The B.L.A.C Men’s Relationship Roundtable

Seven African-American men share their opinions and personal experiences with relationships and love in Detroit.

Moderated by J. Nadir Omowale
Photographed by Lumumba Leon Reynolds II
Photographed at River Place Apartments, RiverPlaceLuxuryApartments.com

The Men:

  • Army Mechanical Engineering Technician Allison Hester, 46, has never married but wants to
  • Detroit Public Schools Teacher Spencer Murray 46, is divorced and remarried
  • Hair Stylist Antonio Mosby, 37, has never been married
  • Locomotive Engineer Darryl Yarbrough, 45, is divorced and in a committed relationship
  • Attorney and WDET’s New Soul Sunday Host Nick Austin, 29, has never been married
  • Musician, Producer and Writer J. Nadir Omowale, 42, has been married for 12 years
  • Retired Engineer Erick Hardy, 64, has been married for 41 years

Nadir: How would you describe the state of Black relationships in Detroit?

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Al: A lot of people want to paint the picture that it’s doom and gloom on Black love in Detroit, but my experience has been just the opposite. I like to think that I’m wise in my choices and that I pick fairly smart women [to date]. They know what they are looking for in a mate and what it is they have to give of themselves to be in a relationship.

Nadir: We hear stories about there being a shortage of good Black men, all over, not just in Detroit. From a Black male standpoint, how do you guys see that?

Spencer: I still find it difficult to buy into. I certainly think there’s a shortage if you are looking for a particular type of Black male. If some female has a list of what she wants and things are not meeting up to her list, her perspective can be, there’s a shortage.

Antonio: “I need a man who is sensitive to my needs. I need a man that’s a good friend. I need a man that’s a good lover. I need a man that’s supportive. I need a provider.” You might not find all those qualifications in one particular man. Some of these lists are ridiculous. I do hair and I deal with women all day long, and I hear this all the time.

Spencer: I’ve been married for a short time now. This is my third marriage. And one thing I’ve come to understand is people become better in a relationship. I used to believe you get married and the next day that person has become everything you want them to be. But I see now that it’s a journey. You still have to put in the work.

Nadir: Being a relationship is hard work. Conversely, I’ve heard brothers say there is a shortage of good Black women in Detroit.

Al: The older I’ve gotten, [I] see a pattern: the needy woman or the independent woman. But there’s no middle ground. I’ve had the woman who wanted to be another mother for me, when I have a mother. And I had the woman who wanted to be like a child.

Antonio: I’m open to all races, creeds and colors. I’m not going to limit myself just to the Black race. If that person loves me for me and if that love is unconditional, that’s who I’m going to be with.

Nadir: What were you taught to believe about marriage and about men’s roles in relationships when you were growing up?

Darryl: I grew up with both my mother and father in the house and they were married for 27 years before they were finally divorced. Both sets of grandparents were married 50-plus years. You would be hard-pressed to find a family in my neighborhood where I grew up that didn’t have both a mom and a dad. So, my perception was two parents in a home. I think today it’s the opposite, in part it’s because we put a very low value on marriage. It’s almost easier to get divorced than it is to get married.

We’ve all become so independent and have adopted the mindset that “I don’t need nobody else.” Which could be true, but I think we are starting to see what that mindset is starting to do to our families. Studies have shown that children who come from one-parent homes are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system and less likely to graduate from college.

Erick: I came out of a two-parent household, but my relationship with my father was rocky. The images that we’ve been given about men, women, roles, who’s supposed to do what, have played an unfortunate [trick] on especially Black males.

One has to separate whether love is noun or a verb. And I would postulate that it’s a verb. One does not become happy based on saying “I love you.” It’s, “What can we do together?” I need to know who I am. She needs to know who she is. Then we move to the next subject of what is a relationship? Are we compatible? Do we have something to share? If you can’t answer those questions, then you shouldn’t be in a relationship. Now there are other benefits outside of that, but this is a family show.

Is it easy? Hell no. I’d be the first to tell you that it’s not. And anybody who says it is, they aren’t being real. It’s give and take. It’s struggle. You do what you have to do to make it work.

Nadir: How about you, Nick?

Nick: Ideas developed for me about relationships were pretty simple. You have a man. You have a woman. They get together in a nuclear family and, like “The Cosby Show,” you pop out 2.75 kids. Maybe there’s some fighting, but it all gets wrapped up in 30 minutes.

At my house, as I’m sure [was the case in] many other houses that are out there, it wasn’t all a bed of roses. Just because you have these two people here together doesn’t mean it’s for the best. I think that as a result, you have children who are coming up who have seen that, who are choosing differently.

[Erick], you say we’ve been fed the wrong information. What is the information that you think we’re being fed?

