FOOTNOTES FOR “4:44,” AND SOME NOTES FOR BLACK MEN
Yesterday JAY-Z dropped Footnotes For 4:44, an 11-minute clip that finds male celebrities like Meek Mill, Kendrick Lamar, Will Smith, Anthony Anderson, Jesse Williams and more discussing how they developed their attitudes toward the opposite sex and the difficulties that come within long-term relationships between Black men and women.
When I first heard “4:44” I was shocked. Was Hov, a man who has been elusive and private his entire career, laying all of his business out there over a sample of the Hannah Williams track about infidelity “Late Nights & Heartbreak?” I couldn’t believe it. So I replayed it. Once. Twice. Three times. Then Again. And again. And again. Each time growing more upset.
On “4:44” he raps:
“So I apologize/I seen the innocence leave your eyes/I still mourn this death and/I apologize for all the stillborns/‘Cause I wasn’t present, your body wouldn’t accept it.”
Rewind 17 years to the classic The Dynasty: Roc La Familia cut “This Can’t Be Life” where JAY-Z raps:
“It gets worse, baby momma water burst/Baby came out stillborn, still I gotta move on/Though my heart still torn, life gone from her womb/Don’t worry, if it was meant to be, it’ll be soon”
Here he raps about his girlfriend Stephanie’s 1994 miscarriage. And while I can’t speak to the life of Stephanie and how she dealt with the aftermath of her loss, I can point to Beyoncé. A woman who, if the cheating rumors are true, has created music, killed the stage, and still managed to look beautiful through some bullshit. But let’s not call her praise her “strength.”
Zora Neal Hurston said it best: “In a society woven from resilient threads of sexism, racism, and class exploitation, strong Black women occupy a particular discursive and material space. [Black women] are required to be de mule[s] uh de world.”
Mules indeed. The word “strong” is never too far off when it comes to describing Black women. And it’s not that “Black women have not been and are not strong; it is simply that this is only a part of our story, a dimension, just as the suffering is another dimension—one that has been most unnoticed and unattended to” (bell hooks, Talking Back).
The myth of the strong black woman dates back to colonization and slavery. Throughout history our bodies, minds and spirits have encountered a certain kind of disrespect that I can’t even put into words, and in the present, the same body, mind and spirit became the weapons we arm ourselves with to survive.
And we have survived. And we will continue to. But we are not superhuman. We have feelings, desires and needs just as Black men do. Yet we don’t get to navigate the world like our Black cishet male peers. We don’t get to be emotionally immature, deceptive, and dishonest without consequence. We don’t get to fuck up time and time again in relationships and keep our partners around and praise them for their “strength.” Truth be told you don’t even let us mess up once.
We mature faster than you. And on “4:44” JAY-Z shows us that even the most successful Black men well into their adulthood can still fall short when it comes to honesty and emotional maturity. But this isn’t about relationships or women who stay or heartbreak. There are many think pieces out there about the infidelity, heartbreak, and healing discussed on “4:44.” About how proud we should be of Hov for finally getting himself together. About appreciating the men who have dogged women and then got it together. This isn’t that. And anyone who knows me knows I have zero interest in rewarding Black men for being halfway decent in their relationships.
I’m interested in JAY-Z’s introspection. Because introspection and self-reflection are important things to do before you mess up whatever good thing you have going. Because it shouldn’t take men having children to treat the women they are dating, or any woman for that matter, with respect. Because conversations with your boys shouldn’t just be about the next woman you’re trying to “get,” but also about your feelings too. Because we are not toys, we are not raising you, we are not emotional dumping grounds, nor are we disposable. We are human. And because, frankly, we’re tired of repeating ourselves.
So listen, for the last time.
We know that you, cishet Black men, are rarely afforded the space to unravel your emotions. Apologies are sometimes interpreted as weakness. Therapy simply means you aren’t strong enough. And monogamy and faithfulness make you less of a man, while cheating and lying is just a normal part of life. And it’s not until you’re 47 with three kids, a wife and the ghosts of women you’ve hurt haunting you that you decide to talk to a therapist or your boys about the stuff you’ve bottled up since your teens.
It’s time for you to look at yourselves in regards to healthy relationships. No more making mistakes under the pretense of being a man. No more getting in relationships for possession and not progression. No more listening to your friends who encourage you to “prove” your manhood at the expense of a woman’s emotions. No more emptying your cup into a woman’s whose is overflowing. No more uplifting the strength of the Black woman while simultaneously dismissing the bullshit you put us through.
Hold your boys accountable when they are trash. Hold yourself accountable when you are trash. Seek help when you need to (it’s 2017, the resources are endless, no excuses). Encourage your boys to do the same. Support them in love, in their careers and in life in general, and don’t forget to support yourself. Be honest with your friends. Be honest with your family. Be honest in your relationships. Be honest with yourself. Listen to Black women.
And never go Eric Benét.
* i write from the perspective of a cishet Black woman
* i welcome criticism
*don’t comment “not all Black men” because obviously not all of y’all, ashy