It might be cold as ice outside, but inside a barbershop in Toronto's northwest Little Jamaica neighbourhood, things are heating up.
The buzz of a razor in action is drowned out by the crowd that has packed the Hair Play Salon to riff about Black love, honesty and hope when it comes to dating and relationships.
"The typical girl just wants the hottest guy. Most women want the bad boy, they want the guy who's getting all the girls," says barber Damien Samuels, much to the dismay of many of the women who have braved the cold to share their trials of dating while Black.
"What he's saying is right, there are some girls who want to be the matey, who don't want to be the wifey," says attendee Shevonne Chin. "Some women like that role."
"The problem is that Black women are miserable," Samuels chimes in, inciting even more teeth-kissing and hissing from the participants.
"We get this all the time — we're told we're miserable when we're asking for respect. As Black women, if Black men don't respect or support us, no one else will," says another attendee, speaking over the others fighting to say their piece.
These are hotbed topics, and those in attendance are passionate about speaking up.
And that's essentially the point of the discussion: to bring Black men and women together to communicate and connect, and to share openly about how they're feeling about the dating scene.
The barbershop-based banter is a primer for this weekend's The Journey to Black Liberation Symposium at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. Brandon Hay, the founder of the Black Daddies Club, who hosted the discussion and is co-curating the symposium, will moderate the "Black People Being Honest: A Conversation Around Monogamy, Polyamory and Black Love" talk on Saturday.
HuffPost Canada spoke to a few of the barbershop attendees to get their take on dating while Black, and what brought them to the discussion.
'We don't know unconditional love.'
Richard Blackwood, restaurant manager
What brought you here tonight?
I'm on this journey to understand my culture more. And Black love is really interesting. I've studied bell hooks, James Baldwin and I just watched if "Beale Street Could Talk" — all of which address Black love. I've travelled around and noticed that, in Toronto, it's especially hard when it comes to Black love and dating. In Europe, they're more open. But in Toronto, we can't just walk up to someone and tell them that we're interested in them because we're a closed society. So I guess I just wanted to dive into the dialogue.
Where do you think this difficulty when it comes to dating stems from?
I think this is what society has made for us, especially with social media. People want to stay inside, they don't want to go outside, especially when it's cold, they don't want to put effort in. So where is there an opportunity to interact with each other? In my parents' day, you could meet someone down the block. Today, we only meet online and have too much choice when you could swipe right or left.
In the Black culture, someone might say, "I'm down for you." Then OK, put in the work, show it. We date so passive-aggressively. And because our patience is so short, if one thing is wrong, we lose interest. We don't know unconditional love. As soon as something goes wrong, we're out.
Watch: What radical self-love looks like for Black Canadians. Story continues below.
Do you think there are challenges to dating specific to the Black community?
We got to step back and realize what's happened to the Black community. Our history. If you're looking at individuals who have been disconnected from their past, you need to have an understanding of yourself before you can have a relationship with someone else. For Black men, they may have never witnessed love. I never really witnessed love growing up, my parents were always fighting. Luckily, my friends showed me love. I didn't really know what love was until I started reading and educating myself.
Can things change when it comes to dating while Black? And if so, how?
We all have our part to play, how are we going to step up? Especially for Black people, how are we going to support each other? Men are known as aggressive, threatening. Black women are (known as) miserable, as you've heard in tonight's discussion. We've got to come together to defeat these stereotypes. What we're missing here is, do we got your back?
As a society becomes more multicultural, we gotta remember the struggle of our forefathers. That can never be erased. There are still a lot of stereotypes out there. The Black culture doesn't unite. That is what has to change.
'We're all looking for love, we're talking about love, but we can't connect with the very people we want it from.'
Chevonne Chin, co-owner and manager of Topaz Catering and Event Center
What brought you here tonight?
These discussions are always interesting. I want to know what others are saying. Most of the girls here are speaking from the "good girl" point of view, but a lot of girls are on the other side of the fence, who don't want to be good. The point is, knowledge is key, and once you have it, you can use it to your advantage. We just want to know where you're coming from, men, so we can act accordingly. A lot of people want honesty, but they don't want to accept it.
I think Black love is an anomaly, it's not the norm. And it's unfortunate that everyone here is looking for love, but they don't know how to find it. We're all looking for love, we're talking about love, but yet we can't connect with the very people who we want it from. We're hurting.
Why is Black love an anomaly?
Because it's harder for us to connect. The stigma of the bad boy exists in our community. You might want that but it's not practical to build a life around. So, you want what someone else has, but you're not thinking about all the other pieces that come with it. We glorify the bad boy culturally. We even have a term for it: gyalis. Can a gyalis be changed? If you grow up with having three, four, five girls, how do you change?
How do things change, then?
We have to take ownership over our actions. If someone's saying he's married and women are still throwing themselves at him, we have to take ownership for that, because they can't cheat if they don't have anyone to cheat with. And he has to have a reaction if he has a woman on his arm. Whatever his reaction is, I have to base my reaction on that. If he has a girlfriend and tells me so, I can either say yes or no. But we have to be upfront about things.
Are people talking about these things outside of organized discussions like tonight?
Absolutely not. They're telling you what you need to know at that given time. In love and life, is it ever fair? Somebody's got to compromise and somebody's got to lead. You have to choose if you want to be the compromising one, or do you want to be the one who leads?
'We have to hear each other and not always react.'
What brought you here tonight?
I'm new in the city and I really wanted to understand the dynamics between Black women and men in Toronto. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding between men and women. I think that's why a lot of women are single; they're trying to understand why they're single and they may think it's just our local environment. But coming tonight and hearing both perspectives, I think it's a global, millennial issue — we're all trying to survive the singles journey.
Are there dating issues specific to the Black community?
One of the big ones is the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman. The Black woman can show no emotion. If she's not happy, be careful, she's angry, she has an issue, she's not docile. Watch out! Unfortunately, it's a preconceived idea that hinders us. More and more Black women are well educated, and Black men don't necessarily feel like we need them. We have to adapt ourselves to 2019, we are capable financially, emotionally, to be as competent as men, if not more, but we still desire emotional, mental support. It doesn't take anything away from who I am and what I stand for. We need to create a better understanding of our needs and who we are.
Women have very rational ideas and we look at men to fit into that mold that we already have in our heads. Once we understand that it's OK to have different opinions in a respectful way, we can come together to build love. I could understand the women's frustration tonight, but if you don't agree, doesn't mean there isn't truth to what some of these men are saying. We have to hear each other and not always react.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.
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