What JAY-Z's "4:44" teaches me about Black love and forgiveness
I love Black men, but forgiveness has been historically absent from my relationships with many of them.
4:44 was originally a turnoff for me — I had been an admitted JAY-Z hater for a long time, since high school. And while I don’t know JAY-Z personally, when his representatives released a statement essentially saying the rapper would not stop calling women “bitches” despite becoming a father to a Black girl (Blue Ivy), I lost respect for him.
Now at this point, I’m sure some readers will have dismissed my standpoint. I probably lost all the hardcore JAY-Z fans when the first sentence didn’t refer to him as the GOAT.
But here’s why you should read this entire essay: The tumultuous relationship between Black men and Black women will continue to harm our children unless, and until, we are willing to resolve these complicated narratives.
Until recently, my anger and traumatic abandonment prevented me from forgiving my father. A myriad of boys and men broke my heart. With each failed relationship, I grew more unwilling to reconcile. (But let it be known that hypermasculinity-fueled justifications for infidelity are not unique to Black men.)
Despite these struggles, I love Black men because I recognize that they are not a monolith. I love Black men because I love Blackness. I love Black men because they are worth my love. I love Black men because I am raising one.
I am the mother of a Black boy. It is a beautiful responsibility, but it is also absolutely terrifying.
How do I raise a child who respects and protects Black women? Did JAY-Z’s mother know what kind of man she was raising? Did any of the mothers of my male heroes (Malcolm X, Hannibal of Carthage, Carter G. Woodson) know the type of men they were raising? I wonder how my son feels about himself. One of the most self-reflective lines on 4:44 was when JAY-Z spoke to himself on “Kill JAY-Z” in a Michael Jackson “Man in the Mirror” kind of way:
I know some people argue that the entire infidelity issue was constructed for album sales, but regardless, it’s a necessary discussion. Distrust between Black men and Black women largely stems from slavery. Social services promote distrust and separation between Black men and women by forcing women to distance themselves from men in order to receive government support.
Regardless of whether you think Lemonade was fact or fiction, the tenants of the conflict between Beyoncé and her husband offer up a narrative about Black love that is multidimensional, and difficult, and real, and deep-seated in the legacy of anti-Blackness.
In addition to the stark parallels it draws regarding Black love, 4:44 is also a subtle nod to the historically unrecognized leadership of Black women. Beyoncé’s Lemonade was an unprecedented juxtaposition of the political and the personal.
The inspiration JAY-Z garnered from Beyoncé’s album is undeniable, and it reflects the ways Black women have led, sustained, and documented civil rights movements throughout history.
4:44 is not a follow up to Lemonade. From my perspective, it is an invitation for Black men to confront the ways that their social conditioning (via white supremacy) has impacted Black women. 4:44 demands that Black men call each other out and hold each other up. 4:44 is a reminder that Black men can be vulnerable, and we all can change.