The Denzel Principle: Don’t take it personal

February 20, 2010 by
Denzel Principle cover

Jimi Izrael's "The Denzel Principle"

It must suck being Jimi Izrael. All the man wanted to do was offer his take on relationships between black men and women. The problem is that his work on relationships has been a third rail for a while. To have read it is to know that Izrael operates his pen with the subtlety of a billy club to the back of the head. I’m a firm believer in the idiom that it’s not what you say but how you say it. How Izrael says it is blunt, profane and sometimes outrageous. If the reader isn’t careful, his use of nuance might be overshadowed by his hyperbole.

That’s where the larger message of “The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can’t Find a Good Black Man” suffers: its author has a reputation as a provocateur that makes it tough for some people to focus on his point. For weeks before the book’s release, Izrael was being dissected and skewered in the blogosphere by critics who mostly hadn’t even received a review copy.

Had they read the book, they might (and I stress might) have concluded that what Izrael fowards ranges from the common sense to the compelling. He posits that some women mangle their search for a partner by holding men to an unrealistic standard of masculinity, which Izrael calls “the Dizzle”. He calls out men who aren’t fathers to their children. He calls out women who seek to blame their relationship mistakes on everyone but themselves. He lays out “Ten Reasons To Love Ordinary Black Men” (“they are everywhere” and “you can have them all to yourself” among them).

In short, he’s not saying anything you might not have heard in the beauty salon or barber shop, from your best girlfriend or your uncle. He’s also saying what some female authors are writing. The week as its release, the relationships editor for Essence magazine — which the Denzel Principle skewers — excoriated stereotypically angry, bitter black women on her blog. In that same week, I got a review copy of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”, author Lori Gottlieb’s message to legions of single 20- and 30-something women who Gottlieb says want it all but have overwrought egos that get in the way.

None of this contradicts what Izrael writes; his problem is contextual. He’s a black, male author entering his thoughts about marriage, relationships and (gasp) feminism into the fray of a media-fueled, intra-racial culture war between the genders. Black men feel attacked by mainstream media stories decrying our decline and unsuitability for partnership. Black women are just attacked (Izrael lives in Cleveland, where last year, the bodies of 11 murdered black women were dug out of a backyard in a neighborhood teeming with people who should have seen something) and looking for defenders.

Entering that fray is perilous for an ordinary guy with a pen.

Above all, Izrael lets the reader in on jut how ordinary he is: a thick-armed, dreadlocked, twice-divorced father with a belly, occasional flatulence and a sarong that he rocks in downtown Cleveland when he’s really feelin’ himself. Jimi Izrael ain’t perfect and as he likes to say, he’s tough but he’s fair. Like it or not, he has a right to be. After all, The Denzel Principle is intended as his own relationship memoir, a collection of social commentaries wrapped around the experiences that left him, by his own admission, a believer in love and jaded by the same.

Still, it’s not a stretch to see why some have reacted to the book so viscerally, at least until you reach the introduction’s penultimate paragraph. That’s where Izrael reminds you that the book is about him, unless you find yourself in it.

“If you are a man looking for justification for your bad behavior and mistreatment of women,” he writes, “this book is probably not for you.”

“I am not writing about all women…You should only take it personally if it sounds like I’m talking to you.”


Patience: Do Men Have (enough of) It?

January 26, 2010 by

The Conversation, pg. 44

“If I Was Your Girlfriend”

Damn…1991.  Steve B was my boyfriend and I was his girlfriend.  He introduced me to Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend.”  I came to love this song and over the years have become even fonder of its lyrics.  (Thanks HH for the flashback!)  Anyhow, if ANY of you haven’t heard the song…please stop reading this post immediately and go listen to it on YouTube or Itunes or something!

HH references this song in order to talk about a man’s desire for inclusion in a woman’s life (although reciprocity is valid as well).  It’s funny because in remembering this song I can recall how “open” in love I was as a teenager; nothing in this song was off limits.  In fact, the things Prince cites are all things that I hoped for in my relationships, even then.

