The conversations are endless. From beauty shops, to church basements, to blogs, to block parties, to girl’s night out, Black men and women love to talk about each other. Whether we are singing their praises or complaining about how men ain’t sh*t, as much as we’d like to stop talking about black men, inevitably, we find a way to bring them up.

This month, Ebony Magazine allowed journalist and activist Jeff Johnson to host a roundtable of Black men in an attempt to find out what they really think about Black women and relationships.

A few days ago I caught up with Jeff Johnson to discuss the roundtable and whether or not the complicated relationship between Black men and women can really be healed.

Clutch: Considering that every year there is a “State of Black Love” type of conversation that gets published or talked about, what made you want to do a roundtable with Black men about relationships?

Jeff Johnson: Well, I think, one…seldom does there seem to be discussions that are public that men have with men. This was not an effort to have the most intellectual conversation, it wasn’t an effort to have the most in-depth conversation—we didn’t have space for that. The purpose was to have the most honest conversation and give both men and women an opportunity to see, in print, a conversation with men that was no-holds-barred and honest, for better or for worse.

Clutch: Initially when LaVenia emailed me about talking to you about [the Ebony piece], I wasn’t really sure because we have this whole…Steve Harveyization of relationship advice…

Jeff Johnson: [laughs]

Clutch: …the pseudo-relationship type books, and I was really not interested in reading a whole conversation about Black men complaining about Black women—not that it would be about that—but I wasn’t really interested in that.

Jeff Johnson: I think you can see from the questions and from the responses [in the article] that there was as much introspection about who we are as men, as there are about things that women do, or mistakes we make with women, or issues we take with women.

And I never felt at all that this ever was a conversation where it was like, “Look dog…this is what women need to do,” as much as it was here’s how I feel. And there was really a—even amongst generations—such a broad spectrum of opinions and beliefs and lifestyles and choices, that I thought that it well represented kind of the spectrum of Black men.

Clutch: You do. And I just felt like I had no interest whatsoever in reading it if it was going to be one-sided, but I enjoyed that it was that conversation because so often we don’t—as women—[feel like men have these conversations.] You know we hear that men talk at barbershops or when they’re together, but for whatever reason we don’t necessarily feel like you guys are having these in-depth conversations about anything.

Jeff Johnson: [laughs] That’s terribly unfair.

Clutch: It is…it’s very unfair…but…

Jeff Johnson: That’s terribly unfair. And that’s why I think that this is something—for me—was an opportunity to start within the pages of Ebony. But it’s something that we need to do more often.

I think that we as a community would be better served being able to hear the opinions of men. Whether that’s emotional issues as it relates to relationships, or whether it’s issues that relate to spirituality, or whether it’s political thought, or whatever it is. The real discourse between men is missing in our community. And I think that if we would hear it more our children would benefit from it, our communities would be stronger because of it. And it’s not an issue of what man is right or what man is wrong, it’s really about how do we come together, listen to each other, hear each other, and all of us be better as a result of it.

Clutch: One of the guys I really keyed in on, I think his name was Thomas…

Jeff Johnson: I figured you would key in on Thomas. [laughs]

Clutch: In terms of what he said about communication and how it’s really about listening. I know at Clutch we do articles about Black men and women, Black women need to stop buying into the pseudo-relationship intellectuals (ala Steve Harvey ), and those things always turn into this big long—painful even…to read the comments. A lot of people carry around a lot of pain, and rightfully so. But anytime we start to approach the conversation from a woman’s perspective—since that’s what we do—inevitably somebody always throws the “Black Men Ain’t Shit” bomb, and I feel like a lot of people aren’t really listening to one another. Even when some Black men will come on and comment and be positive, then some [readers] will say, “Well, that’s just you…but the rest of y’all really ain’t about nothing.” Why do you think that is? Why do you think we have such a hard time having conversations or being able to articulate our pain without using that as a weapon?

Jeff Johnson: Well I think you said it and part of your statement is there is a lot pain, and I think that men and women are hurting on multiple levels and we’re afraid to deal with that hurt effectively because we’re afraid to get hurt again.

