What is wrong with relationships between African American women and men today?

Why are so many women of color so negative in their opinions about their black counterparts? Why do so many African American men leave us for life on the streets or in prison or for life with other women — too often of other races?

Some say it’s the slavery effect.

It is believed by some that black people, forced into slavery, made to witness the power stripped from our men, forced to endure the violation and mutilation of our bodies and made to give up our children, were never allowed to bond, that black men, never allowed to protect, defend and invest in their families, developed into men who devalued their women and abandoned their children, that to preserve her sanity and her soul, women of color could not allow themselves to be seen as weak but were forced to show themselves as strong and self-sufficient, denying the very essence of her womanhood.

This legacy, it is said, has been passed down, generation to generation, and explains the disposition of relationships between African American women and men today.

There is no negating the truths found in this argument. But still I wonder…

Is this not a victim mentality? Are we too willing to allow our victimizers — whoever they were and are — to change us into something different than God designed us to be? Can we not claim the power that comes from surviving?

There is a certain grace in the posture of a survivor. The head is held high, the shoulders are thrown back. The survivor has a certain knowing — that he has overcome the attempt of the oppressor to rob him of his freedom, that he can rebuild his shattered self and move on in spite of what has been done to him.

In the survivor, there is a refusal to give up or give in. The survivor proclaims, “I will have what you tried so hard to take from me.”

Loving our families starts with loving ourselves, with loving our dark skin, our thick lips, our kinky hair. It means seeing ourselves as worthy to give and receive love from one other.

We can recognize the truth that racism and sexism deprive us of some things, but not all. We can take what remains, bless it, and with hard work, build bright futures for ourselves and our families.

It extends to forgiving ourselves and, for our own sakes, forgiving others. Energy spent hating is energy wasted. We can acknowledge the truth of our oppressed past without allowing it to become an excuse for our present situations.

We have the power to pass to our children and our children’s children a new reality — that we love one another. That we are loyal to one other. That we stay when the going gets tough. That we honor each other. That we value our children. That we are proud of our men. That we treasure our women. That we are willing to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow.

If we do this, we will be able to say to future generations that we were the architects of our own freedom.

Freedom for us today starts as it did for our ancestors, with one person’s refusal to embrace the status quo. One man or woman gets on the freedom train and frees another. Then another. And another.

Married men and men who are good fathers can bring along another brother who is struggling. Be a sounding board. Share your experiences. Encourage and mentor.
Married women and good mothers can mentor our younger sisters. Teach them about respect for themselves and for our men. Share with them the things that have worked for you. Be a friend and an example.

It is a mistake for the victim to wait for his victimizer to save him.

If slavery and its generational effects have robbed us of our place in the world as loving partners and gentle creatures, lets give it back to ourselves as a magnificent gift.

We have that power. We are victims only while we accept victimization.

D. Barbara McWhite grew up in York County, S.C., and now lives in Orange Park, Fla.

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