Back in 2006 Essence Magazine published the article, “Blame it on Rio” which examined the phenomenon of Black men traveling to Brazil to find love and/or sex. Seems that the article provoked some strong responses.
On one hand, many black women were offended by the idea that some black men would feel the need to escape to a foreign country to find viable mates. Many Black men, on the other hand, saw no problem with regular travel or even moving to some other country where they anticipated feeling more valued. In many ways, it turned into one of those Black Man against Black Woman B.S. Fests that annoys the hell out of me. So I’m not attempting to revive some tired, useless Battle of the Sexes debate, okay.
I’m interested in encouraging some reflection, and it’s all about examining expectations. The following movie entitled, Frustrated: Black American Men in Brazil, was produced by Al Greeze in response to the Essence article. He wanted to give the Black men in question a chance to explain this phenomenon in their own words and to provide a counter to the seemingly one-sided and judgmental tone of the Essence article.
While watching Frustrated, I had the same initial reaction that I had while watching the other videos featured here in the Distance Lovin’ series—“Who the heck cares! Variety is the spice of life. Travel is an enriching experience. If people can find a little extra happiness abroad to go with their exotic foods and the extra stamps on their passports, good for them.”
But then that sad, pathetic music became more and more noticeable. The movie opened to sad, pathetic piano music. The introduction was accompanied by sad, pathetic piano music. It was the ominous kind of tune you’d expect to hear in a documentary about cancer patients fighting for their lives, abused children slipping through the cracks of the Child Protective Services system, or insidious chemical companies dumping toxic waste into poor people’s drinking water. It wouldn’t stop! Then, finally, at about 8 minutes, 37 seconds the tune changed to something a little more upbeat. (But it crept back in and out at key moments throughout the film.)
So here’s my first gripe: This supersized portion of doom and gloom accompanies far too many discussions about Black Male-Female relations, the state of the Black Family and such. Most of the other Sex/Love Tourism videos that I’ve viewed examine the very real issues of loneliness, frustration, and deteriorating relationships that prompt people to search abroad for a mate. But the mood that they create while doing this seems to suggest that this behavior is part and parcel of the human experience and that it probably won’t cause our undoing overall.
But when it comes to us Black folks, Lawd anything that takes us outside the realm of traditional expectations could, apparently, bring us to our knees. Or to our stomachs, because we’re already on our knees, right? Maybe with one more push we’ll just evaporate into thin air.
We’re already so much more likely to be uneducated, uncultured, unemployed, poor, obese, sick, diseased and without good healthcare, imprisoned, financially illiterate, just generally illiterate, divorced or never married to begin with, the product of single parenthood, parenting single, or likely to become single parents eventually, on drugs, raised by somebody on drugs, robbed by somebody on drugs, shot by somebody selling drugs… Whatever the atrocity or misfortune, we are most likely to suffer it.
We get a steady diet of statistics that prove our inferiority. And it’s not some grandstanding Klansman or Fox News anchor giving them to us. It’s CNN. It’s NPR. It’s W-something-something-something, your local news station. It’s our community leaders and folks who are on the front lines daily trying to help others get ahead. It’s our own brown-faced beauties, in whom we take so much pride, shoveling the Pitiful Black Folk statistics down our throats every day. This is news, important stuff going on in the world of which we should be ever aware, right? And the numbers don’t lie, right?
Well to answer those questions with another question, I’m going to take it back to a little Pentecostal church I attended as a girl. We sang a song there in which we asked, “Who’s report will you believe?”
The realities of our existence surround us daily. Sure, we have to have awareness of our challenges, inasmuch as that awareness helps us to create solutions. But we have to be so careful not to internalize this information to the extent that it becomes our expectation of ourselves, our definition of ourselves.
Because what we think of ourselves is what we will get. And numbers do lie, it just depends on who’s calculating them and for what purpose they will be used.
My point: discarding this hefty layer of doom and gloom got rid of an unnecessary distraction so that I could clearly see the other very intriguing points touched on in the film. And I now have more questions:
1a. Why are so many of these men finding themselves in relationships with women who are too materialistic? Are there no other women to attract, no other qualities to evoke in a woman?
1b. And why are so many of these women finding themselves surrounded by men who don’t measure up to their standards? Are there no other men to attract, no other qualities to evoke in a man?
1c. When one finds himself/herself in a repeating cycle such as this, isn’t SELF the common denominator?
2. Exactly how does one come to the conclusion that “If I’m making six figures, I expect a man to be making at least $75K”? Is there some evidence that shows that this specific financial configuration is more conducive to greater levels of intimacy, better sex, the rearing of stable children, establishing a strong community legacy? Or is it just another security blanket yanked out of somebody’s ass to cover weak egos?
3. What exactly is a woman’s place, other than the place where her natural talents and spirit guide her? Is it better for a couple to follow packaged gender roles or for them to do whatever works in their own unique situation with honesty, mutual respect, and zero concern for outside opinions? Isn’t the overall balancing of energies the most important thing? When will the stupid power struggles stop getting in the way of meaningful human interaction?!
4. What part might the church be playing in this phenomenon? So many women are being taught that the only type of man worthy of their prize is “Boaz”, who will come riding in on a white horse dressed in an Armani suit. He’ll leap out to open every door you plan to pass through before whisking you off in his Range Rover where he holds your hand the entire ride. He will, of course, have a PHD and will be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or wealthy businessman, because he’s a man of excellence, and that’s the only way to be excellent. He might show up well after you reach menopause, but it will be well worth the wait. You will still be a virgin, right? …No, masturbation counts also… Jesus will be your man ‘til then.
5. Why is the quest for companionship always met with so much shame and blame? Blame what on Rio? This sense of scarcity that so many love-seekers are feeding into–is it a reality? Or does the answer lie in expectations?
Maybe you have some answers to my questions or a few intriguing questions of your own. Let me know!
I couldn’t end this post without a more complete reference to that church song I mentioned earlier. Now, I am a person who claims no religious affiliation, but I will take my wisdom wherever I can get it. The lyrics go something like this:
(Call & Response)
Who’s report will you believe?
We shall believe the report of the Lord! (Repeat several times)
His report says I am HEALED!
His report says I am FILLED!
His report says I am FREE!
His report says VICTORY!
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” That goes for us women, too.