Erick: That love is a feeling. Does that mean we just jump in the sack? Does that mean I have your best interests at heart? Does that mean I’ll do what it takes to make you become the best person that you can become? Because to me, I’m defining love then.

Nick: I would agree with you completely. And to further expound on it, I think it’s a product of our entire society becoming extremely selfish. Independence is a good thing, certainly. But like a team, if you have a Lebron James out there trying to do it absolutely on his own, that’s going to be kind of hard. But if you have a team like the Pistons back in ’04, or a team that may not have a hall of famer on it, but all the cylinders are clicking together, that’s probably going to be a lot stronger than all its separate parts. So there’s a sense of unity.

Spencer: As crazy as it sounds, I was in my early-to-mid 30s after a second divorce before I really consciously realized that I have a choice. I was raised by old school parents. I just believed in expectation and obligation. My dad was on the streets and then in the Army and his raising came from the Army, so that’s how he raised us. In my household there was duty. There was no sense of, “Is this what you want do? Let’s make a decision together.” So as I got into relationships, I thought it was something that worked from the outside in instead of inside out. I didn’t even know who I was. I [was] getting into relationships by virtue of, “I’ve been with this woman for a certain amount of time, or we’re sleeping together, so the next step must be commited relationship and getting married.”

The reason now my marriage flourishes is because she was, already before I met her, on a path to know who she is and I’m on a path to know who I am, and we do that together.

Nadir: For you guys who are single, have you made a choice to remain single-or you just haven’t found the right person yet?

Antonio: I just got out of a relationship for six years, and I choose to stay single because of the mistakes that I made in that relationship. It told me I wasn’t ready for a relationship, obviously, because I was still doing things that a single man would do. So, like these guys are saying, find yourself, know what you really want. Concentrate on that first, because it doesn’t make sense to get into a relationship and still be out here like you’re single. That’s a recipe for disaster anyway and that’s really being selfish. That’s being very mean and hurtful. You’re manipulating their mind. You’re running game on them. And I always say game [stands for] ghetto attitude manipulating environment.

I was with this woman for six years and all she wanted me to do was to love her. That’s it! She didn’t want money. She didn’t care if I was rich, poor, broke, how I dressed, how I looked. She just wanted me to love her. Real simple. And I couldn’t do it. Mainly because I wasn’t ready to do it.

I went through where the shoe was on the other foot. I felt the pain. I felt the hurt. I felt the lovesickness. So I was like, I’ve got to grow more and mature as a man before I get into another relationship, because I refuse to put myself through that or anybody else through that.

Nick: I would say I’m in the marketplace. I’m probably not actively flipping through merchandise on the shelves. I’m passively looking. If you really want to be in a relationship, you can be in a relationship. It might not be a very healthy relationship, but you can be in one. So in that sense, I’m choosing to be single. However, it’s not as though, “I must be single. Everybody’s got to stay away from me.” When you’re at my stage in life and your trying to climb up the ladder, it takes a lot of time. And I know that relationships take a lot of time. But if it’s a situation that seems to work on both ends, I would be more than happy to give it a go.

Nadir: You stated you were happily divorced but you’re in a committed relationship?

Darryl: Right. I’m single by choice of course, but to use Nick’s analogy, I’m in the marketplace. But I guess I’m in the checkout line. I ain’t paid for my item yet. I’d like to think that I’m smart enough to have learned from the mistakes that I made and to know what it is that I need to bring to the table, and what I’m looking to be brought to the table.

Nadir: So what do we think about the fact that fewer Black adults are getting married? That the Black divorce rate is higher than for other groups?

Al: We’re like, “If he does x-y-z, I’m jetting.” That’s the mentality [of] a lot of people now. It’s like, “I’m waiting for something to happen, the shoe to fall, before I put myself out there and let him know that I’m really into him and this relationship.”

Antonio: It’s scary. My last relationship, we were engaged to get married, and my biggest fear was failing in this marriage. And I was already failing in the relationship. So if I fail in this marriage, too, then it’s like, I would be that bad Black male, can’t hold it down.

I came up just with my mom, single-family household. And my male role models were my uncles, and all my uncles were players. So that’s what I’ve seen. My favorite uncle, every picture of him, he’s in the picture with a different woman. So not to say that I cannot be successful in a marriage, I just haven’t seen a good example of a successful marriage in reality. So many women [that] come in my shop are miserable. They’re not happy in their relationships.

Spencer: Nowadays, you find people looking for something deeper. So if they got married for superficial reasons, I call it people making permanent decisions based on a temporary circumstance.

