Author Archive

The Denzel Principle: Don’t take it personal

February 20, 2010
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.”

Are failed relationships really “a black thing”?

January 16, 2010

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

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?

From the introduction: Courage

January 4, 2010

Ok, so how many of you actually read the introduction to the book, instead of skipping to Chapter 1? If you didn’t, flip back to page xvii (17, dummy!), because here he lays out something really important:

To have completely, embarrassingly honest conversations takes courage…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. Most people have been taught to live from their heads, which is what people who have had to survive have learned how to do. But at this point in our journey, if we stay in that place we will bear witness to our own destruction — all the while playing it safe and blaming one another.

I absolutely love that he sets out so early to tie loving, and conversations about loving, to having courage, and that he contrasts open, honest conversations with “playing it safe and blaming one another.” This may be the most important statement in the entire book.

Why? Because to even attempt to love anyone requires a ton of courage. It means getting out of your comfort zone, admitting your mistakes, expanding your thinking to be accommodating and considerate of another person’s worldview and being able to go through the painful process of expanding yourself to be big enough for two. But (at least in my experience) most of us would rather remain in their comfort zones; growth hurts and when that pain kicks in, it’s often a lot easier to point at the other person than it is to look inward.

So I’m hoping in this blog we can all have the courage it takes to be honest, to accept each others’ views and anecdotes as valid, even if we don’t agree.