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:
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.