Black men took care of me. My daddy loved me and he was my hero. He was the tallest man in the whole world (6’3) and would pick me up when he got home from work. I continued to dote over my father well beyond the time I was little enough to be picked up. Daddy’s girl over everything.
My big brothers helped raise me because they were 9 and 11 years older than me. One of my brothers taught me how to fight in case I ever needed it (I have) and also explained to me that I couldn’t run around without my shirt on just like him and the other brothers did sometimes. I was crushed. I didn’t get it. Why should being a girl stop me from anything? So I took my shirt off, ran around the house with my afro bush hair out, chasing the cat and pretending to be an opera singer. #SorryFam #NotSorry
He also taught me to always have good guy friends – because they will tell me about other guys who are up to no good and they will look out for me and be brothers to me when he can’t be there.
Another older brother taught me how to swim. I still remember him putting our puppy in the water and saying “okay Zakiya, if the dog can swim, so can you.” That made sense to me, more or less! To this day, I have never drowned. And he also taught me how to ride my bike. That was such a fun day! And he did my hair when momma was busy. Big bro is good with his hands – I’d like to think some of his present day finesse at carpentry can be linked to working through my nappy roots.
And even though we fought a lot, my baby brother and I were close. I took care of him and he always looked up to me and thought I was amazing. Even when he was clearly sharper and more genius than me. This is not a self-depracating statement, lol. We were home schooled for a while and he used to get bored with his books and take mine and do them as well. Being two grades ahead of him, I was insulted that he could do my work. Even though that happened, my baby brother has always assumed I am similarly genius. I am not – don’t get me wrong – I am very smart. But my mind doesn’t work like his (or my mother’s) and I knew that early on.
Black men are strong, loving, smart, genius, affirming, gentle. Black men are fun. All my Black men played with me and laughed with me. Including uncles and cousins and beloved granddaddy. Granddaddy was magical, a loving man who was especially Jamaican when he was around kin’ from our other country.
Black Men taught me a lot about being wondrous.
When my parents divorced, I was 10 years old and I began noticing some other things about Black men. I didn’t notice these things BECAUSE they are Black. It was because the only men that mattered in my life were Black men. I noticed that sometimes men can’t or don’t keep their promises. Because I was scared about not having my daddy with me everyday, I started observing the world around me much more intently. And listening to what older women said. I was the girl who understood what the adults were saying even though I didn’t know how to process it or who to talk to about it. Listening, I learned that men are also violent sometimes. I learned that men hurt women sometimes. With words and hands and instruments that should only be used for protection.
I learned that sometimes men shouldn’t be trusted.
That sometimes I couldn’t trust some Black Men.
I loved Black Men. I knew that Black men were good and true and right and protectors and lovers. I didn’t understand this new reality.
Sometime in high school I also started understanding two huge things:
- The world hates Black men. Therefore I need to protect them.
- Sometimes Black Men are protectors and lovers and also oppressors. That this can happen in the same person. This was devastating and important. No one is a single story – as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has eloquently taught us.
It’s been a lifelong journey – my love affair with Black Men. Much of it hasn’t been romantic. I date and partner with Black Men – but I am not always in a relationship or dating. While I do intend to marry, I am focused on loving Black men well, regardless of the type of relationship it is.
When I am dating I try to love that man well by engaging him as a full human. I actively reject tropes of Black Men in dating relationships and I don’t operate from a deficit mentality. (Yeah, sometimes it’s hard not to. I see you sisters. My heart hurts, too. I heal gloriously, each time I need to.)
And as for how I feel about the way Black Men know how to love Black Women…oh my…I wrote an entire piece on it. In a word – glory.
In loving Black Men, I fail sometimes. I am selfish. I am wounded sometimes. I get up when I fall and try again. I am evolving and growing in my capacity to love myself as a Black Woman. Which feeds my ability and capacity to love Black Men well. It is truly resistance to love each other fully because our oppressors have done everything and then some to attempt to destroy Blackness and Black Love. The fact that Black Love continues to exist in multiple glorious forms is evidence that we are champions of love. Want to study love? Study us. Of course there are problems. And still, we rise.
I’m protective of narratives about Black Men. I hate that they are not understood within the context of the disenfranchisement of my people. I hate that I can’t protect them more. I hate that, as Black folk, we fight all day and night for each other and sometimes we still miss each other.
My love is greater. And it keeps me going. My hope is fuller. It guides me. My joy is repetitive. The joy I find in Black fathers, brothers, uncles, sons, cousins n’ them, nephews, friends and baes.
My love heals me when they hurt me.
My Jesus is a Black Man.
My Santa is a Black Man.
My President is a Black Man.
Black is the color of my true love’s hair.
Salute Black Men.