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.”