And I would argue—and there might be a lot of women who disagree with me—that there are a lot of men that are hurt by relationships as there are women.

Clutch: Oh, definitely.

Jeff Johnson: The problem is men are afraid to say it, men don’t effectively know how to show it, and they, in many cases, are lashing out at women for a woman that hurt them [just] as much as sisters are lashing out at men around a [man] that hurt them. So we should never allow that to be a place for us to battle. We really should be saying to ourselves, “Wait a minute. We need a level of healing.” And there’s a way for that to happen. And the way for that to happen is not for me to diss all brothers, or for me to start doggin’ all sisters. But that’s easier said than done.

I think it starts with these kind of small conversations, where women are allowed to hear men have these kinds of discussions and say, “What a minute…even if I do the numbers, at least half of these brothers sound like decent brothers.” (laughs) And begin to think to themselves maybe I’ve looked at this all wrong, and maybe I need to start having conversations with men differently.

But I think what you’ll even see from this article is that when people take their time in relationships, normally it’s a more productive experience. And when people rush into relationships, it normally ends up in a place that you don’t want it to.

You’ll hear from men—just like you’ll hear from women—when people try to jump the broom before they’ve been on the first date, you find confusion.

So I think that was a long answer to your question, but it starts with us understanding that on most days—as you’ll see from these men—we all really want the same things, which is to be appreciated, and valued, and loved.

Clutch: One of the guys—Art—mentioned that relationships are hard and communication is difficult because you have to be vulnerable. And [he mentioned] the fact that vulnerability is equated with femininity. Just to echo what you were talking about a minute ago and men not feeling comfortable enough to express or articulate their pains, their hurts, their emotions…how do women make the situation more comfortable or more conducive to that conversation?

Jeff Johnson: I don’t know. I can’t speak for every brother’s situation. So I think that people’s level of hurt and comfort before they go into the relationship affects their ability to be vulnerable. I think we can just be honest, ourselves, and organic. And I say those three things because that creates an environment where if somebody if going to want to be vulnerable, they can be.

But as a woman, you can’t create an environment for me to want to be vulnerable; you have to be yourself. Because if I feel like it’s contrived, then I’m [going] to feel like I’m on Oprah and you just trying to get me to talk. And then it becomes forced versus you being yourself—let me see who you are, let me see that you’re the kind of person where this is a safe space. And once I feel like that space is safe, then I can be in a place to be vulnerable.

Clutch: One thing that I picked up on, or keyed in on, was the language that many of the guys [in the article] were using—“brothers” and “sisters.” I don’t know if that’s common across all people. And I think that that’s sort of the issue—the lack of commonality, even the lack of community.

When I’ve had conversations about this with other people—other Black women—a lot of the times it’s like, well…Black men are not ‘ours.’ They can go and date whomever they want, so they’re not ours. [They say] we need to get over this idea that they’re ‘our’ men, you know what I mean? And I just feel that that sort of echoes a loss of community, of commonality, and that’s one of the things that I really picked up on in your piece that a lot of guys were using that type of language that speaks to kinship, that speaks to a shared experience…and I’m not sure that it’s the case across a large portion of the black community.

Jeff Johnson: I think you’re right. I think we had a group of men who overwhelmingly felt like they were apart of a larger Black community. And whether they dated white women or Asian women Latina women, they still [felt a connection]. I think you heard it in some of the early responses to what do you like about Black women. One brother said they understand what I’m going through, and my experiences, they know who I am. Another brother said they’re my mother, my grandmother, my sister.

I think the challenge is so often there is this environment of competition…that often times chips away at the communal commonality.  So if I’m rolling up into this situation like this is a man-woman battle thing, then it becomes less my sister, and just becomes that woman. If I’m in an antagonistic environment then that chips away at that commonality.

And when that happens it’s not no “brother” and “sister”…it’s that “bitch” and that “nigga,” right? And how often do we hear that more than we hear brother and sister?

Clutch: Too often…everyday.

