Understanding Black Culture When in a Relationship With a Black Woman
Dating is complicated, and with a global pandemic, heated political climate and protests against police brutality, things just got a lot more tricky.
In the wake of the devastating court decision on Breonna Taylor’s murder, one thing remains true: Black women still don’t get the protection that they need. Often being both the first and last ones to love themselves, many Black women are branded as bitter, angry, and somber. In reality, they are ambitious, loving, and compassionate people that remain resilient despite insurmountable odds, and they’re looking for men that want to add to that tenacity, not take from it or diminish it.
When it comes to being the best partners, men need to step up and be ready to stand firmly beside Black women while fostering relationships based on uplifting companionship. It takes quality men to understand and respect us the way they deserve.
Learning and Respecting a Black Woman’s Culture
No matter what their background is, it’s important for all men of varying cultures, colors, and creeds to learn more about the specific experiences that Black women go through. They should start by understanding the unique obstacles that Black women come across in their daily lives and be willing to educate themselves on why these adversities happen to Black women especially.
One of the key things to begin learning about is intersectionality. American lawyer and civil rights activist Kimberly Crenshaw does a masterful job explaining this concept in her writing, as well as her TED Talk, titled “The Urgency of Intersectionality.”
Crenshaw addresses how Black women have experienced multiple forms of exclusion in society, often being erased. Black women are constantly told that they are not important, and they need partners that will not only advocate for their importance, but also believe their narratives and defend them.
That starts with reading work from writers like Crenshaw, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Gloria Edim, or watching films like Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It means listening to what Black women have to say.
“I don’t expect the man I date to know every issue Black women face, however, it is essential that he is willing to learn,” says Najja Haynes, a Black woman in her 20’s.
In fact, Haynes, CEO & founder of Naturals by Naj, expects a man to take an interest in her identity. If not, there’s absolutely no potential for any type of relationship whatsoever.
“If the man I date does not want to learn about issues I am facing as a Black woman, then I would cut ties.”
Black women are looking for men to not only honor their identities and struggles, but also be willing to listen to the unique stories that an individual Black woman may experience that isn’t necessarily a monolithic experience of all Black women.
“Men should give ear to Black women and demonstrate patience when learning about their particular intersectional experiences because ideally, they want to be as informed about the issues and concerns that affect society and the subsets of society as a whole,” says Ayana Ali, a licensed social worker. “Further, if they’re interested in dating Black women, they should at the very least be inquisitive about their lives. Larger society has just started recognizing the importance of Black women and the fact that they hold a very specific role in America and globally.”
When dating a Black woman, it’s important to remember that for many, they’re often the last to be seen and heard. They might not say it outright, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the truth. They need someone to be rooting for them, and they want to know the person at their side will fully support them with no questions asked.
How Men Can Show Up for Black Women
Action is even more important when it comes to pursuing a relationship with a Black woman, especially during such a difficult year like this one. A simple move in this scenario? Asking questions, listening, and encouraging discussions.
“Black women are the mothers of civilization, there is wisdom and knowledge in them, explains Ali. “Men should ask Black women about what it is like to be them day in and day out, and how racism and anti-blackness manifest in their lives. Then, these men should believe them. They should not doubt them and they should not question or argue with them about their experiences, rather they should validate them and trust them.”
It’s necessary for men to understand that Black women are doubted and discounted so often that they need a great amount of trust and empathy to foster a healthy relationship.
Relationship coach Arnitis Strong builds on this point, noting that “the first step is just to understand that all of our relationships should be safe spaces and whenever the relationship is no longer a safe space for either party, man or woman, they are no longer conducive to growth.”
“We have been inundated with a lot in the Black community since the beginning of 2020, we haven’t really had the time get over one situation before we have something else to unpack,” she adds. “So, part of creating that safe space is allowing us to feel the way that we feel in that moment.”
Strong points out that during the Black Lives Matter protests and the pandemic, there are many negative emotions that may arise, and that’s OK. What’s not, however, is when we suppress those emotions.
“When we dismiss those emotions, or when our men dismiss them, that makes our feelings worse,” she says.
Men that date Black women need to be active listeners that don’t just listen to respond, but rather, to listen with empathy and compassion. It’s a grave misstep to gaslight Black women. A man will never understand our exact experiences, but he does need to be present, supportive, and attentive.
Why Being a Supportive Partner to Black Women Goes Beyond Black Lives Matter
Many men believe that their support for Black Lives Matter affirms their undoubted endorsement of Black women, but it barely scratches the surface.
Allyship from non-Black men, as well as Black men when it comes to advocating for Black women, has been historically lacking. In conversations of allyship, non- Black men need to understand that they’ll sometimes be uncomfortable, and will sometimes be called to action in relationships in which anti-blackness will occur.
This could mean defending a Black woman, whether she’s your partner or not, when witnessing a microaggression or deliberately racist act against her. This could also mean calling out a friend or family member when they make anti-black comments.
All men need to understand that many Black movements fail to address the misogynoir, a form of sexism and misogyny that specifically targets Black women. With any and all allyship, especially romantic partnership, Black women need men that will practice what they preach, and actively back all Black women.
“Men dating black women during this historic time should be considerate in their communication patterns firstly by not making assumptions about women’s feelings on the matters and secondly, making certain that their words are as sensitive as possible when discussing these issues with them,” states Ali. “Educating themselves about the BLM movement, trying to understand why its message may resonate with the Black woman they are dating and then following that up with genuine questions is a great basis for beginning to understand. Not assuming that Black women’s outlook and/or feelings about the pandemic and the rise of racial tensions and brutality of this period mirrors theirs is essential to demonstrating consideration and thoughtfulness. It also sets the groundwork for open, personal and honest relationships.”
One assumption not to make is that all Black women feel the same way about the movement.
For Haynes, not supporting Black Lives Matter is a dealbreaker.
“I would not date anyone who is not a supporter of Black Lives Matter,” she says. “If you are not willing to stand up against injustices against Black lives and do not support the advancement of Black people, then I would not be interested in dating you.”
Conversely, not all Black women advocating for Black lives necessarily support the efforts of Black Lives Matter specifically, still believing that Black lives need protection. Pay close attention to the nuances of the conversation. Men need to understand that if they’re not promoting Black women and social equity in a capacity that extends beyond Black Lives Matter, they aren’t truly seeing Black women or even taking note of the complexities of Black identity.
At the end of the day, even if all Black women don’t have the same approach to social change, most of us affirm that our specific narratives matter and deserve to be cherished.
Black women are such a phenomenal combination of inspiration, vulnerability, and love, but are often erased, belittled, appropriated and hurt. They’re tired of doing the emotional labor of explaining why they matter and need men that will stand with them undoubtedly. They need men to be ready to take a stand despite the often arduous process of growing into a better partner and ally.