The Conversation

The Conversation

The Conversation: How Black Men and Women Can Build Loving, Trusting Relationships, by Hill Harper. Originally published in 2009.

I remembered when this book came out and I didn’t read it because I figured it would be a lot of worldly relationship nonsense. However recently, I ran across this meme online:

queen and prince

After seeing it, I was reminded of this book, and decided to see if the intelligent and talented Mr. Harper had written anything to advance the conversation.

Hill Harper is a handsome Harvard Law graduate, successful actor, and personal friend of the President of the United States. Shouldn’t have any trouble finding a woman, right? He wrote that the seeds of this book were planted when he reached his 40’s and realized with a sense of despair that not only was he single, but that the chances of his ever settling down with a good black woman seemed as elusive as ever.

He needed to deal with the things he was doing to sabotage his relationships (like being caught getting one woman’s number while out with another), and The Conversation was born.

I came away from this book with several conflicting conclusions. On the one hand, I found some of the assertions were indeed nonsensical. Given that the marriage rates of the recently freed black slaves was at a record high immediately following slavery right up through Jim Crow and until the “war on poverty”, I couldn’t help but scratch my head at the repeated assertion by Harper (and many of his female interviewees) that the problems plaguing black relationships and marriages have anything at all to do with the legacy of slavery.

I wish people would quit parroting that because it is patently false. One thing they did get right was the legacy created by the government’s “no man in the house rule”, another bastard child -pun intended- of the so-called war on poverty and how it affected relationships between men and women.

Harper deals with nearly everything facing people trying to connect in post modern relationships. He doesn’t assume pre-marital sex or pornography are objectively bad (far from it), but he makes it clear that all these things need to be made clear at the appropriate times in relationships. He warns women and men who don’t believe in premarital sex to make it known beforehand rather than bring it up in the middle of a heavy petting session on a bed, for example.

Whatever I though of his laissez-faire attitude towards sex outside of marriage, I had to give him credit for that. Despite his passing nods to the people he interviewed or quoted who are Christians, this is not a Christian book. His subscribing to a lot of feminist memes was disappointing since so much of that is what has created the dismal state of affairs between black men and women in the first place.

That said, there were some true and insightful points made in the book, mostly by the very raw and honest men Harper interviewed, as well as a couple of the women. When you stripped away the racial veneer, anything of worth offered here is a universal truth which applied to relationships as a whole regardless of racial background.

Whenever Harper himself hit on something true, he almost always felt a need to qualify it, unlike the men he interviewed.

On women being unwilling to invest in a man’s potential:

Now this might get me into trouble, but I’m just going to write it. Many of my most jaded female friends want a man who has already arrived and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I’ve noticed that if many of these women hold up a mirror to themselves, they would realize that they are works in progress as well. It is somewhat ironic that in certain ways they are so demanding of a potential mate.

The best parts of the book however,were Harper’s interviews with men. It was no holds barred (language alert) but it was the kind of thing women need to hear.Some of it left me incredulous, such as the repeated assertion by several men that Black women are sexually repressed:

“My ex acted like making love was a chore…like she was doing me a favor.”

Or:

“I made a request and she told me, “I’m not that kind of girl,’…and I said, ‘What are you, a nun?'”

Or my personal favorite:

“My ex said to me once, ‘If I did [the stuff] you asked me to do you’d think I was a ho.'”

Now if that isn’t a departure from the wanton “sistah” meme…

A few women accused black men of being sexist and misogynist:

Even if you have more education than them and make more money than them, Black men will still treat you as is you’re inferior to them.

Or:

How is it that so many black men grew up fatherless and worship their mothers but have so little respect for women?

That latter question is a perfectly valid one in my opinion.

A common complaint among the women was of spending years with a man without a commitment, only to have him marry the very next woman he dated within 6 months. Seemed like a valid complaint to this feminine brain, but the men weren’t having it:

It’s easy. The chick he left he wasn’t into..the next one he was; simple and done.

Or (language alert):

It’s really not that deep. Basically, if a man didn’t want you, then the exact reason why doesn’t even matter. I think women need to quit crying and stop trying to figure old stuff out. Take a cue from the man who left you and move the f**k on.

Lastly:

Women need to really learn to accept that you can’t force a person to be in love with you or marry you, no matter how long you stick around. He just may not be feeling “it”, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.

Covering everything from the education divide to interracial relationships, there isn’t much here that Hill Harper doesn’t address, including his own struggles, such as they are.

Overall, the book left a lot be desired but the gems buried in the rubble were shiny and worth the dig. If I had to make a recommendation it would be that the women read only chapters of male interviews and men only read chapters of female interviews and skip all Harper’s attempts to lawyer his way through truth using egalitarian talking points.