Jeff Johnson: And I believe—and this is just Jeff Johnson logic—I believe that’s because we’ve created such an environment of perpetuated competition that now that kinship I would normally feel with this woman who is connected to me culturally is no longer there because we beefin’ all the time. And the media tells me we beefin’, and my boys tell me we beefin’, and my girls tell me we beefin’, and then let’s not talk about my mama and ‘nem telling me we beefin’. So with all of this spirit of beef, it’s then said, “Nah, this ain’t my sister. This [is] not my brother.”

So increasing dialogue and communication breaks down some of that competition, and helps increase that sense of commonality.

Clutch: Do you think that the fact that a lot of Black people have grown up without seeing their parents together in committed relationships, loving one another, going through what that looks like. Do you think that has had an affect on how we treat each other?

Jeff Johnson: Without question. I mean, if I look at my own life I’m a divorcee and I was a horrible husband.  And I know I was…I can admit that I was. And I had a father in my life who was ever-present in my life. I mean to this day my father is present in my life. He was the disciplinarian, he was also very affectionate with me, and I never lacked affection or love from my father. But I never saw my father be a husband.

So even early in my life as a husband [and] father, I was a much better father than I was husband. I can blame my father for that, but that’s what we gotta get out of. Yes, I think the way that I was conditioned put me in a place where it was easier for me to be a good father, than it was a good husband. But I think there were times I used that as an excuse.

At some point if I want to learn how to be a husband or if I want to learn how to be a wife, there’s a husband or a wife that I can call on. Our community isn’t so fragmented and disconnected that there are no husbands and wives. So at some point—even if we haven’t had one in our own family—as adults we have to get to the point when we say what a minute, I recognize what I didn’t have in my house so let me go find an example that I can model. And while it may not be a perfect model, it at least exposes me to what it really means to be a wife or a husband in a way that I didn’t get in my own home.

So yes, I do think it matters, but we gotta go beyond that in 2011. We find models to show us how to make money, we find models to show us how to get famous, we find models to show us how to have the best brands, we find models to show us how to become the best professionals. So if it’s important for us to be able to build Black families—to build family for that matter—we have to have the same form of diligence to find a model to show us how to be a better wife and husband.

Clutch: So what’s next? Would this [conversation] be something you’d be interested in doing more of?

Oh without question. It’s something that people like myself, Kevin Powell, and others have been focused on for some time. And I am very interested in seeing more public conversations of men, and Black men in particular.

So whether it’s in the pages of magazines, or whether it’s on air, or whether it’s in communities, I’m definitely dedicated to having these kinds of discussions.

 

What do you think Clutchettes and Gents? Do you think having these open and honest discussions will help rebuild our community or has the relationship between Black men and women deteriorated beyond repair?

Let’s talk about it!

 

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  • Adrianna

    Men can be confusing. Not saying women can’t be confusing. One moment men are eyeballing the weave vixen. The next moment they say they want a regular woman, one that has real body parts, real hair, etc. I know you will say what does hair have to do with anything. It does. Men and Women go by attraction. That is normal. But, it is now a “beauty” standard to have long hair. It is associated with a woman’s overall being. Because men find it attractive, women add that to their value. So if you don’t have long hair, fake or not, you are devalued. Their is value in a good hair cut! Look at Halle Berry, Melinda Williams, Tracy Mourning, Nia Long. All of them are gorgeous and don’t subscribe to the long hair theory. Yes, they have worn extensions at some point. But they also know their beauty & femininity can be in a sexy hairstyle. I want men to start being vocal about appreciating a woman as is and loving them for who they are. This fakeness has got to stop. There are so many facades to the black male and female. First we need to uncover some truths and then start from ground zero. We need to know what they other truly values. We don’t know if we don’t talk.

  • Nya Dash

    I totally missed this article in Ebony. I must read it! For once we have dialogue from men, not celebrities and media persona, who tell us what we should be doing and don’t subscribe to it themsleves! Please don’t tell me how to be a friend, spouse, financially astute, and you haven’t exhibited nor done anything you are talking about.
    Real answers from the men we want to and try to love, now that’s what I am talking about! I hope I can still catch this issue.

