It’s a Good Thing to See Black Men in Love

by Malaika Jabali

Between Meek Mill gushing over girlfriend Nicki Minaj during the BET Awards and Russell Wilson pronouncing that his relationship with Ciara is “anointed,” black love has been winning in the last few weeks. But rapper-turned-podcast-host Joe Budden is none too satisfied with these developments. When recapping the BET Awards on a recent podcast, Budden expressed disgust at Meek Mill’s loving interactions with Nicki throughout the awards show. While Budden’s female co-host admired the affectionate pair, Budden protested. Amid his color struck nonsense about how light skinned men don’t engage in similarly “sappy shit,” Budden said Meek’s behavior was “nasty” and that it contrasted Meek's typically hardcore lyrics.

Joe Budden has since attempted to clarify his statements—prompted perhaps by "Omeeka's" unrelenting clapbacks on social media—noting that he is “all for love.” To be fair, most outlets never reported that at the end of Budden's rant, he expressed appreciation that Nicki and Meek were “keeping hope of love alive.” It’s also understandable to see partly, even if it’s a miniscule part, where Budden is coming from. Meek is not like Drake or Kanye, who’ve often laced their lyrical catalogue with expressions of love, loss, vulnerability, and contemplation. For some, like Budden, Meek’s behavior may seem like too much of a contrast from his rap persona.

But there are numerous problems with Joe Budden’s overwhelmingly negative response stemming both from a white supremacist society that has shaped the narrative of black masculinity and from the ways black men have internalized this narrative. Budden’s response also calls our attention to the somewhat disparate response when black women are at the receiving end of love and adoration. These factors make it all the more vital to encourage black men who must battle these entrenched systems when they seek to establish relationships.

When it comes to the ways white supremacy has shaped black masculinity, I must first acknowledge that men of every race in the U.S. are socialized to achieve a certain type of masculinity—aggressive, sexual, and emotionally distant. Combined with this country’s persistent misogyny, we end up with a society full of grown men who are less forthcoming about their emotions in their intimate relationships while they prop up each other’s misogynist and dismissive attitudes of women when discussing those relationships with other men.

Still, though all men have to come to terms with misogyny, black men more than any other demographic have an uphill battle to climb given the mixed messaging they have received over the course of their history in American society. Under America’s construct that men are expected to be providers and protectors, our reality as an enslaved people could never comport with this societal fiction. No black man had the power individually to protect against a system of white supremacy that tore black families apart at a whim and raped black women at its discretion. Yet, white supremacist ideology, in justifying slavery, continued to posit that black men were aggressive, hypersexual beings whose freedom could threaten Victorian ideals of white femininity. Thus, black men observed that they were powerless in one element of their masculinity—their ability to protect and provide, but powerful in another—but powerful in their purported sexual prowess and aggressiveness.

In the U.S., this conflicting dynamic has only complicated black men’s relationships with black women and with their own understanding of manhood. Instead of fighting against the stereotypes, many black men double down. We see the worst of this internalization in some extreme cases, and black women in particular suffer the brunt of these damaging ideals. Homicide rates amongst black men and women is the highest of any ethnic group. Black women are more likely to be domestic violence victims. It was not even a year ago when a young, black mother was murdered for rejecting a man’s advances in a nightclub. Though poverty plays a significant role in violence among every race, we should not dismiss the fact that men are much more likely to perpetuate violence much more often than women regardless of their income. It’s clear that notions of hypermasculinity can be dangerous, and sometimes fatal, for everyone.

Black women also suffer in how they are perceived by black men in a society steeped both in racism and sexism. With black men being the loudest protestors of Meek and Russell's relationships with phenotypically black women, it is clear misogynoir has reared its ugly head. Where were the accusations of simping when Kanye paraded Amber Rose around every media appearance possible or when he married Kim Kardashian, who has her own storied history of industry relationships? In Wilson's case, why is this negativity surfacing now that Ciara is getting love, yet men have largely failed to direct any criticism of the men who mistreated her to begin with?

For Meek Mill, the problem isn’t simply that his “hard” lyrics contrast his loving behavior. Rather, it’s a deeper problem that the black masculinity narrative created under white supremacy encourages Meek to craft a hard core personality instead of one that reflects his whole person in the first place. And it is this same narrative that allows one man to fundamentally be “all for love,” yet tease another man for actually expressing it.

But we have the power to change the narrative.

It takes guts to defy entrenched oppressive systems, whether they be white supremacy or misogyny. So men like Meek Mill must be applauded and encouraged. Just as we revere dynamic black men and women who defy white supremacy, we must continue to edify those men who seek to create healthy, loving relationships with their loved ones. While we continue to seek to radically remove oppressive systems through broader political measures and grassroots movements, loving each other is one small revolutionary act.

Photo: BET

Malaika Jabali is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She has a J.D. and M.S. from Columbia University. Her proclivity for advanced degrees does not preclude her from communicating with cleverly placed emojis and on Instagram @missjabali. She also pretends to know about music and culture on her personal blog,

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