The thing that’s missing, at least in Part I of The Conversation, is a discussion about what it takes for people (particularly adults) to change their patterns of inclusion.  For as long as I can remember I’ve called my mother when something major happened (i.e. I got a phone call out to my mother 1 minute after WTC to let her know I’d just seen the plane hit and I was okay; unlike so many people that day, she was at peace and knew I was okay when she couldn’t reach me and she could assure others when they called her that I wasn’t in the buildings either).  Thus, when I integrate a new person into my life, it takes time to adjust those patterns.  It takes time for me to “process” this new person as an important part of my life.  It takes time for both people in a new relationship to recognize how their mate can/does add value to them.  In other words, inclusion requires patience.  In my experience (bless their hearts, lol), men can be very impatient.  Granted, they want women to wait on them to have all the patience in the world when it comes to them; especially in regards to waiting on a marriage proposal ;).  However, many of these men will go on 1-2 dates with a woman and expect that she’s changed her life/routine to give you top billing.  I’m NOT saying that women shouldn’t make time for guys or that guys should feel irrelevant.  I AM saying that men should be patient and recognize that any woman with some business about herself will need to adjust to you being a new addition to her life…so chill out, give it some time and make yourself available to take on the role you think you’d like to have in her life.  Men, I’ll shut up now and simply ask…do you think women are too independent?  How can women make you feel more involved and included in their lives?  What are you willing to do to be more available for that responsibility?

Friends Before Lovers?

January 26, 2010 by

The Conversation, pg 18, 20, 21, 29

“I’ve put friendship and romance in two different categories.  When I know that I’m friends with a woman, I feel more at ease because I can trust those boundaries.”

“I started to wonder whether men and women even talk to each other.  I mean really talk – easily and freely – without reservations – like we do with our friends.”

“We’re either lovers or we’re platonic friends, but not both”

“I don’t think a lot of people find themselves in relationships with people they like and are friends with” 

Confessional:  over 90% of my romantic relationships have started as friendships.  I have trust issues, but they’re not the “I wanna check your phone log trust issues” though I have been there in my younger years.  My trust issues are more like “do I trust that if we sleep together, that I know you well enough that you’ll be back tomorrow and didn’t tell the entire neighborhood?” or “do I know how you will react if heaven forbid I end up pregnant because the contraceptives didn’t work properly?”  In other words, I don’t trust people I don’t know…especially not with my heart.  I’d probably give someone my bank account information and a key to my house before I let them inside my heart, and often my bed.  Granted I’ve made a few unwise choices here (like any person), but since most of the men I’ve dated began as friends; most of the men I’ve dated respect and care for me long after the relationship is over. 

In thinking about why friendship with men is so important to me, I immediately think of my best friend.  Although I grew up as an only child, my best friend (who was two years older than me) practically lived at my house and around my family; we were closer than peanut butter and jelly.  He protected me like a little sister and also encouraged me like a partner-in-crime.  We talked; I mean we really talked.  Unlike many females, this means he was the guy I could turn to for the male perspective.  He always gave it to me straight!  He was absolutely amazing at helping me navigate men and relationships.  Most importantly, he set the bar for me on what I expect from the men I date and the man I will later marry.  I expect my future husband to be my best friend.  I expect unconditional love and acceptance.  I expect to share things with him without feeling inferior or judged even if there are times that I may disappoint. I expect that he will trust and love me enough to do the same. I expect that our bond will be so strong that there isn’t anyone that can shake it.

