Essence is a magazine for black women. But it is black men who are talking about the August issue.
Not because of R&B singer Jill Scott's seductive gaze on the cover, but because of the sucker punch of a question stripped across it:
"Do Black Men Still Want Us?"
In recent months, as the mainstream learned of the down low phenomenon _ a secret world of seemingly straight black men sleeping with other men _ black women have begun to wonder if there are any desirable black men left. That, coupled with high incarceration rates of black men and their declining numbers on college campuses, exacerbated already heightened fears that black women may end up alone or have to find fulfilling relationships with nonblack men.
Black women have long bemoaned the dearth of "good brothas," but rarely have we heard from black men.
We went to barbershops, churches, clubs and colleges. We chatted with others by phone and on city sidewalks. Most said they still want a black woman. They admire her beauty, independence and strength. For at least one man, those qualities were turnoffs. Other men said race has not determined who they ended up with as much as who they befriended or who they had access to in the workplace and in their communities. For some, that person was a white woman.
These are the stories of eight men. They ranted. They generalized. And still others were as stereotypical and chauvinistic as they were frank and profound.
A.L. REYNOLDS, AUTHOR, CHICAGO
If anyone can offer insight into black male-female relationships, psychologist A.L. Reynolds can. He's writing the book on it.
Do Black Men Hate Black Women? will be the followup to his 1994 book, Do Black Women Hate Black Men?
Reynolds says it boils down to two things: education and economics. And when you stack black men against black women, men are behind the curve.
"They don't have the capacity to say, "Once I step inside my castle, I am the king' (or) "I bring in the money. I bring in the power,' " he said. "White males in our society do. That is very self-esteeming and enhancing (to) have someone you are over.
"Black women are much more in the workplace, much more in the educational process of attainment, achievement, pursuing, that kind of thing."
The seeds of the sexes' divergent paths were planted long ago, Reynolds said.
"The family's main intent was to get the black female out of the white man's kitchen so she wouldn't be raped. (They) pushed her toward education. That was the first thing."
World War II and the civil rights movement further strained relations, he said.
During the war, black women began the transition from the home to shops and stores. By the time the civil rights movement emerged, women were excluded from the front lines "and that pushed us further apart," Reynolds said.
"Black women have been trained to be strong," he said. "When they encounter the male, that strength is still there.
"Some males that are possible mates are intimidated by the black woman's aggressiveness. That semicastrates him. It puts him into the role that no male feels comfortable in and that is to be subjugated to the feminine side."
That's why some men date nonblack women.
"Most of the time, white women are much more allowing," Reynolds said. "They're less challenging."
Reynolds doesn't see relations between black men and black women getting any better.
Black men and black women will continue to veer in opposite directions because there's still a "thrust to push the female child to get for herself to achieve," he said.
"They have a model because they got a mama," Reynolds said. "The female model is very strong in the black family. But they don't have a model for that male."
MICHAEL BAISDEN, AUTHOR AND RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, NEW YORK
Michael Baisden says the question _ Do Black Men Still Want Us? _ is legitimate.
"So many are alone and they can't understand why," said Baisden, whose self-published debut, Never Satisfied: How and Why Men Cheat, sold more than 400,000 copies. "Whether or not (the question is) accurate is another question. But I certainly understand it.
"We think that black women are angry at us," he said. "The reality is that they are disappointed with the fact that they are not allowed to play their role (as spouses) and they don't have the option to.
"Believe it or not, these women may put up these fronts that they're strong and independent. They are strong and independent because they have to be, not because they want to be.
"They do not like that. Having that man be the leader, the initiator is what they really want. Because they can't find a man to play that role, it is very frustrating. Don't let these women fool you driving around in their Benzes. Man, they are lonely. The more educated, the more attractive, the more enlightened a woman is, the more difficult it is for her to find somebody, especially if she's not willing to settle.
"There's an intimidation factor. ... We are the only race of people where our women start more businesses, are better traveled than we are. That is threatening to most men. He can no longer play his role as a teacher and leader.
"I think black women's biggest fault in all of this is crippling their sons and pacifying men who don't deserve it, turning them into mama's boys and confusing men by treating them in ways they haven't earned."
Black men, victims of what he calls the "slave syndrome," are as much to blame, he said. Some don't have "the desire and the courage to better themselves."
Like Reynolds, Baisden thinks the future looks bleak.
"I see it getting worse, a lot worse," he said. "Men have no incentive to stop cheating and to stop lying because there's nothing in it for them. At least they don't see it. And women have begun to compromise in ways they never imagined they would _ dating married men, having babies by married men, sharing men openly, and becoming involved with other women."
AKIN ASHEKUN, INVESTMENT BANKER, TAMPA
Investment banker Akin Ashekun wants "peace of mind and no drama."
And, in his experience, he hasn't been able to find that with a black woman.
Although Ashekun graduated from historically black Prairie View A&M University in Texas and has lived in black meccas such as Atlanta, "I don't approach a lot of black women," he said as he sat at the bar of Faze 2 Lounge, a new Tampa nightspot that caters to a professional black crowd. "I don't have any reason to."
Ashekun admits that his views are rooted in his British heritage. But even in America, he said he has been snubbed by black women. He remembers the night he and a friend went to a club. The friend spotted an attractive black woman, but was afraid to approach her. Ashekun did what any friend would do.