Most of all though, is the fact that these issues are hardly unique to black men and women.

Grade: C+

Content advisory: If you’re only into reading these types of things from a Biblical perspective, skip this. If you have a problem with the occasional bit of salty language or a sexual reference, skip this. In truth, it’s not that bad when taken in the context of the entire book but it’s worth noting since most of the 10 followers here are Christians.

 

 

 

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20 thoughts on “The Conversation

  1. Sorry, but what’s going to stick with me is that the son of a psychiatrist and an anesthesiologist, one with three Ivy League degrees, apparently couldn’t figure out not to ask a girl for her phone number while he was out on a date with another girl. It just boggles the mind.

    Did he offer an answer to why men raised by women don’t respect them? It would be interesting to know if he came up with the answer our grandparents would have given us–when a boy watches his mother date and bed a series of men, he’ll not surprisingly come to the conclusion that it’s normal to love ’em and leave ’em.

    Maybe Grandma could figure that out unless she had an Ivy League degree or two. :^)

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  2. It just boggles the mind.

    It doesn’t boggle my mind at all, Bike.

    Mr Harper apparently has (had) issues with monogamy. Being one of the 5%-ers, fielding the offers is overwhelming or something. Not sure. (One of the men he interviewed claimed 95% of the women are trying to date 5% of the men which made me LOL)

    They did not answer the question of why many black men don’t respect women even after being most heavily influenced by the women in their lives.

    He also didn’t answer why so many women have a “I don’t need you” mentality, which was another thing that came up.

    There was a lot of advice about communication and trust, but the erosion of those is the root of the problem.

    Besides that meme I have up above, I had the very unfortunate occasion to run across a street “preacher” on the other side of town telling the black women in that neighborhood all the things wrong with them. According to him. Complete with mic and loud speakers. He wasn’t parsing his words or hiding behind a keyboard and monitor. He was virulent and mean, while thinking himself righteous. Even when he spoke A truth, it was in no way useful or beneficial.

    There really is nothing new under the sun. That was the other thing that prompted me to read the book.

    To Harper’s credit, he talked to men from all walks of life. Tradesmen in addition to doctors and lawyers. The same complaints and general attitudes prevailed across the board, though.

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  3. For the record, I find that “crowning the bleeding man” meme outlandish in several ways. It’s not there because I agree with it, but because it made me think. For the record.

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  4. Why I can’t write a “how to have a relationship” book: It would be three pages long. Page 1: Don’t be a …. Page 2 If s/he’s not into you, throw ’em back. Page 3: Consideration of others will take you far.

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  5. You would think it was so simple Hearth. Even with 200+ pages there was nothing really novel there. Like I said, it was a ‘C’ book and that only because of the interviews.

    But people just don ‘t seem to be able to get there in 3 common sense steps. What I want to know is why?

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  6. Because they want to make the other person do the changing.

    If I do x, the other will do y in response.

    Sometimes. Sometimes not.

    If you do x, you’ll be a better person (more godly, more successful, more mature) but that’s not what you really wanted, you wanted the other person to want you. Or be nice. Or commit.

    When you get out in RL, you find that people are so desperate for nice, sane partners, that you can take your pick … from your socioeconomic/age bit of the scale, anyway.

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  7. Gracious hostess, I’d call him a 1%er (what motorcycle club does he ride with?) given his Ivy League degrees, but point well taken. I guess if things are too easy, you don’t learn character.

    (whatever happened to the notion that you went to an Ivy to get challenged? )

    And I think I can even beat Hearthie in a prescription for finding a mate: “Mind your manners”. OK, you can flesh that out a lot, and certainly exactly how that is done varies from culture to culture, but really it all comes down to that, I think. Along those lines, saddest funeral I ever attended was of a man who took his life after his family broke apart–the eulogies made clear that he’d learned to do just about everything except for love his wife in a way she understood.

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  8. I don’t know Bike. I am (you surely know this about me by now) loathe to go to a place where a man’s family fell apart because he hadn’t learned to love his wife in a way she understood. Since you know them better than I do, I’ll defer to your opinion.

    One of the things the book gets into is the idea of “manspeak” and the tendency of women to do all kinds of things to get a point across short of simply making the point. Even as I read the interviews in the book, it seemed as if the men and women were just talking past each other. Understanding goes both ways, and you stick it out until you understand.

    When I start slipping back into the habit of dropping hints, making leading statements to try and move my husband in a certain direction, or obfuscating, he calls me out. Did so just recently: “You’re starting to fall back into that thing again where you’re trying to manipulate me.” I knew I had to adjust accordingly and be honest and direct.

