On Agency, #Jayz444, #443chat, & a Woman’s Burden

I’m a Jay-Z fan. I will argue anyone nine ways til’ Sunday about why the Black Album is one of the greatest albums ever made—not greatest rap, not greatest hip hop, but actual factual greatest albums ever. Before 4:44 dropped, I found myself debating the same concepts across differing communities… For some reason, marriage and loyalty were topics of discussion in two different GroupMe spaces within the same 24-hour time span: One a community for Black singles and another a community for people interested in sex positivity and minimizing sex shaming.

And somehow across groups, space, time, and now since the release of 4:44 I’m finding myself screaming the same story about the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing not coming down on the person someone cheats with as much as it does the person who’s committed. Follow me, here, please? What I’m about to say has been said before. It’s MYE (sic) opinion and mine alone (so don’t be yelling as if Cite A Sista is a monolithic subcommunity), but it follows a long history and tradition of thought logic by women before me. Black feminists have said it. My mother has said it. My friends have heard it somewhere. I’ve read it, repeated it, and here I am rehashing it again:

No one owes monogamy to a relationship but the two people in the committed monogamous relationship. Period.

Now let me be clear– I’m speaking here specifically about Black on Black relationships and cis-het companionship. Why? Because those are the relationships I know intimately and because I have no business talking about how queer folks love. That said, I’m not rationalizing cheating. This is not about “#HoesStayWinning.” And this certainly isn’t a hot take on Jay-Z and Bey or Blac Chyna and her ex, per se. But Jay does provide an interesting example of why I say and feel no one outside of your commitment owes you–

“Yeah, I’ll f*ck up a good thing if you let me / Let me alone, Becky / A man that don’t take care his family can’t be rich / I’ll watch Godfather, I miss that whole sh*t” -Jay-Z, 4:44

Jay is being praised for this album. Black men everywhere are reaching out to say sorry to former lovers. People online are writing heada*s articles showing appreciation for the fact that a cis-het Black man is baring his soul nevermind the fact that queer black artists have shown how possible this is forever, admitting he’s wrong, apologizing, and committing to being a better spouse and father. And the subtext here, for me, is still: Jay-Z wants other women to let him be rather than make a conscious decision to say no.

The word for the day kids is Agency. A-G-E-N-C-Y. 

When we as Black women, and men themselves (hi, Jay), reduce Black men to beings who cannot say no–to these hypersexual individuals who need not be tempted rather than exert their right to walk away, we infantilize them and minimize their agency and decision-making ability in the process.

Jay-Z made a choice.

Men who cheat make a choice.

Deciding to step out, whether “tempted” or not is a decision.

This same reduction is done to Black women who are complicit in the affair (or in Jay-Z’s case Becky of a race unknown?) when we pretend as if people outside the structure and confines of a marriage owe monogamy, trust, and honesty to people within them. Becky doesn’t owe Bey (sorry, fight me). The other woman doesn’t owe a wife. The idea of whether it’s right or wrong to be with a person that is married or committed is a moral one and I’m not in the business of making moral judgments because I’m probably the least judgmental person half the folks in my life know… But I write all of this to say that it’s high time we start holding Black men accountable for being full-grown responsible human beings.

I’ll never forget the day one of my friends pointed out how “we love our sons and raise our daughters”. This is exactly why a man old enough to babysit Beyonce when she was a child could go on record and admit she matured faster than him.

Dear Black Women: if we love and are committed to Black men we have to hold them responsible. Let’s stop making this about being woman to woman, about she should have known better, and many other countless phrases that pop up when we learn about and discuss infidelity.

Dear Black Men: make a choice, sit with it, and be real. Your prefrontal cortex is fully developed–the idea that someone made you do it (at least in my life) ends here.


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