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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, songs of the Civil Rights Movement: the music was celebrated at the White House and on PBS this week. Well give you a small taste. Thats a little later.

But first, looking ahead to Sunday - one of the most anticipated and, by some, dreaded days of the year. Yes, its Valentines Day. For some, its a day to look forward to that special card or romantic dinner. But for others, its just another reminder of what is missing in their lives. And today that might be especially poignant for African-Americans who have some of the lowest marriage rates among all groups in this country.

And if you follow black-oriented media, this is a source of much discussion, no small amount of pain and even anger, and not just about marriage, but what many perceive as an underlying negativity around black-on-black relationships. So, there are two questions here: is this true? Are African-Americans having particular trouble forming and maintaining intimate relationships, especially with each other? And if so, why?

Now, there are many people who want to weigh in on this issue right now: clergy, psychologists and so on. But weve called upon three writers who have or are about to publish attention-getting works on this matter of love relationships in the black community or the lack thereof. Jimi Izrael is a freelance writer and hes a TELL ME MORE regular on our Friday Barbershop roundtable. His new book is called The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Cant Find Good Black Men.

Hill Harper is an actor on the show CSI: New York. Hes an activist and hes the author of several books including The Conversation: How Black Men and Women Can Build Loving Trusting Relationships, and Helena Andrews - shes a journalist whos written for Politico and The Root. Her book, which is coming out in June, is called - and I apologize to those who might have little ears listening, and well try to avoid the overuse of this word - Bitch is the New Black. Shes here with me in Washington. I welcome you all to the program. Thank you for coming.

Ms. HELENA ANDREWS (Author, Bitch is the New Black): Thanks for having me.

Mr. HILL HARPER (Author, The Conversation: How Black Men and Women Can Build Loving Trusting Relationships): Thank you.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Author, The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Cant Find Good Black Men): Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Jimi, Im going to start with you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Naturally.

MARTIN: Naturally. Give us in a nutshell your romantic history and why you wanted to write The Denzel Principle, and what is the Denzel principle, in your opinion?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, thats like three different questions. I dont know that I can give my romantic history in a nutshell beyond the fact that - the highlights are the fact that Ive been married and divorced twice. There was that. So, the book, The Denzel Principle, is the belief that the perfect man in the form of Denzel Washington actually exists and some black women think they can actually snag him. So thats kind of the premise of the book.

MARTIN: You say in the book: According to smart white folks who know, two thirds of all black marriages end in divorce creating whole neighborhoods of single-parent families, usually headed by single mothers. This statistic really reflects less on black men and more on black women and their inability to make good choices.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yes, I did say that in the book.

MARTIN: So, this is all black women problem. If black women would get themselves together then...

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, Michel...

MARTIN: Go ahead.

Mr. IZRAEL: Heres what it is. Heres what it is. We all know that the women choose men, right? So, as a woman, if youve chosen a knuckle head, you have a baby by this knuckle head, and then hes still a knuckle head. He was a knuckle head, you let him in the door, you know, you cant be angry with him. You chose him. So at end of the day, you have to make better choices, ladies.

MARTIN: Helena, lets talk about you. Your book isnt out yet, but you are kind enough to share some of the galleys with us. And in it you write - Im going to substitute the B word for the word that you actually use in the book, just because Im mindful of whos listening at this time of day. Okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You write: Im such a bad ass. Im literally the baddest B-word on the planet. If there was a B contest between me and every other heartbroken hissing, red, yes, puffy faced woman in the world, I would defeat every last one of them handily.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But you go on by saying: Yeah, I dont believe me either. Im a B word, but I swear, I dont want to be. Really, I think I have to be. Why do you think you have to be?

Ms. ANDREWS: Well, the chapter that that was in, you know, was about this relationship that I had where I just - it was breaking down, and I was upset about it. And instead of kind of confronting those feelings, I was just: dont talk to me. I dont want to talk to you ever again. You know, you put up this veneer, and its protective. And black women use it, white women use it, the urban city girl uses it.

And its like this urban armor. And you put it on, and its like okay, Im going to protect myself. I will protect my heart. And, of course, everyone knows, you know, you get tired of the illusion that you can control everything in your life. But what I wanted to talk about with the title, with the book, because I know theres a stereotype out there that black women, or just successful women, are these angry B words, right? And I didnt want to necessarily appropriate that, but I wanted to poke at that and I wanted to explore it in the book.

