(RNS) — Over the Christmas holiday, I had a troubling conversation with a younger sister about her relationships with Black men. She told me she was finding it increasingly difficult to stomach even the sight or presence of them. She’d stopped dating altogether and put distance between herself and the men in her family.
When she asked me, “How can you stand them?” I took a moment and then told her the truth: For all of the ways Black men have disappointed me, I have never conceived of my world without them and I didn’t want to.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t watched with horror the rising venom that gets spewed at Black women. It’s impossible to scroll social media without seeing many Black male content creators making Black women the butt of their jokes, or vilifying them for simply breathing. On podcasts or social media streams of consciousness, Black men have made it known that the “modern” Black woman — a woman who advocates for herself and agency — is not to be trusted and will continue to be the downfall of our people. Watching younger Black boys get sucked into the Black Manosphere can lead to its own depressive episode.
I’ve read too often about the murders of young Black girls and women at the hands of Black boys and men. The reality that a Black woman is three times more likely than other women to be killed by her partner is hard to shake.
Let’s not forget how droves of Black men lost their collective minds last year defending rapper Tory Lanez as he stood trial for shooting hip hop megastar Megan Thee Stallion. Despite the mountain of evidence against him, men — including some we know personally — taunted Megan, even as scores of Black women came forward with their own stories of sexual assault and gender-based violence. When a Los Angeles jury found him guilty on all charges, many dismissed the verdict as the system swallowing yet another Black man.
And while there were Black men who stood — and stand — in solidarity with us in the worst moments, it is impossible to ignore those who are silent.
All of this points to a very serious issue: a lack of spirituality among Black men. It is impossible to be rooted in faith or religious identity and not care about the harm you project into the world. A Pew Research study found that even though Black men are more religious than white people, they trail Black women in religiosity. As Black millennials and Gen Z continue to detach themselves from institutional religious affiliation, the impact of the Black church and its leaders is waning further.
From the looks of it, many Black pastors don’t want to be influential anyway. Just as you can’t scroll your timelines without seeing a Black man with a podcast kit calling Black women undesirable and ungrateful, you’re also bound to see Black male pastors promoting their most recent sermon, upcoming conference or revival without taking note of the surrounding misogyny. Their obliviousness is astounding.
Unfortunately, many of them get into the act themselves with sermon clips full of religious digs at Black women’s relationship choices or ethical commitments. It’s 2023 and we’re still hearing “I know you just got your weave done but you can still give God some praise” and “those red bottoms didn’t save you” rants from the pulpit.
It all raises the question: When will Black men’s spiritual awakening take place and who will lead it?
Where are Black male pastors when Black men make a mockery of intimate partner violence? Where are they every time a video or tweet of a brother belittling a sister goes viral?
If pastors can publicly rail at Black women, reminding us that we still need Black men as we accomplish our personal and professional successes, then surely those same pastors can publicly call brothers out when they prove themselves to be men unworthy of being needed.
When I was a little girl, I was taught that the most powerful weapon in a Black person’s arsenal is a relationship with God. It sustained us when every force in this world sought to kill us. I was also taught that white supremacy’s most effective tool is a wedge between Black people. With it, they can keep us divided and never seeing the true value in each other and our collective power.
I was reminded of just how painful that division can be when I listened to this sister question if it is possible to remain in community with Black men and be safe. As someone who rolls my eyes every time I check my social media mentions and emails, I get it. As someone who has navigated pain at the hands of Black men in my family and intimate space, I refuse to act like the struggle isn’t real.
And yet, it is our relationship with God that gives me hope. As we celebrate Black History Month (and with Valentine’s Day around the corner), I hold fast to my belief in what Black faith and Black love can do when they intersect. As a follower of Jesus, I know there is nothing he can’t do — including soften the hearts of Black men toward the women who have always had their backs.
We want to be connected to healthy, whole and well-adjusted Black men. That will never be too much to ask. As long as Black men dare to declare that God has called them to preach, we should never be without vessels willing to do the dirty work of holding their brethren — and them — accountable.