Dr. Julia Hare, what an amazing life you lead! Among your many blessings, none could be greater than marrying the man you fell in love with as a teenager and seeing that love endure. Having just celebrated your fiftieth wedding anniversary, what do you consider the most important thing you've learned about relationships?
That it's important to compromise, learn to disagree constructively, and resist with all your might being confrontational or trying to get back at your mate. When challenges arise, we must communicate gently and lovingly. This builds intimacy and will help two people get through anything together. Cutting off discussion, slamming doors, resorting to the silent treatment, threatening to leave-these destroy love. It's also important to remain an individual and have your own life, which keeps a relationship interesting and thrilling.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see us making in our partnerships?
Not validating each other. Being competitive. Often we are combative because we haven't examined the societal forces that have pushed us toward mistrust. Our collective Black experience has forced us onto a social tightrope. Some sisters unreasonably demand material things from Black men, who are still the last hired and first fired, or we compare them with the affluent White men we work with-the very ones who don't care to hire Black males, but who we see shower their wives with bling. A big mistake middle-class Black women make is overlooking the value and spiritual qualities of blue-collar brothers. Many are loving, smart, are good fathers and would never abuse a woman.
Sex. I hear more and more women say they're just too tired to keep it hot. Any recommendations?
Women can't juggle careers, kids and chores and keep it hot in bed. Get that man to help out: "Honey, please bathe the kids and tuck them in while I hurry and clean up the kitchen so we can cuddle." "Baby, there's a little dust on the floor. Please run the vacuum. When I see those muscles rippling, it gets me ready." It will become his habit. Soon he'll be running through the house with brooms, mops and dust rags, breaking his neck to help.
Any advice for women going through menopause who've lost interest in sex or find it painful?
You go to the doctor for high blood pressure and arthritis. Get some medication, or go to the health-food store. There are remedies that will make you feel like 16 again. You still work, travel and shop, so why stop having sex? Now you don't have to worry about pregnancy. Go on and reinvent yourself. Tina Turner did it publicly; you can do it in the bedroom.
How do we encourage our men to speak more openly about their feelings?
Men aren't as verbal as women, and Black males are often shut down by insensitive or racist teachers and harsh parents, as they were historically by parents trying to protect them from a punitive system. But if you sisters want your man to talk to you, you've got to let him get a word in edgewise. He may be silent because he feels that discussions with you are verbal combat. Be gentle. Listen to and respect his ideas and suggestions. Encourage him. Have a little mercy, a wee bit more patience.
So rather than saying, "We've been driving around in damn circles for an hour. Why don't you ask for directions?" Try something like "Sweetie, if you'll pull into that gas station over there, I'll check out how to get to Main Street." Is that good?
Yes, that's it!
You and Nathan Hare have been in the vanguard. Decades ago you sounded the alarm that Black men were an endangered species and that our relationships were in deep crisis.
Today the Black male is more endangered than ever, and 30 years ago when we said that our least-understood critical issue was Black male- female conflict, scholars accused us of not being political or militant enough-when keeping our families together is the most political thing we can do. Strengthening our partnerships must be at the very top of our agenda. A strong relationship strengthens you, your mate, your family and the community. It is the basis for combating the crises among our men, as well as racism and disparities in every arena.
Infidelity divides couples, and a betrayal is difficult to forgive.
A scripture comes to mind: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Black people are the most forgiving on the planet, except of one another. We have forgiven the most hard-hearted segregationists, like Alabama governor George Wallace. Black folks returned him to office but complained when Marion Barry got a second chance as mayor of Washington, D.C. We've forgiven Bill Clinton for his infidelity, but Jesse Jackson hasn't been so lucky. We can never heal or be trusting in any future relationship until we learn forgiveness. Black men may try to compensate for their lack of social potency, which they are denied, by overemphasizing their sexual potency.
How do we heal and learn to trust again?
Couples should seek therapy or pastoral counseling so they learn what initiated the infidelity. Now, if he's a serial polygamist or a womanizing recidivist, run! Or is this a man who's mad with his mother or who may have seen her with too many men? Is he emulating his father who was a player? Without heaping blame on ourselves, we must ask honestly if we contributed: Did I pull away, seeking something I wasn't getting from him? Did he need something I wasn't giving? You can't rush or demand forgiveness; anger and feelings of betrayal must run their course. You'll probably never forget the affair, the way you don't forget a death in the family, but if you stay together and you're angry all the time, you hurt yourself and the relationship further. People make mistakes. We can get through infidelity, heal and have a more honest and intimate relationship.