Having said that, it’s actually quite ironic that I think many of the guys I’ve been attracted to (not necessarily the ones I’ve dated) over the years put me in the “friend box” or in their “back pocket/burner for later.”  Although I’m fine with the platonic friend box, I’m not fine with those guys who put me there solely because I know too much about them? WTF?!  Granted, I’m thankful to know that these are some of the guys that will be dating someone else and not me (lol), but it’s disheartening to discover that these boxes and boundaries exist.  The back pocket/burner guys are even worse.  When allowed to do so, they simply use the friendship as a safety net…they notoriously keep the lines of communication open and occasionally make the “habitual line-stepper” comments that imply an interest beyond friendship.  The worst of these guys capitalize on chance encounters to hit on their female friends when they’re hanging out, especially if there’s alcohol involved.  To the women out there with those “friends”…I have one word: RUN! (lol)

Seriously, I feel like there are so many men out there who don’t truly value friendship BEFORE intimacy.  Many of the guys who share their real thoughts with me seem to go after a woman they’re attracted to (& often know nothing about other than she looks good or looks good on paper) and THEN they become friends (or not) as a byproduct of the relationship.  Sometimes, these guys are living double lives.  They have the image of a  “perfect” woman/relationship at home, but have to block some facets of their personalities (or worse, live those outside the relationship).  Often, these are the same guys that wonder why their relationships don’t work when things start getting difficult?!  Despite this, they CONTINUE to put women in these boxes.  So, here are my questions to the ladies and gents reading this post:  Can you be friends before you are lovers?  Are you able to share things you’d share with a friend with someone you’re dating?  Do you want it to work that way?

It’s a Family Affair

January 26, 2010 by

The Conversation, pg xv, 10

“Our families and extended families kept us connected to one another and kept us connected to a deeper part of ourselves.”

“My grandparents anchored our family.  They reminded us of who we were, where we came from, and showed us where we might go.”

 In 2003, my cousin got married to a guy she’d dated for ten years (since her sophomore year of college).  The only reason that I mention this is because I REALLY realized at her wedding how important my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, is to me.  As my grandmother walked down the aisle, I had a revelation.  It would be okay if I didn’t have a wedding because what I really wanted was for my family to have the opportunity to meet and love my future mate, most especially my grandmother.  In 2010, my grandmother will turn 93 years old.  93!  She’s outlived her husband, her two youngest brothers and her two eldest sons and she’s the “glue” that binds our family.  When I haven’t seen my male cousins in a while, I call or text them and say something like “you know your grandmother is getting older and you need to show your face around here at Thanksgiving or Christmas.”  This isn’t to say that they don’t know these things, but sometimes the men in my family allow work and their current piece of tail (no offense ladies) to overshadow things like a call or visit to our grandmother (who, by the way, will comment to me because she knows I’ll make it happen! lol).

Anyhow, I remember telling my grandmother at the wedding that she needed to hang around at least another 10 years to make sure she’s here when I finally get married and her saying “chile please, I’ll probably be dead by then.”  Immediately, I began to cry (which didn’t surprise my cousins who found it hilarious when I told retold this conversation to them later).  It’s not that I don’t know that the likelihood of my grandmother living until she’s 95 is slim; it’s the fact that I know so much of our family bond has deteriorated with every passing year and every passing soul.  Why does this matter?  How is it relevant for this post?

Well, my family is so important to me and knowing my family and our family traditions explains me; it also provides men I date a window into what I expect our lives together might look like and allows me to gauge how well others mesh into this construct.  If you know my grandmother, then you understand that she’s a former social worker whose door was always open; that she lived during the Depression, Civil Rights and Women’s Rights and dern near every major movement in the last century – she really understands what it means to put family and others first and to be compassionate and to love.  Thus, you know why I always extend myself to help others achieve their dreams or find answers to problems.  In knowing us both, you understand why I’ll always let friends in need crash at my place (even when that friend is a guy and it may be uncomfortable to a guy I’m currently dating).  When people/men meet my grandmother, they understand my spirit.   My mother, on the other hand, is fiercely independent.  She is sandwiched between two brothers.  She’s a bit of a tomboy and spent many years at the knee or on the side of my grandfather.  My mother is the type to cook a great meal, do home repairs and then go outside and cut the grass or clean off the roof.  When people/men meet my mother, they understand my sense of humor and my spunk.  Who do you get certain parts of your personality from? What family values matter to you?  What family members matter most and embody that?  How important is it that the man/woman you date have similar family values?  Please share your thoughts.

