June 14 2024

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Review: ‘The Conversation’

4 min read

‘CSI: NY’ star Hill Harper delves into relationships between Black men and women and takes a good, hard look at his own relationships in this groundbreaking new book.

Title: The Conversation

Author: Hill Harper

Release Date: September 8th, 2009

Publisher: Gotham

ISBN: 978-1-592-40475-9

Price: $20.00

CSI: New York star Hill Harper‘s day job might be playing Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on the second CSI: Crime Scene Investigation spin-off, but the actor, who has two degrees from Harvard and counts President Barack Obama as a good friend, is also a best-selling author. His previous two books, Letters to a Young Brother and Letters to a Young Sister, reached out to African American youth, offering advice and encouragement for navigating the sometimes tricky waters of school, employment, financial burdens and the opposite sex. In his third offering, Harper turns his eye to adults, specifically romantic relationships between Black men and women. Harper sees a huge division between the sexes, particularly among African Americans, and attempts to bridge that gap with this honest and at times raw look at where Black men and women go wrong in the way they relate to each other… and offers up solutions for breaking down the walls between the sexes.

What makes Harper’s book unique is that he draws from his own personal experience. Though he does rely on conversations and thoughts from people he knows (in the form of sections entitled “Black Men Speak” and “Sisters’ Soiree Chat”), Harper takes a microscope to his own dating life as well, questioning why he himself is still single and laying bare some mistakes he’s made. In the opening chapter of the book, Harper attends the 50th wedding anniversary party for parents of a friend’s wife and meets a woman named Nichole at the gathering. A teacher based in DC and a single mom, Nichole and Harper really hit it off, but when he returned to L.A. it took Harper a month to call her. When he finally did, he found the connection they had shared was totally strained, but rather than giving up, Harper pressed on and decided to see if they could make it work, despite the odds against them.

Though Harper’s book certainly has advice that is universal, it is geared towards African-American men and women. Harper points out the grim statistics for African American families: in 2006, fewer than 33% of all African American children were being raised in two parent households… a 51% decline from forty years earlier. Harper points out that when looking at Black families, the African American legacy, which is filled with centuries of slavery and oppression, can’t be ignored. Harper finds that the fact that African Americans were literally denied the right to marry and raise their own children under slavery laws has contributed to the insecurity and fragility of many Black relationships today.

Harper tackles many of the very modern problems facing African American couples by laying out perceptions and misconceptions each sex has about the other. An early chapter is devoted to the vocalization of these beliefs, from the way many Black men claim Black women are angry, sexually repressed and give off the air of not needing a man. Black men, in the eyes of many black women, are lazy, irresponsible and unfaithful. Though familiar claims, Harper stresses the importance of thinking positively, and not making assumptions based on negative stereotypes.

In the hopes of getting to the heart of the problem and finding the solution, Harper opens a dialogue, talking to both men and women to get at their real feelings about relationships and the opposite sex… including some things that the other sex might have a hard time hearing. Black men speak frankly about what makes one woman “the one” while another is not. Black women talk about the reasons why seeing a black man dating a woman of a different race makes them so angry, even as the reverse doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Relationships are tricky business, but Harper has the right approach in his desire to get men and women talking to each other, rather than just complaining and making assumptions about the other sex. How can the sexes hope to bridge the gap between them if they won’t even talk to each other? Harper has penned an accessible, appealing book that opens the door for and begins the conversation between Black men and women, paving the way for them to communicate openly about the issues they have with one another.

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