Why intent matters but isn't enough
I make no presumptions about the sincerity of apologies crafted by the public relations teams of high profile men. They always include something about intent. We didn’t know, meant no harm, sorry she experienced it in that way. I like to think it’s mostly true, that it’s a rare man that intends harm. However, stating hindsight intentions has done little to move us forward. The bigger problem is lack of intention, no consideration at all, just being, how we all know we were trained. The awareness of a problem is clear. Insight about how to fix it is has stalled. In part because we don’t hear from the men after the apology. We don’t know what revisions were made. Men need that, I needed that. For inspiration and encouragement, to find ourselves in each other. I’m writing this for my brothers, who want to fix this. This is men’s work.
The self-care movement has made the same mistake as self-esteem. Feeling better is not the same as being better. People been telling me to take care of myself all week. I didn’t get a manicure. Instead, I confronted myself, asked for critical feedback, re-read some of my own book, and sought profound silence. True self-care includes self-assessment, honest reflection. Only the unfamiliar have been surprised with my transparency thus far. Perhaps, however, I was not clear enough that I had yet to cross the finish line, if there is such a thing. Nonetheless, this week nudged me towards a deeper dive, for which I am genuinely grateful.
Skipping ahead, the solution is clearer communication all around. But since this is uncharted territory before we can know what to express we need to spend more time developing analysis. Figuring out the why’s and how’s. At the risk of sounding a little pandery, we also have to listen to women more sincerely. They are having to scream because we haven’t heard the many whispers. As much time as I’ve spent the last few years learning more about men, I obviously still have a lot more to learn about women.
“I’ve always been a big flirt, since I was a teenager. And “flirt” is a fun word to use, but over the years my obvious love for women has earned me other less cute labels: womanizer, dog, pimp, player, and of course…ladies man.” (Cartman, 2015, p. 134) My book has been a nice reminder of what I’d learned about myself up to that point. But that was years ago, millions of experiences ago, and I’ve learned so much more since then. There are basic human learning principles, some of these lessons have surfaced before, there has been repetition. This week cemented some important lessons due to the power of the moment which is finally adding for men another learning principle- consequences.
‘Since a teenager’ means most of my life. I’m 38. I remember the shift, around high school, from a honors student chess team lame in middle school to realizing I had a little charm in high school. Women became my pathway out of relative obscurity. I was on homecoming court one year, the only guy that wasn’t an athlete- women was my sport. Then to a HBCU, in the social sciences. Then to Atlanta. Always playing Djembe, one of a few men in a room full of women dancing. I was never into cars, or shoes, or sports so I didn’t have as much to talk about with men. I liked poetry. “Sometimes I’d rather be around women than eat” (Cartman, 2015, p. 134). Women have been my salvation and my vice. Depending on who you talk to you will find my good, bad and ugly via women’s experiences with me. Coming back from Atlanta a few months ago in the airport I walked past a poster of a beach on an island and felt a brief sadness about not being able to afford a vacation. The next moment a random Black woman walked past and in an instant just seeing her face made me feel better. Without her the sadness would’ve eventually passed but she gave me a boost. Women are my vacation. And music. Women and music are medicine to me, in case anyone’s every wondered why I love female vocalists so much. “Men have lots of ways we escape. To not feel. Some men get obsessed with making or spending money. Some men work extra hard to seem tough, to thug their feelings out of them. I used to use women. Not sex so much, just the attention and affection of women.” (Cartman, 2015, p. 106)
I already knew my orientation towards women was influenced a lot by my father. His by his father. I'm trying to rewire a few generations of DNA, while bringing up other men as I climb, nature + nurture vs. me, I appreciate those of you that have been patient. It's made me more compassionate about other Black folk that are at least trying to fight generational battles. I remember dad telling me that men were built to be with multiple women. It has only recently occurred to me, as much as I’ve struggled with some of his ideas, that my relationships with women keep me connected to him. I’m aware of it when I’m drumming or doing Kwanzaa stuff or at community lectures, but it didn’t register that my dating life also keeps him alive, is a tribute to him.
“I was using women for attention. I don’t drink or smoke so I had to figure out something else to do when I got sad. Instead, I would spend time with a women that liked me. That usually made me feel better. I later realized it was more about insecurity…There were things about myself that I didn’t like. I didn’t feel whole or complete on my own. So I used women to fill in those gaps. As long as I had women around that admired me, I didn’t have to think as much about the ways I didn’t love myself.” (Cartman, 2015, p.138). Until this week I hadn’t thought as deeply about how touch specifically was connected to this. I had only done some thinking about sex. On the surface touch is an avenue for the thrill of risk. I need to get a motorcycle instead. Below the surface, I’ve been thinking about why I need to be liked so much and why I’ve leaned more on attempting to make a woman feel good physically than relying on my wit or personality.
Two weeks ago I told a women I love that when I pause and stare in her eyes I’m also checking in with myself. I am so practiced in acts of intimacy that I move on autopilot. Not only can a woman have no idea whether it’s real, neither can I. I want to be married. That’s why I date women in such close proximity to each other, my type shares interests and values. I have a fantasy that this magical woman I’m still waiting to cross paths with will know it immediately. Touch will be a language we share, it will cut through the interview process about siblings and pet peeves. There is a knowledge about her that my hands seek. Several women have told me they like touch too just not so soon. It makes them feel cheap, arbitrary, like prey. For me it’s how I get to know them, for them they would rather wait until after I get to know them. I’ve been selfish to prioritize my preference over theirs. I promise from now on to exercise more patience.
