While his growth and vulnerability is powerful for other Black men to witness, does it have to occur at the expense of those who love them? Is the performing vulnerability worth much here?
There is a stillness between Black men, a tension filled with topics avoided and words unspoken. When hanging up the phone with my best friend of 15 years, I still hesitate to say “I love you,” like I end other conversations. It took me four of those years to come out to him as gay, and another four years to come out to my college homies. As a Black gay man, I feel anxiety when addressing other Black men. I fear that my love for them, fraternal or romantic, will be seen as soft, and thus anything I say or write in service of my brothers—specifically the heterosexual ones—may fall on oblivious ears and hardened hearts. But the encompassing love I have for Black men wants for them to lead healthy lives and build healthier relationships.
Often, when Black men dare to express their innermost feelings, they are forced to confront the dangerous paradigm of hypermasculinity. For them, being perceived as soft or feminine is a gamble. Although the wager may yield tremendous personal growth, Black men navigate internal conflict in attempts to preserve social expectations, outward perception, and personal safety. Jay Z has embodied this mentality on some of his most memorable records, including “Big Pimpin” and “Song Cry.” He’s selectively shared his emotions while he attempts to conquer or collect as many women possible to assert dominance. The’s album title track, “4:44,” is a litany of apologies for that behavior. “I apologize/ I often womanize/ Took for my child to be born/To see through a woman’s eyes,” he raps over a soulful sample of Hannah Williams and the Affirmations’ “Late Nights and Heart Breaks.” “Took for these natural twins/ To believe in miracles/ Took me too long for this song/ I don’t deserve you.”
At the age of 47, Shawn Carter has awakened, pivoting from the Jay we knew on “Big Pimpin.’” He’s wiser, more mature, and knows his indiscretions have impacted his wife and brought shame to their family.