MARTIN: Well, I asked Jimi this question, and I want to ask you this question as well, give us a short nutshell of your romantic history to the degree that you feel comfortable doing so. And then why did you want to write this book?

Ms. ANDREWS: Well, I would say my romantic history is the history of a lot of almost-30, college-educated women who live in a big city. I live in D.C. I date. Ive dated guys. Have I found the guy? No, I havent found him yet, and sometimes I wonder: am I even looking for him even though people tell me I should be, right, because Im 29 and I should be married, thats how things go.

And I wanted to write the book because I felt like so many people were talking about specifically single black women. And I am that woman, you know, and its not just about dating and relationships. Its about a lot more than that because Im more than just the fact that Im single. Im a lot of things, you know?

MARTIN: Sure, sure. What about Jimis argument that if there is - the questions that we have on the table: Is there a problem between black men and black women in their intimate relationships? And if so, whose fault is that?

Ms. ANDREWS: I think, its - I wouldnt call it a problem. I think that, in general, there is - and (unintelligible) has written about this - there is a lack of communication from both sides. And when you say something like, is there a problem. Then immediately you want to point a finger, as Jimi has done, and it seems like hes pointing it at black women. Hold on.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wait a second. You havent read the book.

Ms. ANDREWS: I havent read the book. I just heard what you said, though, and I heard what Michel read...

MARTIN: Well...

Ms. ANDREWS: ...and she said very clearly you said that it was an issue with black women. And you say that, you know, women, black women have these impossible standards. And I havent necessarily found that in my life. I dont see...

MARTIN: Jimi, hold on, Im going to let Hill have - Im going to invite Hill Harper into this conversation because thats one of the reasons you wrote this book is that I get that you feel there is a problem, that there is a sense of, theres a lot of anger in relationships between black men and women, and you want to kind of intervene in that. So, what - you talk about what you are hearing and what do you think about this?

Mr. HILL: Well, I do believe theres a problem. But the genesis of my book, the conversation came out of actually two things in particular. One, I had a dinner party a few years ago, and there was a group of single black men and single black women at the dinner party. And it wasnt a party to talk about relationships, but the conversation went that direction and the sisters were saying basically, theres no good brothers out there. They dont exist, et cetera, et cetera. And the brothers were saying something that was different, but interesting and that was I cant find that one sister that I want to commit to.

And so that perplexed me. And I was like how can each side be saying theres nobody really for them that they want to commit to and then you just look at the data. In 1966, 84 percent of black children being raised in two parent households, fast forward to 40 years later to 2006, that number is at 31 percent. So theres something going on. Even when we have kids together, we dont stay together. So, to suggest theres not something going on is perplexing in our community. I think the data at just anecdotal levels doesnt support it. To Jimis point, you know, I raise that similar issue - I call it the 5/95 rule, that 95 percent of the women are attempting to date 5 percent of the men.

MARTIN: Hmm.

Mr. HARPER: and thats not to point a finger at sisters, but it is something that did come up in my interviewing, and thats within communities. Im not saying that

Ms. ANDREWS: Hill Harper

Mr. HARPER: Go ahead, go ahead.

Ms. ANDREWS: it almost sounds like youre saying I have a point. Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Were speaking with writers Jimi Izrael, Helena Andrews, and Hill Harper. Were talking about love. I thought that's what were talking about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Trying to. Well, hold on, let me read another - let me read another page - another paragraph from Jimis book. Because Jimi, you wrote the book, so you cant walk away from whats in the book. And whats there, the book, as you say, the issue is

Mr. IZRAEL: (unintelligible) in the book.

MARTIN: But you also say in the book that sexual conquest has become insignificant and irrelevant. Nowadays, brothers are looking for wife material. Some sisters want you to spend some bread to earn the elusive Im not going to read this - free

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: half. It rhymes with half.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That give you rights to her goodies, but you say that at the end of the day, the point of this is that you say that there are men out here who are looking for substantive relationships; that the stereotype that black men are just on the hunt is not true, but that

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, its not.

