It's like the problem in the world today is we love our boys and we raise our girls. -Michelle Obama
At the first-ever Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, Michelle Obama brought up a very valid point. A point that is evident in most our lives, but is rarely spoken about. She talked about how in many of our communities we focus on raising strong men, and stop at just that. We often forget or just don’t find it necessary to teach them everything else, leaving us with self-entitled men who believe that everything and everyone should cater to them.
It’s powerful to have strong men but what does that strength mean? Does it mean respect? Does it mean responsibility? Does it mean compassion? Or are we protecting our men too much so that they feel a little entitled and a little, you know, self-righteous sometimes?
As I listened to Mrs. Obama’s words, I instantly drew a connection to my own life, my own experiences with men, and how I have seen the babying of our black men firsthand.
For as long as I’ve been alive I’ve constantly been surrounded by women. Strong women, who taught me how to cook, who occasionally beat my ass, and who shaped me into the strong woman that I am becoming today. I’ve watched my mother work the same amount of hours as my father, come home tired and defeated, but still make sure that he had a good home cooked meal on the table. I have watched my dad yell “NO BOYS” at me and my sister all while encouraging my male cousins to have a plethora of girlfriends. It’s always struck me as weird that I had to help clean up and make breakfast while Eric got to sleep in. How come Eric and dad could talk about his latest female “conquest” while I had to jump through hoops just to hangout with a male friend? I never found it fair, but I never spoke out against it. I accepted it as the norm, my role as a black woman.
Fast-forward a few years and I’m a sophomore in college. I no longer adhere to my father’s “No boys until you’re out of my house” rule because I’m no longer in his house *Kanye shrugs*. Being in college has allowed me to interact with black men everyday, it has allowed me to see the direct outcomes of not raising or treating some of our young black boys the way we treated our girls.
In my fairly short time interacting with men on this level, I’ve seen a lot. I have spoken to men who expect me to do everything for them. Men who think that if a woman see’s a mess in his home, it’s her job to take initiative and clean it. I have spoken to men who lack basic human compassion, and can’t take responsibility for their actions to save their lives. I’ve spoken to men who have no idea how to cook, how to clean their clothes or how to speak to a woman. I have spoken to these entitled men.
In our households we spend our time teaching our girls how to take care of themselves, and how to take care of others. We spend our time teaching our girls how to take care of men. We are taught that it’s the black woman’s role to stand by her man as he goes through his journey of “finding himself” and “fighting his demons.” Black women are expected to take on this emotional labor that most black men wouldn’t if the roles were reversed. Would he stand by my side as I continued to mess up? Would he still love and care for me the same if I took years to finally grow up? Doubt it.
When it comes to our black boys, we take a step back. “Men don’t belong in the kitchen, that’s women’s work,” we might not say it out-loud but this is the message we send to are boys. We teach our boys that feelings are for girls, then act surprised when at 23 Jimmy shuts down in conversations because he doesn’t know how to articulate his feelings. We excuse their bad behavior with phrases like “boys will be boys” and are shocked when getting an apology or admission of guilt is comparable to pulling teeth. We mother our black men far past the age of adulthood and then applaud them when they finally become their “better selves” twenty years later.
We are sending a message that black men can take all of the time they want to grow up, to get it right, because black women will always be there to put up with it. Black women were never granted this luxury.
Rather than raise real men, we’re raising misogynists.
I expect this to be common sense, but there’s always going to be that one person in the background that has to yell “Not all (insert group here)!” Yes, I am aware that there are black men out there that possess all of these traits. Black men who are respectful, compassionate, and responsible. I know that there are black men out there who know how to cook, and have a firm grasp on emotional intelligence. But they are not the majority. There’s an overwhelming amount of black men out there that lack these skills.
It is important that we acknowledge the mistakes that we have made in the past, and work towards changing them in the future. As we become more open to talking about what is wrong in our communities and our households, we also have to be open to fixing them. We need to let our black boys know that it is okay to not always be Mr. Macho, feelings are natural and there’s nothing wrong with showing emotions. We need to teach our black men how to take care of themselves without the presence of their mother or significant other, teach them that they don’t always have to wait around for a woman to do something for them. We have to teach them that they are not entitled to anything, not the job, not her body, nothing. And finally we need to teach them how to appreciate the black women in their lives. The black women who hold an unwavering love for them. They need to understand that black women do a lot for them, endure a lot for them, and most of the time it goes unnoticed.
It’s when we start holding our black men to the same high expectations that we hold our women that we will truly see some progress.