Are failed relationships really “a black thing”?


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?


7 Responses to “Are failed relationships really “a black thing”?”

  1. adb Says:

    I think that the lack of the father figure has a huge impact on failed relationships. As a result some men don’t know how to react when they have a good woman in their life and some women don’t know how to recognize a when to let go of a dude who treats them badly b/c they didn’t have a father figure who showed them how they should be treated by a man. Therefore, u have a lot of women making decisions out of desperation for a man. There’s no courting anymore it seems. Its almost like dating has turned from actual getting to know you to just elimidate or for the love of ray j. Some men are afraid of commitment b/c they have never seen a man in a committed relationship. Some women are afraid of the same thing possibly for the same reason. Their female figures are also unmarried. My pastor always says “goes the family, goes the world” and in this case its true. Slavery did an excellent job of separating men from their wives and families. They emasculated them and put women in a position to where they had to then become mothers and fathers. Unfortunately it put the men in a position to where they lose respect from their women. But its a new day now, we should be past that. Perhaps it is fear that is the downfall of the black relationship. But what are ppl afraid of? Is it fear of losing yet another person who u really love and being abandoned again like how many of us were abandoned by our mothers and fathers? Who knows.

  2. keithtr Says:

    Although I did use fatherlessness as one of the examples of historic issues that I think harm black relationships, I think it’s interesting that your response focused on that one thing alone. The post wasn’t about absentee fathers, it was about the universe of pathologies, demons and issues in our community that combine to chip away at our relationships, and make us less likely to be able to sustain each other.

    You asked the right question, though: what ARE people afraid of? I think the answers to that question are as varied as the circumstances that prevent us from relating to each other.

  3. gjenea Says:

    “We have reversed the relationship; in her natural uncivilized state, she would have a strong dependency on the uncivilized nigger male, and she would have a limited protective tendency toward her independent male offspring and would raise male offsprings to be dependent like her. Nature had provided for this type of balance. We reversed nature by burning and pulling a civilized nigger apart and bullwhipping the other to the point of death, all in her presence. By her being left alone, unprotected, with the MALE IMAGE DESTROYED, the ordeal caused her to move from her psychologically dependent state to a frozen, independent state. In this frozen, psychological state of independence, she will raise her MALE and female offspring in reversed roles. For FEAR of the young male’s life, she will psychologically train him to be MENTALLY WEAK and DEPENDENT, but PHYSICALLY STRONG. Because she has become psychologically independent, she will train her FEMALE offsprings to be psychologically independent. What have you got? You’ve got the nigger WOMAN OUT FRONT AND THE nigger MAN BEHIND AND SCARED. This is a perfect situation of sound sleep and economics.”

    That was just a snipit from the “Breaking a Female Nigger” chapter of The Willie Lynch Letter/Speech. I do believe what was bred and “broken” into us does still affect the Black relationship almost 300 years later. (exactly as Willie predicted). We have been repeatedly told to study our history so that it does not repeat itself, yet I don’t think we have studied this part of our history enough. I feel this was the root cause of the broken Black relationship. If we would study and truly understand the pathology of the destruction of the Black relationship then I think we could eventually find a cause.

    Unfortunately, there are too many women who have the “beyonce-independent woman” syndrome without truly understanding what that means. As women, we need to learn that we can be independent — have our own car, house,job etc. — while also continuing to be nuturing and domestic — cook for our husband, clean the house raise the kids etc. It’s ok. We need to learn as women its ok to let our men be men and be head of the household.

    The same goes for men. We need more men to step up, be men and take control of the house without being controlling or suppressive. (if that makes sense) At the same time, learn to be supportive of your wife and learn to serve your wife. When you learn to serve your wife, she will also serve you. (In a spiritual sense)

    So, going back to the original question “are failed relationships a ‘black’ thing?” NO, but I think we’re the only ones who were “breeded” to be independent of each other so we must fight that much harder to make our relationships work.

    Sorry, I know my thoughts are all over the place & I’m not as eloquent a writer as you all, but that is my opinion on this particular post.

  4. gjenea Says:

    In my second paragraph.. at the end, I meant find a cure… not a cause…

  5. keithtr Says:

    No need to apologize for your thoughts. This blog exists for us to converse about what’s in our heads and hearts, whether organized or rambling.

    A couple things in response: I won’t go there on the Willie Lynch letter because that’s been almost entirely discredited as a historical document (although even as a fictionalization it’s a helluva representation of the systemic brutalization our ancestors suffered).

    If you want a historical document to look to for context on the state of our current relationships, check for the Moynihan Report written in 1965:
    “The harsh fact is that as a group, at the present time, in terms of ability to win out in the competitions of American life, they are not equal to most of those groups with which they will be competing…

    “At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family…

    “The white family has achieved a high degree of stability and is maintaining that stability. By contrast, the family structure of lower class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown.”

    It goes on to say about a quarter of black marriages were dissolved, a quarter of black households were headed by women, a quarter of births were “illegitimate”. This was in 1965…12 years before I was born.

    Since those trends were already being recognized, by the US government no less, before our generation, we don’t need to look back to the 1800s and a fictitious speech to validate that our relationships are troubled by more than run-of-the-mill bullshit.

    But whta I’m talking about is less the overarching problems, which we can’t solve alone, and more how those problems affect our personal relationships in ways that we can at least adjust. in my example, having not had my father around and never seeing my mother commit to a relationship in a very real sense meant I had no role model for how to treat women, or how women should treat me. When I was young most of what I learned about relationships I got in the street through trial and error.

    That brought up all kinds of problems in my relationships when I grew up, and a lot of them I’m only addressing in my 30s. But the question for me and others is how much of our relationship problems are attributable to some historical pathology and how much is just up messing up?