    When I feel he isn’t listening (and sometimes he really isn’t), I get his attention and eye contact. Never mind how, but he laughs and admits that no, he wasn’t listening and if I regress from making sense and being direct to “chirping” he might wander off the reservation again.

    Minding your manners is well and good, but learning to “love your spouse in a way they understand”, is highly subjective and you can be back at square one no matter how well mannered.

    Of course, the point of Harper’s book was trying to get to the place where men and women can get to the altar in the first place.

    One of the things that was abundantly clear is that (at least among black men and women with no anchor of faith) harems and mistrust/attitude problems respectively were the biggest hurdles.

    If what I see around me of late is any indication, Harper’s book (even though on the bookshelves 7 years now) hasn’t done much to advance the conversation.

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  9. But harems/trust problems are two sides of the same coin, and again – you can’t fix another person, only yourself…. and our fears often feed other people’s actions. Or our choices in people to hang out with… fear being abused, somehow find yourself with a string of abusive partners…. this happens. You can’t break the cycle without fixing yourself.

    And we can’t fix society without fixing its denizens.

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  10. If what I see around me of late is any indication, Harper’s book (even though on the bookshelves 7 years now) hasn’t done much to advance the conversation.

    For that matter, he appears to be still single,and his most recent girlfriend is of Asian heritage if google serves me right. Three and out, and not just in the black community, really. It seems to me that there are some people who are both incapable of celibacy (don’t have the “gift nobody wants”) but also incapable of marriage.

    Or, what Hearthie said.

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  11. You’re gonna love this one Bike: The *new* thing is to split the difference if one can’t find a good black woman and choose a “woman of color” or any color but white. Yeah, it’s a thing that I’m seeing IRL too. Not just in books or online.

    Black women OTOH (if I an tell anything, including at our church) have said to heck with splitting the difference, LOL.

    In other words, Harper not only hasn’t advanced the conversation to anywhere constructive, but apparently is unable to.

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  12. “Excuse me, honey, but I’ve got to get a skin sample from you to make sure your melanin levels are within the approved ranges….you love me enough to let me use this home biopsy kit, right?”

    As if finding a mate wasn’t difficult enough already…..

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  13. OK, dumb question; does this mean that black men who won the hearts of white women are now on the bad side of the “orthodoxy”? Or were they always? (this is that I’ve seen around here, for what it’s worth)

    I’ve also got to admit that people saying they can’t find suitable spouses in their own culture reminds me a lot of the sleazy guy I knew in college who was dating a high school freshman. It wasn’t that there were no suitable young ladies around, but rather that all of them saw through him.

    I’m guessing the real problem is “aligning expectations with reality.”

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  14. This is only a thing for people who view everything through the lens of racial politics. Keep in mind that Harper is a friend of our POTUS .

    I do know a few people for whom this is a deal but for most it doesn’t matter. For instance, we don’t care what color our future sons-in-laws turn out to be.

    Side bar: we live in a metro area but on Sunday we saw so many BW/WM couples, relatively speaking of course, that it was kind of weird.

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  15. The other mistake you are making is assuming same race equals same culture. Hill Harper is a Harvard Law graduate with 3 graduate degrees. If he wasn’t avoiding white women he could have married within his own culture 20 years ago. It is not going to be the easiest thing for our girls to meet a young black male on their track in 2016. It’s one reason why we know they will either marry late or marry out.

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  16. Thanks for the clarification–and agreed that skin color is not equal to culture. Point/reproof well taken. My journey to Christ was actually started by a young black man who was/is in some ways culturally “white”, and I remember finding that the culture in a predominantly Chinese church was closer to my own than was California Anglo culture. Go figure. I was once lightheartedly told that I was a “hard boiled egg”–caucasian on the outside, asian on the inside. Of course I did not reciprocate!

    (along the same lines, but not as much about melanin, is that I’ve been mistaken for a native of just about every western european nation, including Italy of all places, and have even been asked a few times if I’m Jewish…..I guess I’m just not a very good “Wonder Bread” American, which is fine with me)

    I’m with you on not being terribly worried about what skin color my kids marry….have seen too many Godly “mixed” couples to get worked up about that. Walking in Christ, has learned a trade, no drool on the chin? We’re good.

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  17. Yup, this is what our little girls are going to have to settle for!

    Actually, I’ve got some hope. One of the high school kids–a kid I call “Big Grant” because he’s about 5’4″ tall–was making fun of my fishbelly white legs as I started riding my bike home from church with three of my little ones. A couple of others helped my daughters out by carrying the keg (of root beer) into the youth group meeting from my pickup.

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