Monday, August 28, 2006

Out of Control: AIDS in Black America

After watching ABC's special edition of Primetime last Thursday, "Out of Control: AIDS in Black America," I knew I had to write about it. If you missed it, you can click on this link to watch segments of it that have been posted on

You can also click on this link to view information about the segment from ABC's website:

To start, black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are at the highest risk of contracting HIV. To many of us, this is not news -- we've known this for years. But to see it brought to the national spotlight, with the depth of information that was revealed, was really poignant for me.

The segment tried to dissect the reasons why black women are at such high risk, highlighting several possibilities: the rates at which HIV is contracted in the prisons; the down-low ("DL") phenomenon; and a culture that idolizes misogyny. It also called out our religious leaders, Jesse Jackson and T.D. Jakes in particular, questioning them about why this discussion is not being had in the black church, considering that the church is the center of the black community; as well as pointing out how our stars (like Beyonce) go to Africa to raise awareness about AIDS over there, but don't do anything to address the issue at home.

Although there are many breakout discussions that could be had on the Primetime special, I specifically want to address the whole D.L. phenomenon.

I don't know about anyone else, but the D.L. is a topic that comes up OFTEN in my conversations with friends. Yes, we are all disgusted that some men choose the D.L. lifestyle -- not because they are gay, but because they put the health of their girlfriends and wives at risk. And yes, none of us understands how D.L. men can have sex with other men, and not consider themselves gay -- just because they give and don't receive. But what we don't talk about, and what was discussed in the Primetime special, is WHY D.L. men are on the D.L. in the first place.

As was discussed in the segment, and mentioned above, the black church is, and has been, the center of our communities. Because most churches teach that homosexuality is a sin, black folks are some of the most homophobic people in this country. As a result, being gay in the black community is not okay. We (not me personally, but "we" as a community) teach our kids that homosexuality is wrong and that God wants those who have homosexual desires to suppress them. But in reality, people who have a natural affinity cannot suppress those feelings or desires. They may be able to hide them for a period of time, but they can't flat out suppress them and act like they don't exist. (Just take a look at Donnie McClurkin, you can't tell me that he isn't gay!!!)

To me, this attempted suppression results in the D.L. phenomenon. Because our men are taught that it is wrong to be gay, they openly live heterosexual lives while they secretly sleep with other men. Several D.L. men interviewed by Primetime stated that they contracted HIV through their D.L. lifestyle, and that they transmitted the virus to their wives and girlfriends.

I think the black community needs to face the fact that some people are just gay -- whether you think it is wrong or not is immaterial. Homosexuality is NOT going away! Our women are under fire, and our homophobic beliefs are contributing to the problem! As long as we continue to teach our children that homosexuality is wrong, men will continue to live on the D.L., and will continue exposing their wives and girlfriends to HIV and other health risks.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Are Black Women Scaring Off Their Men?

This entry is based on an article titled "Are Black Women Scaring Off Their Men?" that has been circulating via email for some time now. The article allegedly was published in The Washington Post, but I cannot testify to its validity. Despite this, the article addresses some valid concerns in our community, and is worthy of discussion. If you have not read the article, I pasted it below for your reference. If you have read the article already, just scroll down past it.

[Are Black Women Scaring Off Their Men?
The Washington Post By: Joy Jones
Have you met this woman? She has a good job, works hard, and earns a good salary. She went to college, she got her master's degree; she is intelligent. She is personable, articulate, well read, interested in everybody and everything. Yet, she's single. Or maybe you know this one. Active in the church. Faithful, committed, sings in the choir, serves on the usher board, and attends everycommittee meeting. Loves the Lord and knows the Word. You'd think that with her command of the Scriptures and the respect of her church members, she'd have a marriage as solid as a rock. But again, no husband.

