I am so fucking tired of being tasked with applauding Black men for finally growing up (way too late).

-Josie Pickens

by Josie Pickens

Even before Jay-Z sat down and began chatting with journalist and executive editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet, I could tell that the rapper—turned business mogul—had come a long way from his origins as a Brooklyn based bad boy rapper who boasted on every record he released about how much crack cocaine he pedaled through New York City projects.  

It makes sense that Jay-Z would behave as a grown-up, seated on a fancy sofa in the offices of a publication as noteworthy as The New York Times. The man did turn a whole forty-eight years old on December 4th. Even so, I was taken aback by his vulnerable, tender, and reflective commentary as I contemplated how many Black men, even at his age, have uncovered no such peace and reckoning within themselves.  

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Jay-Z’s album 4:44 is quite grown up, too, and has been nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy. The album speaks quite eloquently about many things: financial responsibility and wealth building, wading through the waters of racism and White Supremacy as a Black man, even while successful and wealthy, a son finally embracing his mother’s sexuality and finding joy in the idea that she finally feels free enough to love openly, and his existence as a trash ass husband to the Black goddess that we have come to call King Beyoncé.

4:44, in many ways, is Jay’s heartfelt response to Beyoncé’s raw, no-holds-barred visual album Lemonade. And as he admitted in his interview with Dean Banquet, the album is his own kind of therapy.

Because of actual therapy and spiritual awakenings, and the magic and stardust that is a Black woman’s love, 2017 Jay-Z has learned many lessons that I’m sure he wishes he could impart upon 1996 Jay-Z (and maybe other brothers who are in constant battle with themselves foremost).

These lessons are:

  • Therapy can help Black men uncover a lot of shit that is holding them back.
  • Hurt people hurt people.
  • Most Black men who react to miniscule transgressions with violence are actually afraid of being seen and of being vulnerable.
  • Being invulnerable and shutting down their emotions makes truly connecting with the people Black men claim to love impossible.
  • Developing emotional intelligence can make Black men’s lives better and easier.
  • The strongest thing a man can do is cry. To expose your feelings, to be vulnerable in front of the world. That’s real strength. You know, you feel like you gotta be this guarded person. That’s not real. It’s fake.”
  •  “The hardest thing is seeing pain on someone’s face that you caused, and then have to deal with yourself.”

While I wanted to feel good about Jay-Z’s process of maturation and his growth as a human being, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as I watched his interview.  

I am so fucking tired of being tasked with applauding Black men for finally growing up (way too late) and seemingly, every-damn-time, at the expense of Black womens’ minds, bodies, and souls.  

To be clear, my hard eye roll wasn’t necessarily directed at Jay-Z, his infidelity and obvious mental and emotional abuse of his wife, or his ability to finally halt his abusive behaviors to create a better life for himself and his family.  Kudos to him.

Actually, kudos to Beyoncé for being willing to forgive him instead of leaving his ass in the dust via a high-powered divorce attorney.  Because that would have been a decision not one person in the entire world would have questioned (besides those #TeamFuture fuckboys who regularly spread their hate for women and all things feminine throughout the internet, but I digress).  

I am tired of Black women being expected to be the cocoon, to be the second womb, to Black men, who way-too-often are not able to reciprocate the same nurturing and care.  

It’s not because Beyonce’s experience with betrayal and infidelity mirror my own and those of almost every single woman I know. Rather, it is because loving Black men through their inner pain and abusive behavior is not only an expectation of Black women, but an emotional labor that is rarely even acknowledged, let alone appreciated.  

I wonder where the comparable narrative is. Where the kind, patient, nurturing Black men are, who stand by their Black woman partners, allowing those women fuck up time and time again.

These narratives appear to be absent. Because if we were to offer such narratives of Black women being compassionately held close as they grow into their better selves, we might be accused normalizing “unladylike” behavior.

But somehow there is still space for Black men to behave like Jay-Z; they need the offer of love and care as they behave badly, because the world is often so cruel to them.

RELATED: Black men, we need to acknowledge that we are the problem. Let’s talk toxic masculinity.

I imagine a world where Black men don’t use Black women’s obvious steadfast and unyielding love for them as a reason to be irresponsible with those same Black women’s hearts, minds, and bodies. A world where Black men own the toxic masculinity that not only damages the people they love, but also damages them so deeply that they have to make songs cry.

A world where therapy and counseling doesn’t come to Black men as a compromise that is part of a mediation agreement that will hopefully help them avoid losing everything they love and value in life. A world where people work to become whole and healthy in relationships with other people, so that cycles of pain and violence can be ushered out of Black love relationships, and thus Black communities.  

I believe such a world is possible. And we can begin to build such a world by not expecting Black women to bound themselves to trauma and pain, so that Black men can become more free.


Josie Pickens is a professor, cultural critic, writer and griot.  Follow her on Twitter at @jonubian.

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