When I first got married at 26, I had no idea the magnitude of the institution. It was just like having a formal girlfriend. We had big party, we had 16 people on each side, spent thousands of dollars and the marriage was over in a year and a half. When people find something that brings them together with someone from the inside, there’s no option for us to be apart. But when it’s built on a flimsy foundation, the truth always comes to the light.

Nadir: Do we feel like there’s a lot of pressure on couples these days?

Al: You can’t let anything from the outside take your marriage down.

Antonio: [There’s all types] of pressures and temptations. My flesh is weak. I know my weaknesses. And I pray every day to make me stronger, make my flesh a little stronger. I mean, an attractive woman could walk in the room right now and I don’t know what we’re talking about-I’m looking at her.

Nadir: We know that marriage is on the decline. Do we feel like you have to have a mate to be happy? Is marriage critical for us to have a good society?

Spencer: As we talk about marriage, I remember going into my relationship with my wife. We both had the attitude-I certainly had the attitude for many years before I met her-that I wasn’t looking for marriage. But more so, I was looking for a healthy relationship.

There is pressure for young women, who society tells they’re not whole or complete if they don’t have a man. That’s pressure. Then to be in a marriage where someone is unhappy, there’s pressure because of the guilt and shame [of] divorce. Everyone loves a wedding, but it’s the marriage that people have problems with.

Nick: Especially for a lot of our young women, it’s terrible. The expectation is your wedding day is the most important day in your life. And then it’s like, life is downhill. I know of women who are married who are not as happy because they’re in that relationship. You can be perfectly healthy single. There’s a lot of quality women who are just stuck in bad situation.

Antonio: I agree. I don’t feel like I have to be in a relationship to be successful. Once you find who you are, that’s fulfillment. I don’t think it’s a necessity to have that wife at home, especially if it’s going be unhealthy-I’d rather not.

Nadir: Studies show that men who are married live longer. Why do we think that is?

Nick: Because men can’t cook. I’m killing myself!

Darryl: Quite often when you’re married, hopefully you’re more settled. So you live a calmer and healthier lifestyle as opposed to, “Hey, it’s Saturday night again.”

Al: Get the beers.

Darryl: To go back to your last question, I do not feel as if I have to have a mate. I choose to. I just want to be able to share my happiness, my successes, with a significant other. Sharing is important to me.

Nadir: Studies suggest that Black women are going to college in greater numbers than Black men are. We also find that a lot of men have lost their jobs and that is making the woman the primary breadwinner. Do those changes add additional pressures?

Spencer: I think it’s a tremendous amount of pressure when you bring those dynamics in. I was in a group like this just the other day, talking to a group of brothers, and out of maybe seven or eight, three or four of them had issues with employment. I could tell that not only did they need employment for monetary purposes, but their esteem was affected by that. One in particular, [his significant other] told him, “You’re not a man.” And so, that’s pressure-especially when you associate that with your manhood.

Nick: If you’re not making money, that’s probably not considered a quality Black man that’s available. Even from a younger age, it’s thought that in order to get the ladies, you need to have that bread.

Nadir: Do you have problem a with a woman being the breadwinner in the house?

Antonio: No, absolutely not. Where’s Oprah? I’d love to date Oprah.

Erick: When I graduated, I got a good job. The next thing I wanted was my wife to finish her degree, so I paid for it. I wanted her to sit home and look pretty and not have to go to work, but I wanted her to have a degree because I could come home and we could have an intelligent conversation.

Nadir: We do recognize there are challenges facing all of us. How do you work through those challenges to improve relationships as individuals or collectively?

Al: You’ve got to communicate. That’s the key to anything. Talk about your stumbling block and how you get around that. Communication is the only way I can see it. Communicate what you’re having problems with, what it is you want to accomplish and what you expect to happen. If you don’t communicate, what do you have?

Spencer: I definitely think communication. And I can’t say it better, each person taking responsibility for self.

Antonio: Communication is definitely the key. Without communication, everything else will break down. Don’t be fake with yourself, pretending to be this certain person when you know that’s not how you really are. I did a lot of pretending. And I [made] myself miserable.

Darryl: One behavior that I exhibited when I was married was that if something bothered or concerned me, rather than talk about it, I would hold it in and withdraw. In my current relationship, if there’s something that bothers or concerns me, I want to talk about it. Sometimes I may talk about it too much. Hopefully, today’s problems won’t be tomorrow’s problems.

Nick: Communication’s a given, clearly. You cannot be worried about other people and their relationships.

Erick: If you cannot define the problem, you can’t solve it. So communication is an inherent part. Look for solutions, compromise-basically whatever it takes. You have to address the problem. That’s my two cents from an old guy!

 

J. NADIR OMOWALE (DistortedSoul.com) IS A MUSICIAN AND FREELANCE WRITER BASED IN DETROIT.

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