  6. gjenea Says:

    Thanks, I will definitely check that book out. I’ll be at the library sometime again this weekend.

    Well, based on your example then, I would have to say, I think a majority of relationships is just messing up (approx 60% in my mind) & the rest is attributed to some historical pathology (obviously 40%). I grew up with both parents in my house in a healthy, loving, respectful marriage. They just celebrated 33 years of marriage on NYE. My dad is the youngest of six and four of his other 5 siblings have been married longer than him (without divorce). Some of my older male cousins (in their 30s) have been married for 10 years. I would like to assume happily. In my church family, I was surrounded by MANY MANY elders who ranged from the newlyweds all the way up to 60+ years of marriage.

    Going back to my parents, approximately 3-4 years ago, I was home on college break and was just chit-chatting with my mom and I had to stop and thank her. She asked for what, and I said because In all my 21/22 years I had NEVER EVER heard my parents argue. Not yelling, not muffled voices behind closed doors, NOTHING. She responded, “well that adult business and you as a child should never be involved and hear adult business. Plus, your dad & myself were never the type to yell at each other when we had an argument.”

    I put all of the above only to say, I grew up with many, many, many terrific examples of how to treat a man and how to be treated by a man in a healthy, loving respectful relationship yet when I started dating I didn’t really mess with men, excuse me I should say boys, who treated me like I should have been treated. They weren’t physically beating me, but emotionally sometimes they were bad for me. I attribute that to young age & stupidity or just falling in love with the good sex and not having the self-respect & maturity to leave someone I didn’t need to be with.

    However, as I get older and slightly wiser (im only 25) I’m able to fall back on the lessons and examples I grew up with. There are certain things I expect from a relationship. Do I attribute my bad/old relationships to being black, personally NO i don’t, I say it’s more trial & error and messing up, which I think goes across all races & ethnicities.

    Now on the otherhand. I have a friend who grew up with an abusive step-father, had been sexually assaulted by strangers in the past, and mom had past away when she was 17. The relationship she has been in since I’ve known her has been very physically, emotionally, mentally abusive and I do think that is attributed to her personal historical pathology. Once again, I don’t know if I can attribute that to because its a Black relationship.

    Now the statistics that you listed before I real & true, so clearly there is some sort of breakdown in the Black relationship/community that is not as prevalent in the relationships/communities of other races. I think even though the US, started tracking it in the 60s, it still has roots dating back to slavery. The fact that families were broken and sold and shipped to different places definitely has an effect on us now. More recently, what is the problem, I’m honestly not sure. I believe in another post, Kira mentioned something about Family & Job Services and the welfare process. (In order to get aid, you can’t get married and the man can’t live in the house)

    That may be one factor of many that keeps Black men & women apart. It could be generational. Now-a-days we don’t court anymore. We go to the movies & dinner a couple of times and then immediately have sex with one another when we know ultimately we’re not interested in the long term. The sexual connection has spiritual implications that many of us are not aware of.

    I constantly bring up the spiritual, because in my mind that is the most important to have a successful relationship no matter the race.

    (i have more to say, but have to get ready for work, so will continue my thoughts once I get settled.)

    (am I closer to what you’re talking about. or am I still not understanding the question fully)

  7. gjenea Says:

    Now looking back at all responses. There is no simple clear cut & dry answer.

    However, each person’s background has affected the way they approach relationships and those of the opposite sex, some negatively & some positively. How does this relate to the Black community? umm… well the statistics say there are more single-parent households in the Black community than in other races. Which would eventually affect how men & women approach each other (just as your father not being present has affected you. and quite possibly you being present as a father to your boys will affect them) May I ask, now that you are aware of how your father not being present has I suppose negatively affected your relationships with women, are you attempting to change how you interact with women? Do you feel you have learned (through trial & error) how to treat a woman? How to choose a suitable mate for yourself? Have you learned what expectations you have of women and if they are realistic or not? And even more importantly, despite your past “failed” relationships, do you still teach your sons how to treat women? Do you show them or tell them what a healthy relationship should be like? (if that’s an age appropriate convo to have with them)

    I guess one question would be how do we change the demographics in our community so that there are more two-parent households once again? So that we may have that positive influence on each future generation to come.

    Another question? How do we move pass or past? If we learn that not having mom or not having dad has affected us & how we interact with the opposite sex, or if we can see that because of the horrible sexual molestation or rape during our childhood has affected how we interact with the opposite sex or if we know that we were deeply deeply deeply hurt/scarred by our first love… how do we learn from that experience, seek help where needed, heal, move on and move foward? What decisions do we need to make to grow & mature and not be a victim of our past and not continue the perpetual cycle of failed relationships in order to have a healthy relationship with our Black men, or Black women?
    When will we stop assuming that ALL Black men are dogs & cheaters & liers & “ain’t worth shit” “ain’t about shit” just because we’ve dealt with one or maybe more bad Black men? Bad men period.
    When will we stop assuming that ALL Black women are hoes, golddiggers, too independent, to sassy, to much attitude, bitter black bitches .. just because we’ve dealth with one or maybe more bad Black women? Bad women period.
    When will we START uplifting one another? Black men & Black women.

    “But the question for me and others is how much of our relationship problems are attributable to some historical pathology and how much is just up messing up?” — what you just asked in your last post.
    My question is does it really matter HOW MUCH of our relationship problems are attributable to historical pathology or how much to just messing up?
    Eventually it all falls back on us, no? Once we’re AWARE of the cause of our failed relationships, shouldn’t we try to learn from them & change? Isn’t that what growth, wisdom & maturity is?

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