"I walked up to her and I introduced myself," he said. "I said, "My friend would like to say hi to you.' "
The woman stared at Ashekun and replied: "What's the matter with him? He can't walk? He can come over here and talk to me if he wants to."
Ashekun doesn't take too kindly to rejection.
"What I have a problem with is attitude," he said. "Attitude is a form of arrogance."
Currently, Ashekun is dating a Sicilian woman.
"She's more submissive," Ashekun said.
HOWARD SIMMONS, HOTEL AUDITOR, ST. PETERSBURG
Howard Simmons loves black women.
"That's beauty to me," he said as he trimmed hedges outside Colonial Bayfront Hotel on First Street NE in St. Petersburg.
But Simmons hasn't always treated them as such. Not in his younger days. Though he cowers when asked, Simmons said he has been unfaithful.
"I'm not going to say how many times," he said. "I was a young man and things happened. ... Temptation."
Simmons' failure to resist temptation pushed away the mother of his three children. And at 50 years old, Simmons has dated, but never married.
He once asked his parents, who were together 52 years, how they lasted so long.
"Nothing comes easy," Simmons' father told him. "If you want it, you have to go out and earn it."
Simmons said he is trying.
WILLIAM DAVIS, BARBER, ST. PETERSBURG
A year ago next month, William Davis heard his wife say something so crushing he almost gave up on love.
"She told me she didn't love me anymore," he said as he cut hair at Andersons Beauty Gallery in St. Petersburg's Old Southeast.
"She got the house, the kids, the dog; she got it all. When I left, I left with my clothes and that's it."
Davis still doesn't know how his four-year marriage disintegrated. He worked two jobs so he could shower his ex, a black woman, with flowers, candy and money. He even enrolled at St. Petersburg College at her request.
"And she still didn't want me," Davis said. "It didn't matter if I had a job or not."
It wasn't the first time he'd been dumped.
"Once?" he asked. "I've been scorned a whole bunch of times."
For a time, Davis said he was afraid to offer his love to anyone else.
"But now, anything can happen," he said. "I might find that one."
That one, he hopes, will be another black woman.
They are "smart, intelligent, strong," he said. "That's a turn-on. If she's not strong, who's going to have my back?"
DAVIE GILL, COLLEGE COUNSELOR, ST. PETERSBURG
Davie Gill never imagined he would end up with anyone besides a black woman.
Then he met Kim Podonowski, a chiropractor of Polish and Italian descent.
"She's special," the 27-year-old Eckerd College graduate said. "My best interests are her best interests."
At no time was that more apparent than when his father became ill last year. Gill was required to make numerous trips to a Louisville, Ky., hospital where his dying father was being treated. Money was tight; he couldn't afford the trips on his salary as a counselor at St. Petersburg College. Without question, Podonowski bought plane tickets so Gill could be with his family. Then, she would drive nearly 20 hours to join him the next day.
"Somebody that'll do that for you, that says a lot about a person. Not saying that a black woman won't do the same."
But "when you're with somebody that stands by you, that's how you should determine who you're with. Not race."
EDWIN JEAN-PIERRE, INVESTMENT VICE PRESIDENT, TAMPA
It's not that black men don't want black women, said Edwin Jean-Pierre, vice president of investments at Gunn Allen Financial in Tampa. It's that women, not just black women, now consider black men optional. Interracial dating has become less taboo.
"More than anything else, what we do have is an overall breakdown in racial barriers as far as dating," he said. "There's an openness. What are my choices? To a lot of women, black men are choices."
Jean-Pierre, a divorced father of two who is dating a multiracial woman, said race does not determine whom he dates. However, black women are his preference.
"I was taught to be a strong black man by my mother, my sisters," he said. "You tend to gravitate toward what you understand best."
But, he added, "I won't limit myself to that."
CORNELL CUMMINGS, OPERATIONS MANAGER, TEMPLE TERRACE
Cornell Cummings can't understand black women's quandary.
"Where are they looking?" the 52-year-old divorced father of two asked.
"Perhaps they're looking in the wrong place."
On this night, Cummings' search takes him to Faze 2 Lounge. It's Wednesday. Ladies night. The recent Tallahassee transplant hasn't pursued a serious relationship with anyone since his divorce nine years ago. His children were young, and he didn't feel comfortable bringing another woman into the home.
Now that his youngest son has started college, Cummings isn't wasting any time. When a woman approached the bar, he offered his seat. When the Que Players performed India.Arie's Video, he guided another woman to the dance floor.
"See," he said. "You (have to) be kind to a lady."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or rthrashsptimes.com.
EXCERPTS FROM ESSENCE
"Like so many college-educated, professional Black women, I was single, childless and totally unhappy about it. My girlfriends and I would routinely lament the fact that the brothers we knew were either noncommittal, no good, penniless, going after the White girls _ or all of the above."
+ + +
"Instead of talking "man shortage,' we're discussing the "down low.' . . . The notion of our boyfriends and husbands being unfaithful is disconcerting enough, but the idea of our men cheating on us with other men is totally beyond our realm of thinking."
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Black men have had their say. Now we want to hear from black women. E-mail your thoughts to featuressptimes.com and include your name, phone number and an e-mail address. Please include "Where is the love?" in the subject line.