In December 1975 and January 1976, respectively, Ebony Magazine published “Mistakes Black Men Make In Relating To Black Women” and “Mistakes Black Women Make Relating To Black Men”. I’ve long since come to hate such blanketed statements that indict an entire race or gender (and there’s 99 million ways to express the same idea without sounding like you mean everyone…come on, old Ebony!), but the actual articles are more fair than the titles would imply.
The major complaints discussed in the first piece include insensitivity (particularly as it relates to sexuality: he wants it when he wants it and he don’t care if you get yours, girl), lack of communication and the expectation that the man is to be treated as king, even if he doesn’t provide a ‘royal’ offering (or queen-like treatment) to his woman. The writer, Carol A. Morton, spoke to women who felt that their partners felt that their struggles as Black men took precedence over their own issues as Black women. In the second piece, men presented their frustrations with sisters who they found to be sexually uptight, insecure, hostile and too willing to share relationship problems with outsiders. Oh, and the male-to-female ratio was an issue as well.
In a nutshell- ain’t nothing new under the sun.
Having the painful burden of being born human, Black men and women will continue to have challenges in fostering long-term, loving relationships so long as the race continues to exist and so long as racism has us in its vice grip. Moreover, those challenges will be unique and particularly damning at times. While I acknowledge that there are many brothers and sisters who display no such behavior as what was discussed in this 36-year-old piece, I will say that my modern eyes have seen these bad habits made manifest. And I’ve also seen women do the things assigned here to the menfolk and vice versa.
The author, Carol A. Morton, mentions the unique impact that racial discord and injustice have on Black relationships, which are also challenged by shifting gender roles and other “normal” life experiences. She cites Dr. Frances Welling as stating that some “90 percent” of the problems that Black couples face are the result of the “social system”. Also, for each ‘charge’, there is an explanation from psychologists, relationship experts and counselors as to why Black women and men may be having such issues. For example, Dr. Alvin Poussaint stated that Black women are decried for being hostile, when they are simply trying to be protective of themselves: “Black women are used to being abused and mistreated and they have adopted a defensive attitude because of it.” The other article makes mention of the idea that Black men’s insensitivity towards their women may be a coping mechanism employed to manage the challenges of being Black and male in a racist society.
Morton states that brothers who display what is referred to as “sensitivity” are often decried as ‘weak’ or ‘gay’ ( I say “what is referred to as,” because in reality, anger, aggression and violence can also be indicators of sensitivity). There is a deadly societal pressure placed upon Black men to be hyper-masculine; even the gent who wants to be a bit more gentle or compassionate may find that these actions are not well received by male peers, relatives or even women. In a “it would be funny, if it weren’t so damn sad” display of irony, some fellas will alter their kind or chivalrous behavior towards women in order to avoid being called gay by other men. Avoiding behavior that attracts women, in order to please men, in hopes they won’t consider you to be gay…has your brain exploded yet?
I digress. While many women of all races encounter equality issues when it comes to sexuality, I would like to believe that the world has seen some improvement in attitudes about female sexual pleasure since the time this article was on newsstands. There is a lot of Puritanical nonsense that still lingers, but we do speak about sexuality more freely now and many women don’t encounter the same sort of judgment for being openly sexual with their partners that some of the women in Morton’s story complain about. Progress!
The biggest differences between these two pieces and what we typically see in magazines today are the references to race, racism and the impact they have on relationships (while this would of course be a more pressing issue back then, they deserve more attention than we give to them now) and the fact that room for improvement for both genders was discussed with equal attention. Today, it seems that a vast majority of the relationship chatter involves the shortcomings and needed action steps for Black women alone.
I’d recommend that anyone interested in the romantic plights and progression of Black men and women take a look back at these pieces. I appreciate reading such a nuanced and well-researched discussion of these issues, but it’s disheartening to see how far we still have to go in resolving them. It’s possible that our children may be able to read Ebony in 2035 and not see these same problems being lamented, but we are going to have to do some major legwork if that is to be the case.