  • Malik

    Who cares about colors, genders of a race gossip? It’s all academics without spirituality…if we focus on who we are as spiritual beings inside of these human bodies, then recognize we all have a greater job to fulfill as self, family, community, nation and world. Right now, we need to be buying these “fixer uppers” in the neighborhoods, pay the property taxes so we can fuel our K-12 schools. At the same time take positions within the local governments and become diplomats to foreign governments so academic services along with cultures can be exchanged. If property taxes are getting paid then neighborhood value goes up (imagine major equity in a home you may have paid 11K for? BANK) and of course morale goes up for all and crime decreases drastically. It’s all about turning nothing into something like the ancestors keep telling us daily with khemistry and geometry. In geometry, you make your points like axioms and graph them with degrees (multi-dimensional meanings with astronomical approach) then make a path from one to the other point. For example, certifications are for making way for your own business so why not get a degree then certify yourself instead of working for somebody else? Now it maybe people who will be working for others as statistics with accountancy shows it but think about the basics…you need real estate, medical and health, food and water..transpose those needs into jobs within the neighborhood and watch out 1900s Tulsa and Helena…along with Africa (and her islands). Welfare goes away quickly and bartering comes back into play as well as free enterprise. Take up positions in the State government and make moves to change human law to set precedence. Most local judges do not even acquire degrees but we are worrying about love in the wrong places…the last time I remember if a beautiful Queen moves then a King sees…I’m from the super country and military so trust me when Malcolm X said “media controls the minds of the masses” people was sleeping and still is. We have a suitable force of spiritual beings able to move tacticful with wise decisions about life and karma is it. All a Queen wants to do is relax on her land, walk onto her land anytime she feels and command with authority while being graceful and sexy. And crowns comes with a heavy price so be prepared for whatever cause we did not create “The Hate U Gave Little Infants Fuck Everybody” that grew up more stranded than ever…the Queens just need to start teaching the children our way but we need to find some culture values first and pointing out leaders (this is what the internet is really for but time is running out…) Kings need to stop the banging and really patrol the neighborhoods (via self through local communities) Our childbirth rate is going up and is the highest amongst all humans so loving must be still going on…other than that it would be a higher rape crime rate along with assault. Kings and Queens need to be teaching real knowledge from a corporate and spiritual dimension…you only get half-ass corporate and cult impregnanted religions so yes we are mixed up to the max mentally to some capacities. Now going back to the homes and all…each and every Queen and King can have a kingdom of their own or together by keeping focus on the tax auctions and how to DIY. When have been the greatest at architecture from the minds to the hands but our pages are fading…our Ancestors had less of what we got now and look what is going on? Now the reason why I am on this page is because I was typing up some poetry to my soulmate I have not seen but only in my dreams and wanted to know if some spiritual beings living in African male bodies had a blog on if they could live without the opposite gender. I was just interested in opinions cause I feel as if I have missed her or maybe I need to hold-on and just master my knowledge and wisdom to feed my neighborhood of which I was born to. I myself feel honored to help Queens make moves even if we split ways; still eye helped her along the way as she helped me…I helped her for me spiritually cause I do not want my heart to be heavy and I do fear coming back inside this human body or another. We all cross paths for a reason so if you can share love and not be selfish about it then do it…cause what goes around keeps coming around like a planet on it’s orbital path. I tell all my homeboys this…whenever I get into a relationship with a Queen and her children (if she has any) I try to love her with all eye got without breaking myself totally…cause one day you’re here and the next day you’re gone. It’s all chess, geometry, khemistry when we are crossing paths so art everyday like it’s your last. We’ve all said some hurtful things but beginning and the end is what really counts as the last memories stained on the brains and minds until the end of time. So I dream then envision when my eyes are open and so, everytime I see a Queen and King out here with these Princes and Princesses then I’m living life to the fullest. The Kings are here but many Queens cannot see us clearly until they have moved on and vice versa but we all help each other make moves so it’s all two the good. Sacrifices and patience is what I have learned over the years…so I love Ebony for the reasons that I get to wash, massage and kiss her feet for the love of it and hands too along the neck and shoulders and back and arms and ankles and big foreheads too! I just like to love her like that cause 9 times out of ten she has not been loved like that….Much love to my Soulmate out here cause I am aching at night and day these times of mine. Hit me up anyone if you want to just network or exchange ideas. Hotep.