MARTIN: Elaborate.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, look. I mean, by the time I was 26, I was ready to settle down. I was ready to settle down before that. I mean, I had been around the world ya ya ya, and I really wanted somebody to come home to. And thats when I - I did get married at 26, the first time. And I thought we were on the same page. I thought we were on the same team. As it turns out, not only we were not on the same page, we werent in the same library, we werent even reading the same book. We werent in the same league, you know? And as a young man, you know, I wasnt smart enough to know some stuff I know now. And thats why there is the Denzel Principle, because I wrote I'm writing all this in hindsight. Its just my voice, Michel, you know.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. IZRAEL: It doesn't know anything particular, but this is what I know.

MARTIN: How does - what about the fact that there are three times as many black men married to white women as the reverse?

Mr. IZRAEL: I dont - you know what that suggests to me? That suggests to me that black men couldnt possibly be as messed up as black women think we are. So sometimes, sister, it may it just might be you. You know what I mean?

Ms. ANDREWS: But why, why when black women want to discuss their lives or what theyre seeing in terms of the dating scene that is immediately, you know, up with black women, immediately means down with the black men. I dont I...

Mr. IZRAEL: That is...

Ms. ANDREWS: me and my friends dont get together and have these waiting to tell moments is when all women want to do is tear apart black men. I dont see that and I havent seen that within my friend group.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know

Ms. ANDREWS: I have had friends who say I have found this good black man, but you know what? He found five other good black women. How about that? And that is what we see, I think, often, especially when we talk about, like, certain communities, like in LA, New York, D.C., Chicago, even Atlanta, where there are a lot of women who are finding these men. Theyre not saying the men dont exist. Theyre saying there are fewer of them that they would want. And we always talk about black women and black women arent getting married. What about black men? What are the numbers on black men? Because neither you or Hill are married, to my knowledge.

MARTIN: Hill, whats your take on this? As Helena pointed out, youre not married?

Mr. HARPER: No, no, not yet, you know. I plan to be married. I want to have a family and all that. And I chronicle you know, I chronicle my journey of dating in the book. So the relationships, no matter who you are, what you are, where youre from, what race, or whatever, arent easy.

MARTIN: Right.

Mr. HARPER: Theyre difficult, right? And then there is a lot of cultural stuff, you know, that comes along with it, certainly within our community. And The Conversation my title The Conversation came out of the fact that I really started to find when I was doing the research that there are three levels of The Conversation. First, the conversation with ourselves; second, the conversation with partners, potential partners; and third, the conversation with friends, family, community, the greater community. And what happens is we often send our representatives to all three levels. And the most dangerous place we send it is first with ourselves, when we actually look in the mirror and take that assessment.

This issue of basically sending your representative, coming up with something in your mind that is not necessarily truly who you are and what you want to see out of your life, but what either you've been told to want, what you think you should want or how you are going to protect your heart, rather than saying, you know what, Im going to strip all that away, do whatever work I need to do to get it raw, clean and say what do I want out of my life and what do I want my partner to do with me? How do I build a foundation of love and relationship and then move forward?

MARTIN: We need to take a short break, but when we come back, well have more with Jimi Izrael, Helena Andrews, and Hill Harper. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News, Im Michel Martin.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Im Michel Martin and youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Were looking ahead to Valentines Day and we are talking about love relationships, particularly in the African-American community. Were asking two key questions: Is there a particular problem in relationships, intimate relationships, between African-American men and women? And were asking: what should happen next? What should we do about that?

To have that conversation, weve gone to three writers whove written about this issue. Theyve written three attention-getting books. One is about to be published, but is already getting a lot of attention. Its written by Helena Andrews. Her book, which is coming out in June, is called, I apologize parents, Bitch Is The New Black.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: She is here with us in our Washington, D.C. bureau. Also with us, Jimi Izrael, a freelance writer and TELL ME MORE regular. His book - his new book is called The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Cant Find Good Black Men and he joined us from WCPN in Ohio. Hill Harper is the author, among other books, of The Conversation. He is with us from Culver City, California.

So, Jimi, you take a stab at kind of a broader sociological context that were having these conversations in. You talk about slavery. I know that youre a deep student of American Studies. You know, youre entitled to your opinion, of course, as is everyone, but Im just interested in your sense of how kind of larger social forces play into this or you think this is solely a matter of your own attitudes, beliefs, and whatever?

