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A SALUTE TO BLACK WOMEN

Love black women.

I love the walk that sasses a man's nosy eyes, the talk that laces language with either jalapeno or honey as the situation requires. I love the hands that sift through unruly hair at braiding time and sit hard on hips at get-somebody-told time. I love the eyes that face the horizon like it owes them something.

I love the way they deal with their trying times.

In many ways, those times spring from the same sources as women's in general -- sexism, child care, abusive relationships. Yet, black women also have a source of trial unique unto them. Meaning, black men. Which often -- not always, but often -- also means an empty swagger, a fatherless son, a broken promise, an hour of visiting time at the county jail. And funeral arrangements.

I don't know how they do it. Some days, I don't even know why.

So I love black women.

It seemed a good thing to say as they mass for the Million Woman March on Saturday in Philadelphia. A thing I had to say after previewing a videotape that will be sold at the march and, afterward, by mail order (call 305-789-6649 or 1-800-291-5861 for information). "Sister, I'm Sorry" features actors Michael Beach ("ER") and Blair Underwood ("High Incident"), among others, "standing in the gap" as one of them puts it, making apologies for the sins of their brothers. Those scenes are intercut with black women recalling passages of rape, abuse, abortion and abandonment -- the sense of having been forsaken by their men.

Tears tumble, voices crack and at the end, awkward embraces are made. You feel something moving and wish it could keep moving until it shakes 30 million people who have slept with estrangement for too long.

I love black women. Black men don't say that often enough.

I can give you chapter and verse on the rift between us, the reasons some black men act That Way. I can talk about emasculation by the system, and abandonment by an economy whose base shifted from strong backs and grimy hands to power ties and computer savvy. I can quote experts on what it does to a man's heart and will when he is unable to provide.

But I'd rather quote the Four Tops: "Can't you see, while you're picking on society, that the leaves on your family tree are begging you to come on home?"

Meaning that a man brings more into a family than a paycheck. Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes pride convinces a forgetful man that the only way out is to give up the responsibilities of husband and father for the games of the player. Too cold to be warmed, too remote to be touched, too hard to be hurt.

Black people have always had this ability, this need, to subvert the negative, to find good in bad. The '90s have afforded us no sadder sight than fatherless young rappers who lift praises to the pimp mentality, then send their earnings home to mothers who wait alone.

That image conjures another from more than 130 years ago. It is of newly freed black women and men writing letters, placing ads, walking across states, trying to get back to one another after having been sold away. A journalist in North Carolina encountered a footsore black man who had hiked 600 miles in search of his lady.

Two images. Black men escaping from, black men rushing to. And you wonder, perhaps, which one is truth and which just a mask we have worn so long we forget how to take it off.

I love black women. Because they have always known.

Miami Herald

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