininity, whatever that is for us, we are not feminists.