As a black man living in America, I believe I can speak for many others like myself when I say that some of us aren’t great at dating or relationships. Many of us grow into adulthood with a lot of baggage from our youth. Unfortunately, many of us are not equipped with the proper tools necessary to unpack said baggage.
I have experienced these faults in my relationships in the past. As I matured into adulthood, I became more aware of my emotional shortcomings and have worked tirelessly to improve them. Like for instance, I have struggled with the inability to truly express how I feel, and instead have stored those feelings, only to have them exploding out in an aggressive way.
This inability to heal from traumas and heartbreak, lead us into relationships where we do what hurt people do best; hurt people. Though these hurdles can seem insurmountable at first, with proper guidance and healthy partnerships we can truly mend what’s broken and bruised. This is a snapshot of why dating a black man is difficult.
Some of us* are emotionally underdeveloped
Lacking emotional intelligence has been a trait passed down from generation to generation. The men in my family see emotional unavailability as a badge of honor and strength. Knowing that this is a problem, as black men we must change the narrative for ourselves. Embracing each other, challenging those toxic masculine stereotypes, hugging each other, kissing each other, giving one another space to openly cry, expressing ourselves, congratulating those who are making strides in their emotional evolution.
A space for men to express their emotions, whether it is hurt or pain, is unfortunately non-existent in today’s society. What tends to happen is that men will lash out in anger or aggression towards others because those feelings, and so many others, have no place to heal. “Suck it up culture” is real and is leading men in the wrong emotional direction. In a stand-up show, comedienne Sheryl Underwood put it pretty plain and clear (start at 2:30):
It’s funny but its true. It also might be funny because its true. Either way, women have created a space for themselves and others to congregate around expressed ideas, emotions, and beliefs, while men just haven’t seemed to arrive at the same place.
Some time ago, my great-grandmother passed away. The morning it happened, I received a call from my grandfather giving me the bad news. In that moment he cried. I was 23 the first time I heard a man in my family cry. I couldn’t help but mirror his emotional state and cry myself. This was the most vulnerable moment I’d ever shared with a male family member.
Some of us* are fatherless
In the lives of most men, the first person they look up to is their father. The role of a father or male figure in a man’s life is pivotal. For better or worse, men will take cues from this person so that they can begin to understand what being “male” is all about (Now, I say “male” with quotations because I believe there are MANY ways to express “malehood”, outside of what’s considered to be conventional). Some little boys will look to that male figure and say to themselves “I want to be like him”, while others will look to that figure and say, “I don’t want to be anything like him”. But what happens when neither of those are options because a male figure just doesn’t exist?
The result: Men look for other resources to help define their version of malehood. Entertainment and men outside of the home become their muse as they shape the man they someday want to be. The problem with this result is the inherent lack of control the parent has in forming what are the best values for the child. When looking to our entertainment “heroes,” we’re met with contradictions, illusions, and lessons that teach men to devalue women. Which leads to a continued culture of hurtful, difficult relationships.
I wasn’t as fortunate as some to grow up with a present father figure in my household. During the short time I did have my father in the home, I was subjected to his violent outburst towards my mother. As a replacement for those missed father moments, I turned to the television and Internet. Most of my heroes were men who were hyper-masculine and void of any real emotion.
Children with present positive father figures benefit by having a wider range of emotional expression modeled for them as they grow and face new experiences, one of which is relationships.
Some of us* feel inadequate when compared to what society says is an emotionally, open, available partner.
Romantic films are the cornerstone of the film industry. In any given year, there seems to be a flood of these films making their way to our local theaters. With all the romantic films that are released, it seems that one thing about this genre is very clear:
Black men are not invited to the party.
In the last year alone, there are only a handful of acclaimed romantic films that feature a black, leading-male role. It’s rare that black men are ever portrayed as emotional, loving, or caring. We’re depicted as strong and fearless and these images create a systematic cycle of inadequacies around being emotional and open.
Some of the images that are innately problematic are those that are not seen by the public. In this instance, it’s not the “problematic” images of black men that show us as expressing anger in violent ways, but more the pure lack of emotionally available characters in loving relationships. One break out character that dispels this stereotype is Randall Pearson from ABC’s “This is us”, played by Sterling K. Brown. In a very emotional episode, he breaks down in his office crying because of an overwhelming feeling associated with work. These moments, though impactful, are few and far between.
Representation truly matters. If you don’t see it, it’s hard to believe it. Now, I’m not going to say putting black men in more romantic films will somehow shift the mindset of black men in America, but I believe it’s a start. It plants a seed that eventually leads to thoughts, conversations, and lastly actions. If you grew up seeing and understanding that romance is something reserved for white men, your level of comfort with it as a black man is certainly lessened.
Some of us* is a series of essays written from the perspective of a particular group with emphasis on some of us; not all of us. You can find more at James’ Medium profile here.