Black Boys Soaring and the Women Who Pay the Price

by Shanel Adams

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison points out nearly every issue the Black community faces through supernatural yet relatable characters and a twisted storyline. Like only Morrison knows how, the novel is inundated with suspense that keeps you entranced until the book is finished. Looking back on the novel, I began to think about how Milkman, the main character, mirrors a few Black men I know. Attractive, intelligent, but the confusion about his Blackness and haunting secrets of his family affects how he operates in society. He reminds me of men who juggle masculinity and vulnerability as if they cannot co-exist. Milkman is that guy that we know, whether athlete, business professional or street hustler, who has everything going for himself but an identity of his own.

What is most evident in Song of Solomon is the women like Pilate and Hagar who are abandoned after being used by Black men. I imagine this is what happens when Black women wait forever for their significant other to get it together only to be left in the dust. Or when Black women scrape and scuffle to provide for sons who are committed to leaving them disappointed. What happens to the women who sacrifice their all for men to make them proud sooner or later?


Pilate is a Grandmother Raising a Grandson

Pilate in Song of Solomon is a mess of a woman who provides a foundation to many of the people around her. Though she raised her brother, her unkempt lifestyle leaves him embarrassed and separated from her despite all she’s done for him to have success. This scenario reminds me of an older woman I know who raised her grandchildren following the drug addiction of her daughter. She expressed to me how overwhelmed this made her because she never planned on raising an extra set of kids. What hurt her more than anything is after giving up her life to raise her grandson, he still holds a level of resentment over her head. The last time I spoke to her she told me about an argument where he insulted her by saying how embarrassed he was to be raised by her growing up. His childhood, even as a middle-age Black man, still pains him to the point he wants her to feel it every time she has a chance. Even with material success, the weight of his past, like Milkman in Song of Solomon, holds him back from emotional and mental freedom.


Hagar is a Black Woman’s Sacrifices for Unfaithfulness

Hagar, Pilate’s granddaughter in the book, is romantically involved with Milkman who leaves her more broken than he found her. Hagar is way too many young women I know. Women who cherish Black men so deeply that their own well-being is compromised continuously. One woman I see struggling with this is a distant friend of mine who is the quintessential Black woman. She has beauty, strength, class, cooking skills, education and a man who worries her sick. I have watched her leave behind job opportunities to stress her commitment to their love only to be heartbroken by his actions moments after. She represents every woman who feels like support for your significant other is laying your own life on the line for his benefit even if you can’t expect that in return.


Black Women Should Give Way to the Air

Getting lost in someone else while trying to support them is dangerous. Yet, many Black women take on this challenge for the love of a Black man's potential success. With the oppression placed on Black men in society, Black women confuse their obsession with the growth of Black men for unconditional love. What we see in Song of Solomon is that no matter how many people Milkman ran to, he ultimately had to face himself. The most beautiful part of the book is the last line: "If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it." When Black women work themselves sick to create an opportunity for Black men to soar, they are suggesting that their lives are less significant. Not only that, but they are fostering men who never surrender to their calling because they only know how to lean on the women around them. Song of Solomon is a reflection of the women who pay the physical, emotional, and even financial price for a Black man around them to prosper. Most importantly, it provides an even greater example of how freeing it is for Black men to have the opportunity to soar on their own.