“I can rebuild him. I can make him stronger.” — whispers the soft heart of some black woman somewhere.
Black people have problems. That’s a bit of an understatement, but while some better off than we used to me, so many of us are worse since the Civil Rights actions of the 1960s. So it’s only natural that we want to help each other out. That we want to give back. That we want to be there for each other. And when it comes to black women, that is specifically about black men — any black man really — who we have determined is in need of saving and fiercely protecting.
It’s not an understatement to say that our country is hard on black people in general, but that black men face a different set of racist hoops to jump through compared to the racist and sexist hoops we, as black women, navigate. The only difference is black women seem OVERLY aware of what is the plight of the African American male, whereas black men are kind of hit or miss if they know our struggle.
The Obama Administration’s “My Brother’s Keeper” typified this as black women were torn between going “but wait, we need help too,” and “shut up, black men need this and we don’t want to ruin it for them.” This mindset is what causes quite a few black women to go against their interests and invest time, heart and money into trying to save a black man who does not want to be saved … specifically by you.
While not every black woman has this problem, I’ve seen it, a lot, with women who have degrees who date hot messes of man boys in hopes of cleaning them up and setting them on the right path. I’ve seen it with poor women, who are trying to rehab a guy fresh out of prison. If you want a black man, aren’t too picky and are deathly afraid of dying alone, what you’ll put up with in the effort to save-a-brother can be kind of humiliating. But there’s this thought process among some that if I just give him all my time, money, personal access, sex and emotional support, SURELY he’ll return the favor by getting his life together and becoming the man that I need. Beyonce didn’t make “Upgrade U” for no reason. This mentality is real, especially among those who have bought into the pity party mentality towards black men, instead of seeing them as human beings who are more in need of a hand-up than a hand out.
While sexism dictates that you can’t turn “whores into housewives,” the opposite seems to be true in a black community that encourages black women to play “Captain Save-A-Bro” for the sake of … well, sometimes I’m not sure. Because the paradox of playing “Captain Save-A-Bro” usually plays out one of two ways.
If a man is a good man, no matter what dire need he is in, he feels uncomfortable being saved. Even if he loves you. Sure, he’d like some help, some emotional support, but when you start giving him your car to drive and letting him lay up in your house for free, he starts to feel “some kind of way” about it. That he is worthless and not putting in, financially, into this relationship. This man, no matter how nice you are and how nice he is, is of high risk to leave out of a sense of guilt/shame and the belief that “a man is supposed to take care of a woman.”
If the man is NOT a good man, you get a leech who will happily live off of you forever, emotionally manipulating you until something better comes along.
Both these scenarios lead to frustration, resentment and heart break. And in both cases, the men usually don’t want to be saved. Or, at least not saved by you.
You hear more about men who feel “entitled” to relationships or sex because they pay for things, but there is a minority of women who feel this way too. That if they are having sex with a man, cooking for him, buying linens and clothes, cleaning his house and putting in all their time and energy, they are “owed” a relationship. Now, I have my own issues with a guy who would entertain this scenario with no intention of being with the woman romantically. What kind of man are you when it’s OBVIOUS a woman is in love with you and expects a relationship and you just let her do this, knowing it will lead to nothing but problems for both of you. Even if she doesn’t want to end it, you should since you are never going to “put out,” in the form of a wedding ring.
But what is to say of the women who does this thinking you can “earn” a man’s love? It’s as foolish as when a man does it. You can’t buy love. People either care or they don’t.
Sheri L. Parks touched on this as well in her book “Fierce Angels” where she recounts the time when, as a young woman, she was encouraged to stay in an abusive relationship in order to support a man her peers and elders thought could be the “next Martin Luther King.” Of course, when you think about that (don’t recall any stories about Dr. King beating his wife Coretta Scott-King), it sounds absurd. But then you think of the legion of black girls and women who supported Chris Brown after he beat his ex-girlfriend, pop singer Rihanna, and even after all his antics afterwards, seeing him as a wounded bird in need of love, instead of a sick person in need of medication and intense therapy. Then, it all starts to make sense. Some just want to see a black guy “make it,” even if it means you have to suffer in his wake.
I have been guilty of blind black love as much as anyone else. I have a soft spot for us as a people, and it always makes me happy to see a brother doing “well,” but I don’t like to see that at the expense of a black woman’s happiness and well-being. Why can’t we both get what we want in a healthy way? I also have, at times, battled low self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness, where I believed the only thing of value I had to give in a relationship was access to my wallet, time and ever detailed attention. Mind you, I have this issue in all my relationships, including my family and certain friends, and they are constantly reassuring that everyone loves me for me, and not because I’ll pay for dinner sometimes. But with black men, it was easier to just not date at all, lest I accidentally pick up another “fixer-upper” experiment that fails miserably.
This is not to say that black women shouldn’t try to help those they love. It’s a noble thing to be selfless and giving. Just don’t be so selfless and giving that you end up thinking you can buy and sex your way into a man’s heart. Don’t think you can “upgrade” someone and not suffer some consequences, because we live in a sexist society that makes good men feel bad for being helped out, and leaves openings for jerks who know that if you want to date a black man, depending on where you live, the options may be scarce.
So save wisely. (Or don’t save at all. Or try to save “each other.”) Don’t go into love thinking you can manipulate it into becoming real through good works. “My Fair Lady” is a movie, not an instruction manual.