Never Say Never

January 26, 2010 by

The Conversation, pg 5

“Some of Us in Here Have Learned that You Should Never Say Never”

There are very few things that I say “never” about.  Typically, I refer to something as “highly unlikely.”  However, a few years ago I told friends that I would never date anyone who wasn’t Christian.  Man, did I eat those words!  I’d met this young man at a nightclub while I was out with girlfriends one evening.  After a few encounters, I decided he wasn’t a complete weirdo so we exchanged information and decided to have lunch.  Over the course of the year in getting to know him (while we both dated other people), we developed a friendship.  He was a great friend to me and happened to live nearby so we would often go for walks in the evening and I would vent about a date or work or anything else to pass the time (as would he).  Although I’m not a “strict” Christian, in the sense that I don’t quote bible verses, attend church regularly or condemn the sins of others, I do place a premium on faith and value my relationship with God.  During our friendship and walks together, I learned more about his faith and his relationship with God – it was pretty impressive, similar to mine in many ways and yet different in others.  Over time, I began to see his heart and soul, not just his religion.  Faced with who he was/is as a person, I was forced to reevaluate who I said I was/am as a person and what my Christianity meant to me.  I decided that the Christian “label” wasn’t as important and his faith and works.  Granted, this relationship did not last as an intimate one; however, I may have missed out on sharing and receiving love from an amazing person if I’d followed my “never.”  When have you said “never” and had to eat your words? Have you missed out on an opportunity for love and a good relationship because you followed a “never?”

What is Your Energy?

January 26, 2010 by

The Conversation, pg. xix

“Love is an energy.  You can feed it to people, and they, in turn, feed it to others, and eventually it comes back to nurture you.”

In 2001 (a week before September 11th), I moved to New York City to work in a fellowship with city government.  During my time there, I made the acquaintance of a fierce, free-spirited, generous woman.  She and I worked together and she became one of my many adopted mothers during my time in the city.  As a Southerner in NYC, I always went around smiling and greeting people.  Of course, this meant that I had a few “strays” who followed me home or to the office or around some department store because I was “too nice,” lol.  However, it also means that (similar to my life in other cities), I’ve never had a problem meeting some pretty amazing men or getting dates.  Sure, I’ve had a “drought” like anyone else, but not the type of drought that makes wo(men) complain about the lack of eligible candidates, etc.  Anyhow, I recall that there were a couple of guys who wanted to take me out around our job (several hundreds people worked there so it wasn’t that weird).  I would receive anonymous flowers and men would stop by our office to say hello, often.  Although I’ve just said that I’m friendly and have a nice smile, I couldn’t for the life of me understand all the newfound attention.  There were plenty of single, attractive, successful women who worked there!  I’ve always thought that I’m a STRONG 7.  What does that mean?  Well, I’m not going to be the prettiest woman or the sexiest or the funniest or the smartest or the best dressed…but, I think I can hold my own in all categories (versus people who are a 10 in one area and a 2 in another).  Even with me knowing this, it was utterly shocking to be in an environment where men affirmed it for me regularly and I was truly baffled.

All of a sudden, my NYC mom said, “it’s your energy.”  “Huh?”  She repeated, “it’s your energy.  You draw people into you and make them want to be in your presence.  You share yourself with them.  You love them and accept them.”  Granted, I don’t think I could ever marry any of those men from NYC, but I learned at an early age walking down the streets in Atlanta that it was a LOT easier to be kind and nice to someone you aren’t interested in, respecting them as a person and saving their pride for taking the courage to approach you than it was to ignore them, embarrass them and have them say, “F you B; I didn’t want to talk to your so&so A anyway.”  As I’ve matured from that 15-year old on the streets of Atlanta to my 32-year old self, I realize more than ever that there will be times that I will draw many more people in with my energy.  I will also share my energy and love with people who may not appreciate it, understand it or reciprocate it.  There are times that this reaction (or inability to react as I’d like) to my energy and love are immensely upsetting and disappointing.  However, just as I begin to give up on sharing my love “with someone who doesn’t deserve it,” I receive love from the strangest person or place; washing over me like an unexpected tidal wave and reminding me that the thing to do is to give out what you want to receive.  I don’t know about you, but I want and need a loving energy to nurture and sustain me.  What is Your Energy?  Are you Giving What you Want to Receive? Who do you Attract to You?  Please tell us about it/him/her.

