The Problem with Black Men Accusing Their Women of Being “Crazy”
Today’s post is a Guest Post from a good friend of mine, Ayanna Abrams, Psy. D. She graduated from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and is completing a postdoctoral fellowship as a Psychotherapist at Emory University Student Counseling Ctr. I thought this would be a good way to present this post. I had long thought about writing an article after reading this article from Yashar Ali on Huffington Post, titled, A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not “Crazy”. I didn’t agree with this article, I thought he was trying too hard. I thought it would be better presented from a woman. Anyway, please enjoy today’s guest post. I’ll see you guys in the New Year!
I first want to begin this guest post by thanking Dr. J for the opportunity to speak about a particular area of interest for me in my clinical work: relationships within the black community, and particularly, the sociohistorical and political influences that continue to have an impact on the ways in which we, as a community, see one another and therefore, interact and develop meaningful relationships. When asked to contribute to this blog, I was initially surprised that I would be thought of, but I’m excited to offer a small snippet of what I see, what I do, and to be able to have an open and honest dialogue about the impact of language on our perceptions and behaviors.
I pretty regularly have conversations with friends and colleagues about relationship happenings, whether in my own, in theirs, in friends’, and what we see with our clients and in the media, and there’s much overlap. Probably too much. Who and what we have as relationship role models is in many cases, lacking, and has a direct impact on how we are in relationships, as well as how we expect others to be when in relationships with us. What I’ll write about today holds importance for any race/ethnicity, but has been specifically been more detrimental to black relationships for well known reasons of racism and sexism that are too much to really delve into today.
So…“crazy.” This is a word that gets thrown around pretty often, and has a number of different meanings, positive and negative, depending on the context. For the purpose of this post, we’ll assume that the use is negative. First of all, crazy literally means, “full of cracks or flaws; unsound; mentally deranged, demented; insane, etc.” *Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Dictionary.com.* Clinically, the word is not even utilized, because of its derogatory nature and complete inaccuracy when used to describe a person’s character. What I find problematic with its use in relationships, and its use by black men towards black women, is that it is:
1) A false accusation and label that has been used to define, determine and limit the character of a black woman who asserts her needs in any given relationship, be that romantic, professional, familial, etc.
2) Oftentimes a blanket and loosely based reaction to women holding men accountable for actions that are inconsiderate, offensive, invalidating, etc.
3) Undermining and gives chance to ignore his role in what has led her to do or say something “crazy.” It’s easier to point the finger at others, rather than keep the focus on and take responsibility for your own actions.
4) Consciously and unconsciously used to manipulate women into confusion about what is acceptable, to the point where she’s now second-guessing herself and accepting bad behavior as normal. How many times have you or have you known a female friend to ask, “Am I crazy, though? Is this just me?”
5) In fact, counter-productive to RESOLVING the issue, which lies at the heart of the problem, right? Think back to a time when you either called a black woman crazy or watched the scenario go down when someone you know did that…it’s kind of akin to saying “You need to calm down,” right? When’s the last time that’s actually worked for you?
Bold labeling in any relationship is problematic, because it makes a generalization about a specific problem and cannot be taken back. The impact of words used against us cannot and should not be forgotten, especially when our reaction to these words is useful information for how we set boundaries. In addition to this, there are many more implications when peers from within our already mis-labeled community label us in hurtful ways. For many black women, these labels become internalized and can lead to a number of psychological problems and relationship misconceptions and dysfunction. The waters under the current functioning of black relationships are already muddy, and reactively using language to divert from problems within your relationship, without diligent attention, is not only insensitive in the moment, but devastating over time.
Black women have enough myths perpetuated by the majority, and to have a black man use this power against them is unacceptable and damaging. The impact of labeling does not stay with the woman who you accuse, but trickles into the remainder of your relationship and her other relationships, in which she now begins to question herself and her right to be treated a certain way. It encourages her not to express herself, to take what is laid before her without challenge, and to de-value herself as you have clearly demonstrated for her. If you, her partner, view her as such, what reason is there for her to believe that others will view her any differently? That she can BE any different? Men can “crazify,” women at any given point during an interaction, and the ease with which certain wounding language is used makes it normalized and believable.
The other side of the coin is, let’s face it, men AND women in relationships can frequently engage in really unhealthy behaviors when they do not get what they want or feel they deserve from a partner. I do not want to put out the perception that not calling women “crazy,” means that unacceptable behavior should be overlooked for fear of not perpetuating a stereotype and uplifting the black community. Actions like damage to property, stalking, harassment of you or others close to you (or thought to be close to you), manipulation of any sort; these behaviors are not healthy in any relationship, and before leaving her with the words, “You’re crazy,” this might be a chance to a) remove yourself from a situation that is harmful to both of you, or b) decide to work through what the issues may be, with BOTH partners being accountable for what has led to this moment. She did not get to this point on her own; trust me. And whether that is because of you or someone else, there is a better way to acknowledge this. Honestly, if you cannot think of a better way to resolve an issue than to call her names, then maybe this is not the relationship for you. But, in many cases, diversion to what you may deem as her problematic thought processes will work, and allow you the flexibility to act how you want.
It might be time to take a deeper look at yourself and your relationship patterns if you continue to engage with the “crazy,” woman or women. We all know a man, and some of you may be a man, who complains about it, but, in fact, ENJOYS the “crazy.” …hence reinforcing it. There’s the phenomenon that the main men who complain about “crazy,” women seem to always be in a relationship with one, right? The “crazy” chick is a chick who provides almost non-stop attention and ego-boosting potential, so there’s a secondary gain for him.
As a psychotherapist, I also want to point out the powerful negative stigma associated with the word “crazy,” and how shaming it has been for many individuals, particularly in the black community, in seeking out mental health services because of the connotation that it holds. Now, I’ve seen the clinically “deranged, unstable and unsound,” individual, and the black woman before you, who may be asking for more than you are willing to provide her, is far from that. Calling her “crazy,” leaves her more damaged than when you entered a relationship with her, whether either partner recognizes this.
I encourage anyone reading this post to retreat from destructive labels, open up communication within your relationships and consider the larger context and impact of your words.
– Ayanna Abrams, Psy. D.