I’ve never envied Beyonce’s and Jay Z’s relationship…until now.

Normally, I’m not one to look to anyone’s relationship as depicted though social and entertainment media and be consumed by #RelationshipGoals. I understand that when we view relationships through these lenses, we view depictions, images that the individuals in the relationship allow or want us to see. Rarely are those outside of any relationship privy to what goes on behind closed doors – the arguments, compromise, negotiation, infidelity, forgiveness, etc. Still, I’m no relationship skeptic and enjoy representations of beautiful relationships, even if I know that those representations are partial and flawed.

One relationship that fans, stans and critics have examined through media representations is that of the power couple, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter (or Knowles-Cater?) and Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. The public has watched their relationship blossom since the 2002 release of “03 Bonnie and Clyde” and, with the February 1, 2017 announcement that they are expecting twins, arrive at a place where many are claiming the Carters as the epitome of #RelationshipGoals. I’m going to count myself among the “many” but not in the ways that focus on the Carters as the model for all relationships or even my own. But there is something we can learn from their relationship, specifically the value of doing one’s own emotional labor. Let me explain.

In “03 Bonnie and Clyde”, Jay Z raps that all he needs in his life of sin is his girlfriend, Beyoncé. Prior to dating and marrying Mrs. Carter, Jay Z was linked to a number of women. One of those women, Karrine Steffans, has been very vocal about her 3-minute interaction with him on the set of a video shoot in 2000. She’s claimed to be one of his “Becky(s) with the good hair.”  Jay Z also dated R&B singer Blu Cantrell and is no stranger to being connected to many women in the entertainment industry. He’s rumored to have briefly dated or had sex with a number of other celebrities and models. However, what is most striking about the connection of the “03 Bonnie and Clyde” track to the Carters’ relationship approximately 14 years later is the fact that Jay Z seems to have done the work he promised he’d do in the initial collaboration between the two. He rapped:

“The problem is, you dudes treat the one that you lovin
with the same respect that you treat the one that you humpin
Now they ’bout nothin – if ever you mad about somethin
It won’t be that; oh no it won’t be that
I don’t be at, places where we comfy at
With no be-atch; oh no you won’t see that
And no, I ain’t perfect – nobody walkin this earth’s surface is
But girlfriend, work with the kid”

Relationships are complicated. Absolutely. Yet, Jay Z’s ownership of his imperfections and request that Beyoncé “work with the kid” are admirable since it seems that he’s actually done the work. In the last 14 or so years, the Carters have endured cheating rumors (or confirmations) and divorce speculation. The infamous elevator attack and the 2016 release of Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade” (and subsequent [coincidental] social media postings by Rachel Roy and Rita Ora) fanned the fires of the rumors and speculation; however, in 2017, all of that seems to be behind the Carters.

In the first 2.5 months of the year, the Carters have announced the expansion of their family and have been seen out at a number of events, including the Grammys, Oscars, NBA All-Star Weekend, and most recently, the premiere of “Beauty and the Beast”. I’ve noticed something different about the Carters, specifically Jay Z, with each picture I’ve seen from these events. But it was the picture of the Carter family at the premiere of “Beauty and the Beast” that helped me to see what was different: Jay Z looks like he’s the happiest that he’s ever been, and it’s no secret that his wife, daughter and twins are the reason for that happiness.

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The Carter at the Beauty and the Beast premiere, March 5, 2017

His smile is as big and genuine as I’ve ever seen, and he has that same genuine, “I’m happy as fuck” smile in most of the other pictures I’ve seen of him this year.

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Jay Z and Blue Ivy at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, February 12, 2017

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The Carters at the Grey Goose/Weinstein Co. Pre-Oscars Party, February 26, 2017

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The Carters at the 2017 NBA All-Star game, February 19, 2017

In all of these pictures, Jay Z’s smile and adoring glances at Beyoncé and Blue suggest that he’s in a state of calm and peace in his life. Of course, I don’t personally know the Carters or have any first-hand knowledge of what has or has not taken place in their relationship.But I’m excited about the feeling I get from watching who Jay Z is, is becoming or has been (and is owning) for two main reasons: 1) Black men, masculinty, and emotional health/wellness and 2) the Black women who stand by/with/for Black men.

In a discussion with undergraduate Black students last week, a young Black man said something that resonated with me. He commented on how Black girls/women are socialized to explore their emotions and Black boys/men are not.  He then stated that sometimes he, as a young Black man, did not know how to or whether to express his emotions, particularly related to relationships with young Black women. He asked, How are we supposed to know what to do emotionally? We can’t be emotional with our boys and, although Black women say they want a man knows how to express his emotions, we can’t be emotional with Black women without the fear of being perceived as soft. Damn. I had no counter-argument, but I learned from him and the other young Black men in the room that they want safe, emotionally healthy, monogamous relationships. However, they are confused about the ways to initiate and sustain those relationships. And they are more confused about how to do the work of being emotionally healthy and responsive to their partners.

In that same discussion, the young Black women noted that they had relationships with young Black men who mirrored the “life of sin” where infidelity, disrespect and emotional immaturity were the norm. Some noted that they’d watched the women in their families stand by/with/for men who had not returned the same commitment. The men were described as emotionally immature and consumed only with their needs. I argue that these men were created by the scenarios mentioned by the young men in the room. It is possible that no one had taught the men how to be in a relationship; no one had taught them how to understand and explore their emotions.

I interpret Jay Z’s smile as confirming that he’s a grown ass man whose focus on his family and happiness supersedes his “life of sin”. Beyoncé “stuck with the kid” and he did the work. He’s done his emotional labor. Now they’re shining and he’s counting his blessings – all four of them.

One ain’t enough, I need two
That night I mix the Ace with the D’US’
Hit a triple-double in the Garden
Held up my left wrist like I’m Harden (swish)
Ran to the dealer, bought twin Mercedes
The European trucks for the twin babies
Don’t let me have a son, I’m a fool, haha (ooooh)
Send him to school in all my jewels, haha
I want a boy and girl to fight for truth
Whatever God give me, I’m cool
I’ve been winnin’ so long it’s like alchemy

-from “Shining” by DJ Khaled, feat. Beyonce and Jay Z

Am I making too much of pictures of Jay Z? Possibly. But if any of what I’ve written regarding him doing the emotional work needed for the betterment of himself and his family is true, the picture of the Carter’s at the premiere is definitely #RelationshipGoals. And hopefully, this is one goal to which we can all aspire, whether in a relationship or not.

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