The Courage to Speak: What’s in You?

January 26, 2010 by

The Conversation, pg. xvii

“Speaking from the heart means truly being able to speak about all things that are in you, and then, in turn, living from your heart.”

Have you seen that commercial…”is it in you?”  I think it’s a Gatorade commercial.  After reading this line, I realized that very few of us feel like we are in a “safe environment” in our relationships.  Imagine that…we choose to “relate” to people with whom we fear we can’t be ourselves.  One of my close female friends and I frequently discuss what it looks like to be in a platonic/romantic relationship where you feel you can really say what you think and feel without judgment or the potential loss of the relationship.  Yes, most of us have at least one or two people who we can open up and share our most frightening fears and our most shameful moments; however, many of our relationships are based on us revealing only part of who we are.  We share our partial selves.  We show our work/school friends one part of us.  We show our families another part.  We share a portion with our lovers.  We reveal another to our friends.  But, the question remains…how can we be whole if we can’t share our whole selves?  And, how can we be in a healthy relationship if we can’t bring our “flaws and all” to the table for dinner or in the bedroom or on Sunday morning at church?  In fact, I believe one of my biggest concerns in seeking a mate is finding someone who accepts me for me – Every. Part. Of. Me.  While some slowly reveal their layers like an onion, I find myself looking at the layers of others and determining what part of me is acceptable for them.  I realize that may not be fair or that my assessment of them may be wrong, but I still ask myself:  What can they truly handle?  Can they handle my intelligence and degrees?  Can they handle my quick wit and frequent rebuttals that often serve as foreplay in the best sessions of mind sex?  Can they handle the GA peach smile that I flash for others when I’m flirting or simply exhibiting the Southern charm and courtesy I grew up learning?  Can they handle my fierce independence and need to be protected and loved?  I know all these things and more are in me.  Are they a safe haven/environment for me to bring my whole self around so that we can both find out if it’s in us?  As I’ve gotten older, I do bring more of myself around…but, I’m still a work in progress and I’m waiting to see if “what’s in them” meshes with “what’s in me”…and, of course, like everyone else, who’s fearful and still single…I want them to go first.  🙂

Prelude/Intro from THR on Today’s Posts

January 26, 2010 by

Who is the “Hopeless Romantic?”

I’m my mother’s only child and I mostly grew up around adults and older cousins as quite “the precocious child.”  From an early age, I learned about the world by being inquisitive.  My friends and former lovers will confirm that this is still how I learn and make sense of the world – through questions; lots of questions…and listening.  I love people.  I love hearing the perspectives of others and taking an interest in people the way some people enjoy a fine wine.  I love finding similarities between me and others and also learning something new about myself through the perspective of others and through my interactions with them.

It is my hope that my thoughts, unfiltered and unrestrained, will encourage anyone reading my words to also join this conversation.  Like Hill, I am choosing vulnerability.  As I realize and type my personal connections to his words, it is my hope that any person I directly or indirectly reference in these posts will forgive me for anything I inaccurately portray.  Please charge it against my 32 year old head and not my heart.  For those of you that don’t know me personally, I understand that this may sway your views about me in some way (or another); however, if you stay with us long enough, I believe you will come to see me/us as you see yourself…multifaceted.  I often see the glass as half-full (& half-empty); I am just as much conservative in some realms as I am liberal (though admittedly more liberal since I believe one must be liberal to allow and respect others as they seek to find their true selves just as I continue seeking my truest self).

For those of you that know me personally, you know that my newest job requires me to work quite a bit often traveling for meetings and conferences.  I often say that my work is not difficult; it’s just tedious and time-consuming.  As a result, I must make conscious decisions to put work aside to do others things that I enjoy and have agreed to do.

