Several artists have sung about it. Lot’s of people talk about it. Some folks even write about it. But who made it a bad thing? Your guess is as good as mine! But what I do know is that it is most certainly a hot topic and if I am to heed the warnings I’ve been getting lately, being perceived as “independent” can be the death-nail for educated, professional, Black women.
So, what makes a woman independent? Check out these lyrics…
Destiny’s Child had us all braggin’:
“All the women who are independent; throw your hands up at me! All the honeys who makin’ money; throw your hands up at me! All the mommas who profit dollas; throw your hands up at me! All the ladies who truly feel me; Throw your hands up at me!”
Then Kelly Clarkson had us wondering:
“What is this feeling taking over? Thinking no one could open the door. Surprise, it’s time, to feel what’s real. What happened to miss independent’s no longer need to be defensive? Goodbye, old you, when love, is true!”
Now Ne-Yo has us humming:
“She got her own thing; that’s why i love her. Miss independent, wont you come and spend a little time? She got her own thing; that’s why i love her. Miss independent, ooh the way we shine. Miss independent, yeah…”
So, is it a mantra? A proclamation? A lifestyle? A badge of honor? An indication of conceit? A slick way of giving the finger to any dude who has abandoned you (or ever will)? What exactly does it mean when a woman call herself “independent” or what does a man mean when he slaps her with that same label? And since when did it become akin to a four-letter word?
As an educated, professional, available Black woman, I have a vested interest in exploring this topic. And as of late, the Black blogosphere and media outlets have had a field day challenging Ralph Richard Banks’ recent article, An Interracial Fix for Black Marriage. So, if I wasn’t thinking about it before, it’s been in my face darn near every day over the last month. Not to mention, every time I sit down with someone to discuss the challenges of dating, the conversation ultimately leads to the same question: would you consider dating outside your race? Which would not be a problem if it weren’t directly related to the perceived unavailability of educated, professional, available Black men – and here’s the catch – who would be willing to date a woman on my level (their words, not mine).
After a conversation with some up and coming young Black men about the topic, I soon realized that the problem wasn’t as much about availability, but about perception, particularly when it comes to manhood and what it means to date a so-called independent woman. It turns out, that for some men, it is assumed that a woman who can take care of herself financially does not have a vested interest in sticking with her man through thick and thin if she has as much, or more, than he does. The thought that she could “leave at any minute” evokes a shift in some sort of innate power dynamic that many Black men (not all), simply cannot overcome.
Mind you, this whole thought process appears to take place void of any real discussion about the topic. It’s a default response to the woman’s title and credentials before she can even get around to discussing the great equalizers such as debt, family obligations, or health challenges – things could possibly be more realistic deal breakers, if there are to be any. He doesn’t even have to know how much money she really makes, which could be actually less than or equal to him. He only has to think she makes (or has the potential to make) more than him and its a done deal! I’ve even been told not to mention my degrees or job title up front or the brother would go running in the other direction – really?
So I ask this question, when we talk about independence, are we really speaking about the same thing? Or, is the real issue here a matter of semantics: self-sufficiency versus superiority? I see self-sufficiency as a value both men and women should ascribe to within and in absence of a relationship. But self-sufficiency should not be interpreted, or projected, as a way to establish superiority in a relationship from either prospective. And when it comes to matters of strength, I find it hard to accept that men who applaud their single or married Black mothers for holding it down when times got hard, would penalize a potential mate for using that same revered strength to succeed academically and/or professionally.
In the end, I think both sides have a lot to learn from each other. Women should not take for granted a man’s desire to care for his woman. And men should be careful not to assume that a self-sufficient woman doesn’t want to be cared for; I know I do…