© 2023 WYPR
20th Anniversary Background
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Black Writers: Where Is The Love, Communication?

Valentine's Day is one of the most anticipated and dreaded days of the year, depending on whom you ask.

For some, it's a day to look forward to — with a special card, a romantic dinner. For others, it's just another reminder of what is missing in their lives.

But the day might be especially poignant for African Americans, who have some of the lowest marriage rates in the U.S. According to a 2006-08 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, 30 percent of African Americans report being married, compared with 47 percent of Latinos and 53 percent of whites.

Additionally, a 2009 Yale study indicates that highly educated black women are twice as likely to have never been married by the age of 45 as white women with similar education, and that, while black men are more likely to marry outside of their race, black women are more likely to marry outside of their education.

NPR host Michel Martin recently spoke with three African-American writers, all of whom have written books about black love and loss — regular Tell Me More contributor and freelance writer Jimi Izrael, author of the The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can't Find Good Black Men; Hill Harper, actor on the CBS drama CSI: New York and author of the book The Conversation; and journalist Helena Andrews, author of the soon-to-be published Bitch Is The New Black.

Harper says his motivation for writing the book stemmed from something he noticed among his friends: a mere lack of communication between black men and black women.

"The sisters were saying, 'There are no good brothers out there,' " recalls Harper, who is single. "And the brothers were saying, 'I can't find that one sister that I want to commit to.' "

Izrael, who is twice divorced, agrees. He says the communication troubles in his first marriage are an example of the disconnect.

"As it turns out, not only were we not on the same page, we weren't in the same library," he says of his ex-wife. "We weren't reading the same book. We weren't in the same league."

Izrael: No such thing as 'Denzel'

Actor Denzel Washington, 55, has been married to wife Pauletta for nearly 30 years. For decades, he has been celebrated as a heartthrob and sex symbol.
Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images
Actor Denzel Washington, 55, has been married to wife Pauletta for nearly 30 years. For decades, he has been celebrated as a heartthrob and sex symbol.

In his new book, Izrael plays off a decades-long pop culture-fueled belief, held especially by many black women, that heartthrob Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington (or perhaps his clone) would be the perfect better half to any marriage.

"The Denzel principle is the belief that the perfect man — in the form of Denzel Washington — actually exists and [that] some black women actually think they can snag them," Izrael explains.

He aims to debunk that theory and suggests that many black women have impossible standards.

"I haven't necessarily found that [to be true] in my life," Andrews says.

Denzel or no Denzel, the 29-year-old journalist and soon-to-be published author says everyone has flaws, and what black women — and anyone, for that matter — want is simple.

"Everyone wants someone who is perfect for them," says Andrews, who is also single. "And you want to work on some of those flaws yourself just so you can live with yourself."

Has The Black Woman Become The Black-Male Basher?

Izrael says communication with black women might be ideal but is seldom easy.

"Whenever I get in these conversations, I get shouted down by as many black women as are in the room," he says.

Andrews says Izrael's perceptions are unrealistic.

"Me and my friends don't get together and have these Waiting to Exhale moments when all women want to do is tear apart black men," she explains.

The 595 Rule

But Andrews does suggest that the pickings are slim for potential mates among black men.

"[My friends are] just saying that there are fewer of them [available] than they would want," she says.

It's what Harper calls the 595 Rule.

"Ninety-five percent of the [black] women are trying to date 5 percent of the [black] men," Harper says.

Still, Harper says the golden rule, in the case of repairing any disconnect between black men and women, is communication.

"Just talking about it or talking over each other or yelling or blaming, that's not real communication — that's just speech," he advises.

Reported by Michel Martin. Web material written/produced by Lee Hill.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.