The relationship between Black men and Black women—and it’s many facets, flaws and forms—is fodder for endless conversation, op-eding, take-down, Tweets, crappy advice books and columns. Has been that way my whole life, has been that way your whole life and there is very little chance of that changing. And even the best musings about the subject are often rehashed versions of something that someone else said. It feels like we’re stuck between preaching to the converted and fighting in some sort of endless battle royal where there are no winners, just wounds.
And then came Scandal. And anyone who didn’t know how bad things were before that? Man, they got a crash course. (I know the Scandal debate may seem like a party I’m pulling up to two weeks after the let-out, but walk with me here.) Brothers are showing us their conflicting emotions and dare I say, their hurt.
I try and tread lightly with the subject these days. ‘Cause, honestly? It hurts to talk about. It hurts that there’s so much malcontent between the two groups of people who depend on one another for survival—though a group of Black women reading this would quickly tell you otherwise. It hurts that the global condition of sexism has specific ramifications within our community that devastate members of my gender daily—though some of the Black men reading this checked out the moment they read “sexism.”
Black life feels like war far too often, and this is yet another reason why. So as I approach with caution, it’s no surprise that others just dismiss/ignore/feign ignorance all together. And as frustrating as their approach may be, a part of me understands why. However, it’s critical that we acknowledge the elephant in the room: We’re hurting, and as Terrie Williams often says, hurt people hurt people. Over and over and over again.
Let’s go back to last month, when Kerry Washington lost the 2013 Emmy for “Best Actress” to Homeland’s Claire Danes. Many people, most of them Black women, cried foul—and it was safe to say that a lot of those complainers had never seen Homeland. Yet, it’s easy to feel like “Once again, a Black person isn’t getting her due.” She would have been the first Black actress to nab that award and considering that she’s the first Black woman to be the lead on a drama in 40 years, it should be no surprise that there were people who look like her have become emotionally invested in her success.
That considered, it was hurtful to see Black men on blogs and social media break their fingers to explain why Kerry Washington didn’t deserve that statue. When brothers grumble about a Black man getting passed over for something, we’re usually grumbling too. When Kanye West was bumrushing award shows on his own accord pre-Swiftgate, we didn’t spend time breaking down why he didn’t deserve to win in the first place.
Then, of course, there’s Olivia Pope’s illicit affair with married, White President Fitzgerald—ooh, he’s a Republican, too! It’s as if she shot three bullets squarely at every single Black man in America, amirite? Without getting into a broader conversation about the character or the plot, it’s worth noting that the angry, mean-spirited and otherwise antagonistic reactions to the on-screen relationship go to show that while Black women have been vocal about their often complicated feelings about seeing Black men with White women, we aren’t the only ones who feel some type of way.
And guess what? That’s fair, all things considered. Brothers, you too have a right to your emotions—but you can express them without berating Black women. Our relationship to Whiteness and White people is so difficult, nuanced and painful. Even those among us who have no real “problem” with interracial dating sometimes feel uncomfortable in the presence of mixed race relationships. Sisters have been berated for expressing these sorts of feelings for years, despite the fact that we still support the many notable Black men who are in these relationships and, more often than not, the TV shows and movies that feature them.
So when this one show debuts with a Black female character who is beautiful, successful and self-possessed in ways we rarely see in the media, and she’s in this sordid relationship with this powerful White man…and we dare to still ride for her, to covet her clothes, to be rapt by the storyline—even if it’s a scenario we’d eschew in real life—instead of soundly dismissing her as A Treasonous Black Whore? The outcry from our men, many of them the same ones who support virulent anti-Black female messages in rap music (and in real life), the same ones who accuse us of hating on professional air-breather Kim Kardashian, was very hurtful. Very hurtful.
Is this just another instance of Black women-hating men hating Black women? Nah. It’s deeper than that. While the usual suspects are all up in the mix (any man who has “Negro Bed Wench” in his vocab was far gone before the first Scandal table read, know that), brothers who don’t always let you know that they feel some kind of way about seeing Black women with White men have also been pretty vocal.
I’m not here to defend Scandal, Shonda “I Put Black Men In Relationships with Non-Black Women For Years On My Other Shows” Rhimes, Kerry “You Do Know My Husband Is Black In Real Life, Right?” Washington and/or the storyline. I don’t think they need defending if one is honest about everything—especially the ratio of on and off screen relationships like this one to the ones where the genders are reversed and the fact that Olivia Pope is a flawed character and the show is called “Scandal,” not “Celebration” or “Sexy White Boo Time.”
Instead, I am here to say that we can have a healthy two-way conversation. We can move the needle forward. Brothers, that means being willing to put everything on the table and being honest about your emotions—and for some of you, that means admitting that the 'love is love' attitude you claim to have about mixed couples can be challenged when it isn't Black man doing the mixing. (Welcome to the Mixed Feelings club!) But berating us or deliberately trying to make us feel bad because you feel bad and don’t want to/don’t know how to articulate that? That's not productive and it's certainly not fair.
Fighting to get Black women and men in a space where we can productively challenge one another in the service of improving our relationships sometimes feels like a losing game. Alas, the stakes are higher than the ratings of any primetime series—this isn't hardly all about dating and mating; look at the many roles we play to one another: mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, teacher, lover, neighbor, pastor, boss, police, friend, assailant…when we are good to one another, we are sanctuary and when we are torn, we are a threat. And no matter the race of the person you end up partnered with, the relationship between you and Black people of other genders is a significant one. So, yeah, I'll keep fighting and I hope that my brothers—and my sisters—can come to a place of understanding and honesty much sooner than later. Even while Scandal's on.
Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com. Views expressed in The Beautiful Struggler are her own. Tweet her @jamilahlemieux