Mr. IZRAEL: Respectfully, I take your point that Im a student of American this, that, or a (unintelligible) but, you know, The Denzel Principle is about me. You know, Im not writing about black relationships so much as I am writing about my experience, you know. And my experience didnt happen in a vacuum. It happened in the wilds of America. So, I - I hope my book doesnt pretend to offer easy answers. There are some answers there, but I dont know that my book has those kinds of answers.

MARTIN: Well, lets talk about that though. Lets use the time we have left to talk about what you would like to see happen next. Youre saying that there are no easy answers, but it is prescriptive in that sense, in the sense that youre saying that black women get your heads together. So, what exactly would you like black women to do?

Mr. IZRAEL: Heres what I will like. I think all three of us agree, there needs to be more communication. I think if we were lot more interested in listening to each other, I think we would be better off, because I think black men have some of the same emotions that black women have and thats why I wrote the book - so that we could see that.

MARTIN: You know, its interesting because Helenas kind of claimed her -forgive me, parents bitchiness, if you will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Shes kind of taken ownership of it, but I dont know that I feel theres an undercurrent hostility in your book, and I understand, Jimi, some of the roots of it that youve written about it in other places, about some of the things that you experienced in your young life that may have formed some of the beliefs that you have - particularly on your blog, "The Hardline." So, I guess, I dont - you dont feel that theres hostility in this?

Mr. IZRAEL: Not at all, not at all. I think its a different language. I mean, Hill uses his language. His language - I respect Hill - is a little more conciliatory, you know, and kind of more interested in kind of a warm touchy-feely moment, you know. The Conversation is a good book, bro. I mean, I want you to sign my copy, but The Denzel Principle is a voice from the barbershop.

MARTIN: Helena, what about you? What would you like to see happen?

Ms. ANDREWS: I think its interesting that Jimi described Hills language as conciliatory. I mean, when we talk about conversations, isnt that what a conversation is? You want to talk and you want to - you want to come from that place, let me understand your position, and understand mine. If you talk about the somewhat incendiary language that men may use, that women may use in their two camps, right, that might not necessarily be very conciliatory, and that wont start a conversation.

Everyone wants somebody whos perfect for them and you want them to like some of those flaws, and you want to work on some of those flaws as well, just so that you can live with yourself. Me being single and me writing the book was about a journey through my life. Yes, there are chapters where Im like, you know what? Im mad, and this and this and this. And there's chapters, where Im like, you know what? This is me. This is my life. This is my growing up. This is how I deal with this issue, and thats okay. And you learn everything about that woman, and I totally admit to the fact that there are times where youll go - youll see me down the street and youll think oh, this chick, like seriously. But, you know, theres more to me. And you cant just assume you know something about someone because of that stereotype. Black men do and black women do it.

MARTIN: This is interesting. Hill, what are you hearing? What Im hearing - I started out hearing anger on both sides and what Im hearing now is a plea for acceptance and a desire for people to look beyond sort of the exterior mask. What are you hearing? And what would you like to see happen next?

Mr. HARPER: Obviously, were all saying that communication will, but part of that has to do with us really being willing to honestly communicate because just talking about it or talking over each other or, you know, yelling or blaming, thats not real communication. Thats just speech. And the question is, are sisters going to be willing to take the B word and put that down, put that armor down, and that protection down? And are brothers going to be willing to man up, to actually be men, and say, you know what? I want to build a life with a partner. I want to actually be a man, be a father, be a husband, and do that work, and actually build a life that looks like that and then we can actually start having an honest conversation about how we can get there as partners.

MARTIN: Well, Happy Valentines Day to all of you. I hope you get every chocolate you want.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance writer and TELL ME MORE regular. His new book is called The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Cant Find Good Black Men. He joined us from WCPN in Ohio. Hill Harper is the author of The Conversation. He joined us from our studios in Culver City, California. And Helena Andrews is a journalist who has written for Political and The Root. Her new book, which is coming out in June, is called "The B Word Is The New Black."

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: She joined us here in Washington, D.C. Thank you all so much for being with us. Happy Valentines Day.

Mr. HARPER: Happy Valentines Day.

Ms. ANDREWS: Happy Valentines Day.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yep, yep.

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