How can we best support our man during a crisis like job loss?
You just need common sense. Let him know that you weren't attracted to him because of his job, that jobs come and go but your love is here to stay. Help him to stay positive, think creatively, and see that change brings opportunity. This may be the time to encourage him to start the business he's been dreaming about.
What is it you want for African-Americans?
I want for us the same rights that most people here enjoy, and nothing more than we deserve and are owed. I want us to become an independent, self-sustaining people and to challenge the system that will spend enormously to incarcerate our men, devastating our families, but not to help Black men recover from the devastation caused primarily by the system. I want to see an African-American in the White House, a Black woman on the Supreme Court and in the Senate, Black children-all the nation's children-have quality education and a curriculum that includes the contributions African-Americans and other groups have made to the world.
William Bennett's statement that aborting Black babies is a sure way to reduce crime in the nation was stunning. I was shocked that Black women didn't express our outrage more vociferously and publicly, and that we let Bennett keep his job on the airwaves.
I'm often surprised and appalled at how the queens of the universe-descendants of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, fearless journalist and antilynching activist Ida B. Wells Barnett, Mississippi sharecropper and political organizer Fannie Lou Hamer-have become silent and voiceless, especially those with access to microphones. Many Black women are struggling to raise children by themselves with no money, no decent housing or health insurance. Deltas, AKAs, Zetas, Links, Jack and Jill mothers, coalition and club women, this is your responsibility. You let our children down when you don't speak up. You're going to be either the thermometer or the thermostat. The thermometer measures the temperature, the thermostat sets it. Our tax dollars are sent overseas, while right here our people suffer and the crisis worsens, particularly among the many poor African-Americans who had to evacuate the Gulf Coast region.
I have been traveling to Louisiana as part of the state's and the city of New Orleans's recovery commissions, and the destruction is graver and vaster than any television camera can possibly capture. There's no way for poor displaced people or for New Orleans to recover without major congressional intervention. It's many months after the storms, and only about nine of the 116 schools in Orleans Parish have reopened. Partisan politics are at work here-Republicans holding the purse strings in Washington; Democrats leading the state and local government in Louisiana; and poor Black folks, children of the people whose free labor created D.C., New Orleans and the nation's wealth, dispersed and abandoned. It's a crime, a critical issue that Black ministers and imams should organize their congregations to take on congressionally.
Yes! Our churches are the only institutions that we truly own. Every service that we seek, we should find there; everything we're fighting for, we should organize there, but many of our pastors are afraid to take on issues because they fear they may not be appointed to the next blue-ribbon commission.
And not get government money for their projects and programs. What are your thoughts about megachurches and about those ministers who amass tremendous personal wealth, contributed primarily by Black women, while the legions of poor Black people are growing?
Black women have forgotten that the pastor is the employee. We need to say, "This is the direction in which we wish to take the church. Are you coming with us?" We've given churches so much of our money, sometimes even mortgaging our homes, and now we're handing over our checking-account numbers so money can be regularly deducted. On the street, men who treat women like that are called pimps. Well, some of these ministers are really ecclesiastical pimps. A megachurch has to do megawork for the congregation and the community. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is a model. Today, through boycotts and letter-writing campaigns, our congregations can stop the media from perpetuating Black stereotypes, put an end to the violent, degrading lyrics and images foisted on our young, even bring banks and corporations to their knees. We can ensure that for whatever percentage of a company's sales come from Black consumers, an equal percentage of us are in senior management and board positions. Personally, professionally and as a community we have to love and value ourselves, organize, and teach others to respect us. When all members of our society work together, we all win.
Note to Readers from Susan Taylor: From time to time I will continue to do interviews with people who have great insight and clarity about the issues concerning us. In the Spirit will return as an essay with the March issue, appearing on the last page of the magazine.
Credit: Bill Cardoni
With her husband, Dr. Nathan Hare, in 2003
At one of her many lectures, Dr. Hare talks up close and personal to women in the audience about matters close to their heart.
Dr. Hare during her 1979-80 stint as a broadcaster at radio station KSFO in San Francisco.