Or perhaps you recognize the community activist. She's a black lady, or, as she prefers, an African American woman, on the move. She sports A short natural; sometimes cornrow braids, or even dreadlocks. She's an organizer, a motivator, a dynamo. Her work for her people speaks for itself--organizing women for a self-help, raising funds for A community cause, educating others around a new issue in South Africa. Black folks look up to her, and white folks know she's a force to be reckoned with. Yet once again, the men leave her alone. What do these women have in common? They have so much; what is it they lack? Why is it they may be able to hook a man but can't hold him? The women puzzle over this quandary themselves. They gather at professional clubs, at sorority meetings or over coffee at the office and wonder what's wrong with black men? They hold special prayer vigils and fast and pray and beg Jesus to send the men back to church. They find the brothers attending political strategizing sessions or participating in protests but when it comes time to go home, the brothers go home to someone else. I know these women because I am all of these women. And after asking over and over again "What's wrong with these men?", it finally dawned on me to ask the question, "What's wrong with us women?" What I have found, and what many of these women have yet to discover, is that the skills that make one successful in the church, community or workplace are not the skills that make one successful in a relationship.

Linear thinking, self-reliance, structured goals and direct action assist one in getting assignments done, in organizing church or club activities or in positioning oneself for a raise, but relationship-building requires different skills. It requires making decisions that not only gratify you, but satisfy others. It means doing things that will keep the peace rather than achieve the goal, and sometimes it means creating the peace in the first place. Maintaining a harmonious relationship will not always allow you to take the straight line between two points. You may have to stoop to conquer or yield to win.

In too many cases, when dealing with men, you will have to sacrifice being right in order to enjoy being loved. Being acknowledged as the head of the household is an especially important thing for many black men, since their manhood is so often actively challenged everywhere else. Many modern women are so independent, so self-sufficient, so committed to the cause, to the church, to career or their narrow concepts that their entire personalities project an "I don't need a man" message. So they end up without one. An interested man may be attracted but he soon discovers that this sister makes very little space for him in her life. Going to graduate school is a good goal and an option that previous generations of blacks have not had. But sometimes the achieving woman will place her boyfriend so low on her list of priorities that his interest wanes. Between work, school and homework, she's seldom "there" for him, for the preliminaries that might develop a commitment to a woman. She's too busy to prepare him a home-cooked meal or to be a listening ear for his concerns because she is so occupied with her own. Soon he uses her only for uncommitted sex since to him she appears unavailable for anything else. Blind to the part she's playing in the problem, she ends up thinking, "Men only want one thing." And she decides she's better off with the degree than the friendship. When she's 45, she may wish she'd set different priorities while she was younger. It's not just the busy career girl who can't see the forest for the trees.

A couple I know were having marital troubles. During one argument, the husband confronted the wife and asked what she thought they should do about the marriage, what direction they should take. She reached for her Bible and turned to Ephesians. "I know what Paul says and I know what Jesus says about marriage," he told her, "What do you say about our marriage?" Dumbfounded, she could not say anything. Like so many of us, she could recite the Scriptures but could not apply them to everyday living. Before the year was out, the husband had filed for divorce. Women who focus on civil rights or community activism have vigorous, fighting spirits and are prepared to do whatever, whenever, to benefit black people. That's good. That's necessary. But it needs to be kept in perspective. It's too easy to save the world and lose your man.

A fighting spirit is important on the battlefield, but a gentler spirit is wanted on the home front. Too many women are winning the battle and losing the home. Sometimes in our determined efforts to be strong believers and hard workers, we contemporary women downplay, denigrate or simply forget our more traditional feminine attributes. Men value women best for the ways we are different from them, not the ways we are the same. Men appreciate us for our grace and beauty. Men enjoy our softness and see it as a way to be in touch with their tender side, a side they dare not show to other men. A hard-working woman is good to have on your committee. But when a man goes home, he'd prefer a loving partner to a hard worker.

It's not an easy transition for the modern black woman to make. It sounds submissive, reactionary, outmoded, and oppressive. We have fought so hard for so many things, and rightfully so. We have known so many men who were shaky, jive and untrustworthy. Yet we must admit that we are shaky, jive and willful in our own ways. Not having a husband allows us to do whatever we want, when and how we want to do it. Having one means we have to share the power and certain points will have to be surrendered. We are terrified of marriage and commitment, yet dread the prospect of being single and alone. Throwing ourselves into work seems to fill the void without posing a threat. But like any other drug, the escape eventually becomes the cage. To make the break, we need to do less and "be" more. I am learning to "be still and know," to be trusting. I am learning to stop competing with black men and to collaborate with them, to temper my assertive and aggressive energy with softness and serenity. I'm not preaching a philosophy of "women be seen and not heard." But I have come to realize that I, and many of my smart and independent sisters are out of touch with our feminine center and therefore out of touch with our men.