One of the things I wanted and agreed to do is to be a contributor to this blog.  Initially, I was very excited to blog about relationships because I spend so much time discussing relationships with men and women – family, friends and complete strangers.  Today, I decided I would use my plane ride from Atlanta to Phoenix to actually put a small dent in “The Conversation” so that I could write and post my first blog.  Since I’m not sure when my schedule will allow me to post again, I’ve decided to share several posts about my personal thoughts and experiences in regards to Part I: The Conversation Begins.  I hope you enjoy and will share your comments with us.

Are failed relationships really “a black thing”?

January 16, 2010 by

Right off the bat I’ll say I don’t believe this to be true. Everyone has bad relationships. But I have friends of many races all across the country and truthfully my Black friends are the ones married least and who anguish most over the state of their relationships (or lack thereof).

Usually I shrug it off and chalk it up to people projecting their own issues on the group. Then I read pages 24-26 of Hill Harper’s book and it made me want to dig deeper:

“The biggest challenge to Black love relationships is our fear of each other. All Black relationships are affected, to some degree, by the long-festering insecurities we have about the opposite sex, insecurities that are specific to Black Americans for a number of reasons.” -p. 24

“If you think the negative effects of our history will not have an effect on you and your relationships, you are wrong…”  -p. 25

“Hill, do not make the mistake of thinking you’re too enlightened to let the horrific past of black America seep into your relationships. Extreme conditions produce extreme reactions that may be appropriate or even necessary in the moment, but they continue long after the conditions that caused them have passed.” – p. 26

Those quotes were in a letter from Hill Harper’s friend in response to Hill’s question of “what is the biggest challenge facing black relationships?”

The answer made me consider the truth about my own relationships and I can say unequivocally that yes, the pathologies routinely lamented in our community are there. Sexual abuse of African-American girls is disturbingly common but rarely talked about in our families and religious institutions. But I’ve dated enough women to know how damaging that is to the psyche and how crippling it becomes to relationships.

The rate and impact of black fatherlessness aren’t just stats; growing up without a father figure had a huge impact on how I related to and treated women and how I viewed the prospect of a long-term relationship. And that’s not just true for black men: abandonment and lacking solid male role models runs extremely deep for women as well.
I could go on, but I really want to get some other perspectives. How much do you all think the common issues in our community matter to your relationships and to black relationships ? Or do they even matter at all?

Black marriage: is the dream dead?

January 5, 2010 by

This is actually the second time I’m reading The Conversation and as usual, I’m noticing things the second time around that I didn’t notice the first.

Things like this: Hill Harper uses some ominous quotes to start some of his chapters. Ominous how? Take a look at this from the first page of the introduction:

We are all tied together…in a garment of mutual destiny. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., married to Coretta Scott King for fifteen years, until his assassination.

and this, from page 4:

We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity. — Malcolm X, married to Betty Shabazz for seven years, until his assassination.

Seeing a trend? Hill Harper is absolutely right to contextualize his thoughts about black relationships by quoting two of the most simultaneously polarized and revolutionary African-American thinkers of all time.

The ideals espoused by Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., far outlived the men themselves as have transcended even their own context as race men. Pointing out that both these men, each who died before age 40, were dedicated husbands.  Perhaps it wasn’t revolutionary for the 1960s, when far more black households were headed by married couples than today, for our “leaders” to be hitched. But today, as there’s so much lamenting and consternation about the decline of black love and black marriage, it could be that the most revolutionary ideas we can explore from brothers Malcolm and Martin are their ideas about love and family.

That, though, isn’t what makes the use of those quotes ominous. It’s the fact that the quotes both came from martyrs. Martin & Malcolm married Coretta and Betty, but were cut down before they could fulfill the visions they had for our community and for their families. In that contexts their deaths were prescient; in the decades since, countless black men have been similarly stopped short — by bullets, by joblessness, by bad choices — of living out the ideal of becoming heads of households, fulfillers of vows and promises.

We’ve all seen over the mountaintop of segregation and racial progress since the late 60s. But did another, just as important dream die in 1968?