Stopping my work seems like a short-sighted victory. My work is suicide and homicide prevention. My work isn't about giving specific dating advice, thankfully. There’s a lifetime of work needed just to have basic conversations about valuing women. I was very successful at getting boys with no or bad intent to move towards good. After this experience I would have been even more effective at taking them to the next level of clearer communication, self-awareness and consistency. Soiling my name has forced some timely introspection beyond the branding and marketing level I’ve been stuck on. Now that my name has lost its social capital I get to figure out who am I beyond Dr. Obari Cartman? I believe the journey of answers to this question will help fill the gaps for which touch has been a crutch.
Sidenote: I have spent years trying to unlearn some of the trash put in my head by the graduate school training process. I knew by the end that I had reached my limit. I never had any interest in pursing a clinical license. The PhD was almost too much. I don’t mean any offense, we need folks everywhere, but I’ve met too many people with licenses that won’t do certain necessary work because they are afraid of losing their license. I’m more afraid of losing the favor of my ancestors. The license provides professional security but it also traps you in the healthcare system. To get paid by insurance companies you are required to provide diagnoses, even if you don’t believe in them. So from the moment you meet a person seeking help your brain is trained to gather information about what’s wrong with them so you can check of the appropriate label. It’s too restricting to me. Instead of spending the time gaining and keeping a license after I graduated I choose instead to study holistic and ancient healing practices and learn from Black/African masters about healing and wellness.
Intent matters but doesn’t, because women are still getting hurt. Some women read about my situation and reached out to say they also experienced me as touchy but never figured negative intent. The same action can be interpreted so many ways. The only way to know is by communicating upfront, which I am much better at now. I have no interest in an incapacitated woman. I don’t want a sex doll. I don’t want anyone subservient, young, employed by me, or vulnerable. I have always been attracted to powerful Black women. That’s the rush, to connect with a powerful woman, make her feel good and like me. I operate with them from an assumption of power, figuring they would stop me if they didn’t like a thing, the inverse would feel patronizing. So her being conscious and enjoying it has to be a part of it. But I’ve made several touch mistakes: assuming she wants it because of arrogance, interpreting silence as consent, hearing maybe as try harder, and responding to the first couple no’s with you sure? Still, being handsy is NOT the same thing as being a serial bi-sexual rapist. I’ve never imposed my will, forced anything, or overpowered anyone. There have been times when I’ve missed the message or it took a few times but I eventually get it. The vast majority of the time everything works out well. It’s such a mind fuck to have been told by woman on many occasions I’m glad you didn’t stop. I’ve been called a pussy from women for stopping too soon and talking too much. None of it makes me any less wrong for touching anyone that didn’t want it, but it doesn’t help us to pretend like patriarchy only affects men.
I would’ve signed a petition asking me to stop dating. My dating age range is 25 to 45. I could write a book about the differences between dating women from different generations of thought. I developed many of my dating habits before some of these culture shifts. I thought I adjusted well enough but apparently not. I’ve had amazing experiences, met incredible women. I’ve also ruined what could and probably should have been great friendships. If I was really about my brand I would just get married to whoever would say yes to clean up my reputation. The truth is I should probably just be alone for a while.
The reactions to my response have been informative. Some women thought I went to hard on myself. Some thought I didn’t go hard enough. A lot of men expressed familiarity. I get no comfort from people who dismiss the accusations as crazy. The extremities were the least useful. From them dang feminists and this metoo shit is ruining everything, to I hope he kill his self. I had to avoid the dramatic in my own mind. I caught a glimpse of peace when I realized I’d been at this place before with a lot of people not liking me. I though with strange relief, oh my god, I’m not the hero of this story, I’m the villain. It was tempting to respond okay fine yall are right I’m a terrible monster and will do you all a favor and disappear. I even got a little excited about my exile reading list and all the television I would get to watch. But that’s too easy. I’m not good at easy. Most people just sent love, told me to stay strong and affirmed the importance of my work, even if they were disappointed.
It always baffles me to hear the same person who claims to be a prison abolitionist make some type of reference to throwing away all the cis hetero black men. America will continue to justify mass incarceration as long we consider our own people so disposable, as long as the internet makes everyone instant judge and jury, no evidence necessary. When I was training schools to incorporate restorative justice practices we discussed how consequences should be tailored to address the particular harm done. If a student starts a food fight then that student should be assigned lunchroom clean up duty. The incident in 2005 guided my work since to repair the harm done by just the accusation of sexual assault 13 years ago. If I weren’t already doing most of it for free I would recommend that justice would include me offering more workshops and conversations pro bono. Doing less feels counterintuitive.
None of this is justification, just explanation. A cautionary tale. There are certainly those that don’t and will never care. I doubt they made it this far. There are others who have been a part of the work and know this isn’t a detour but is in fact exactly what the movement is about. I welcome the increased scrutiny this moment will bring. I appreciate being in rooms wondering who’s watching and what they might think about me. It keeps me sharp, which means more aware, not on autopilot. I appreciate the pressure of having no wiggle room to fuck up anymore. The comfort of the oblivion isn’t desirable. I don’t want women enduring or tolerating my touch. I welcome the community accountability. I need guidance, I need mentors. Losing dad at 25 and dementia soon after making me the parent to my mother has screwed the natural order. A lot of elders treat me like peer. The only person close enough to me to notice anything and pull me aside is my baby brother. Freedom to me isn’t the ability to skip around town and cause harm and no one ever say anything. I wouldn’t quite go so far to say I’m glad she did it, but I do recognize that there are were insights gained that may not have occurred any other way. I am stronger because of them. And I am still convinced that the stronger I am, the stronger we are. I welcome any help from those of you that care to help me continue to be even better.