About a year ago, I was at an oldies-but-goodies club. As a Washingtonian, love to do the bop and to hand dance styles that were popular when I was a teen. In those dances, the man has his set of steps and the woman has hers, but the couple is still two partners and must move together. On this evening, I was sitting out a record when a thought came to me. If a man were to say, "I'm going to be in charge and you're going to follow. I want you to adjust your ways to fit in with mine" I'd dismiss him as a Neanderthal. With my hand on my hip, I'd tell him that I have just as much sense as he does and that he can't tell me what to do. Yet, on the dance floor, I love following a man's lead. I don't feel inferior because my part is different from his, and I don't feel I have to prove that I'm just as able to lead as he is. I simply allow him to take my hand, and I go with the flow.

I am still single. I am over 30 and scared. I am still a member of my church, have no plans to quit my good government job and will continue to do what I can for my people. I think that I have a healthy relationship with a good man. But today, I know that I have to bring some of that spirit of the dance into my relationship. Dancing solo, I've mastered that. Now I'm learning how to accept his lead, and to go with the flow.]

Although I understand what is being said in the article, I am still perplexed by the suggestion that black women -- in 2006 -- must cater to a man in order to keep him. I have had this conversation with several men before and its always the same thing. "A man needs to feel like a man." Well what exactly does that mean?? Will dinner on the table when you get home from work REALLY make you feel like a man? Or, will knowing that the bills that we incur from our dual-income lifestyle will be paid on time make you feel like a man? I hope the latter. And I would hope that black men would be able to appreciate that the paycheck I receive from my job -- which consequently makes me get home the same time as you, and sometimes later -- allows us to have a certain lifestyle, and allows us the ability to pay our bills on time.

I think it is extremely hypocritical for men to complain about gold-digging women, or women who only want them for their "paper," and then to turn around and shun the women who are doing it for themselves. As I have told men in the past, the same characteristics that provide me the ability to be financially self-sufficient -- or, Notta Golddigger -- are the same characteristics they don't like at home. You can't have it both ways. If you want a submissive woman, then marry someone who will be financially dependent upon you.

As an unmarried, professional black woman, I take offense to the notion that I can go into a courtroom and aggressively argue my case on behalf of my client, and then I'm expected to go home and cook dinner for my man? I had a hard day at work too; why can't he cook for me? Why can't he listen to my concerns? Why can't we have a mutual respect for the time we each have to devote to work? So many questions, so few answers. Somebody talk to me.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Buying Black: The Problems We Have Building Wealth Within Our Community

After an unannounced week-long hiatus (my bad!), I'm back and I'm wondering, when was the last time you patroned a black-owned business? When was the last time you made it a point to seek out a black person to perform a service that you need (i.e., plumber, painter, doctor, lawyer, etc.)? Chances are that you, like the majority of black folks, do not make it a point to find a black person when you are trying to spend money. This is why black folks, unlike other racial/nationality groups, have been seemingly unable to build wealth within our own community.

Black folks spend over $650 billion in the general marketplace (statistic provided courtesy of The African-American Connection, a website designed to encourage spending within the black community --, but how much of that money do we actually keep in our communities? The answer is very little. We are more likely to give our money to everybody else BUT us. THIS MUST CHANGE!!!! Where possible, I always try to find a black person with whom I can spend my money. For instance, both my daughter and I have black doctors and a black dentist. However, I am only one person, and cannot do it alone. We must ALL do it to really effect change.

Playing devil's advocate, I have heard the complaint (and am guilty of making it also) that black businesses tend to be unprofessional in how they deal with their customers, and our frustration with that deters us from using black businesses in the future. However, I'm sure we've all had bad experiences with non-black businesses also; so its really not fair for us to hold black folks to a higher standard. I can understand if you don't want to use that particular business anymore, but I'm sure you can find another black-owned business that can do a good job.

If you look at other communities, namely Jewish and Asian communities, they do a superb job of keeping wealth "in the family." Many times, they almost exclusively use services or buy goods from their own. They are also quick to seek and offer referrals to each other to maintain the wealth within their communities. I understand that these groups differ from us in that they willingly came to this country to benefit from its opportunities, but at some point we have to stop making excuses and just make it happen.