By Aïcha Conde
As a millennial growing up predominantly in the United States of America, my definition of love and blackness cannot be separated from the socio-political landscapes of my environment. In addition to my environment, I am a black woman that is a first-generation American whose parents and ethnic cultures stem from Guinea, West Africa. All of these components influence how I define love and how I perceive love within the black community. Personally, I believe that black love is a multitude of things because blackness and love transcend many social, cultural, and physical barriers. For the purpose of this reflection, I will describe black love from three different positionalities during my lifetime.
Black love is Tradition
My first exposure to black love was with my parents and my broader family structure in Guinea, Conakry. I spent the first 8 years of my life in Conakry. It was there that I first observed what black love is, black love is tradition. Blackness itself is diverse, however within the context of Guinean life blackness is exemplified through ethnic culture, religion, and social status. Tradition is the current that all of these things flow from, there is a heavy emphasis placed on respecting elders, following the rules and way of life that is appropriate based on our genders, religions, and ethnic cultures. I found that black love for women like my mom and aunts was taking care of their families, feeding their husbands and their children, and taking care of the home. Black love for them was about serving the broader family and community to be perceived as good and responsible women. Black love for them meant following our traditional gender roles in society to ensure that there is balance in our homes and societies. However, I also learned that black love is a struggle and that it can be painful and toxic for black women. Most of the women I observed while growing up in Guinea, were in toxic relationships with their husbands, and relatives. I found that many of them tolerated abusive language and behavior because they were brought up to respect their elders and their husbands. Therefore, tradition outweighed all of the pain and struggle they endured. It was almost as if black love was not about the individual but about the broader community. Even if the individual was in pain it was justified if the broader family structure was maintained. This is why I believe tradition and culture should not remain stagnant; they should evolve. If we know better, we should do better but in many cases, it is very hard to change how people perceive gender roles and cultural norms in Guinea. I do believe that certain aspects of tradition should remain untouched and sacred, however, when it comes to black love there are many beliefs and practices that I have observed within my cultural ethnic groups that should be put to rest. However, this strikes up the question of whose job is it in society to maintain balance in society. Why do tradition and cultural pride rest on the shoulders and backs of black women that are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the community?
Black love is a complex task
It is no secret that black people and people of color around the world have been oppressed throughout history. Systems of domination like white supremacy, imperialism, colonialism have all influenced the way that communities all around the world actively love one another. These systems gave birth to other isms such as racism. Although, black people are still dealing with the effects of these systems today. We find that the battle is not just external, it is internal. Black love is a complex task of decolonizing our minds as black people from the internalized forms of oppression that guide our everyday experiences. We have to actively work against the toxic visual representations, the traumatic experiences we have faced, along with the negative stereotypes projected onto us to love one another. This is a hard thing to do because we are human beings and we are all social creatures that absorb knowledge efficiently from one another. Although this our strength it is also our weakness if we are not conscious of the cultural products we are consuming and the agendas they stem from.
Based on my personal experiences, black love is a complex task because I had to overcome my past traumas to be vulnerable with black people and especially black men. The lack of trust I grew up having, led me to distance myself from own community. I was afraid of recreating the same toxic situations I grew up observing and experiencing. I was afraid to be hurt by my own because the wounds for me would be much harder the treat and repair. I would like to clarify that I distanced myself not only physically but also emotionally. It was about never letting anyone be too close to me so they could hurt me. I found that systems of oppression like patriarchy and racism actually influence our identities as black people.
Most black men I know are afraid to be emotionally available in front of anyone because vulnerability for a black man can be very dangerous. Especially, when they are being perceived as threats and are being hunted and killed at a disproportionate rate. There is also the part that black men may have distrust in black women because of their previous experiences and the negative stereotypes perpetuated within media and society that label black women as emasculators. Most of the black women I know have been hurt so much by black men that they could never feel safe loving them. Whether that be their fathers, uncles, or other male figures in their lives. There are so many negative stereotypes perpetuated within media and society that black men are not faithful and that they are not safe partners. All of these things coupled with the fact that black women are one of the most vulnerable demographics that experience different forms of violence and abuse make it difficult to enact black love. There is also the fact that seeking justice for black women and men is a difficult task to complete within the legal system and within our own cultural and communal structures. Black women are also in competition with another because ideal beauty standards only praise European standards of beauty and at the very least a specific kind of black woman with specific features. This competition is not only based on beauty, but it also presents itself in other facets of life. How can black women love each other if they are constantly competing with one another? Especially, if the competition they are participating in is designed for all of them to lose.
I would like to state that all of these ideas presented are true for some black people but not all. We do have examples of black couples that truly love one another in healthy ways, whether they are queer or heterosexual. We also have examples of black women genuinely supporting one another. I’ve stated these previous points in my reflection to highlight different reasons why black love can be a complex task. It can be challenging loving one another with all of these factors playing against us.
Black Love is Self-Love
What is even harder than loving another black person, is loving yourself. As described in the previous sections there are so many messages we receive from society, media, and from our families that influence how we value ourselves and we truly choose to love ourselves. Self- love is a lifelong journey that is hard, complex, that has to do with decolonizing our minds, educating ourselves. Self-love also has to do with healing our wounds from past traumas, practicing self-care and most importantly, self-love is the key to loving others. Black love is not limited to romantic relationships, black love is about community, politics, tradition, culture, religion, and much more. All of these components fuse together to express a love that is universal enough to be recognized by all members of the black community. However, I would tread carefully and say that although love is universal, I think that black love is not universal. There are certain components of love amongst black people that are uniquely defined by our sociopolitical positions within society.
My own personal journey to loving myself has been a struggle, however, I find that the more I love myself and take care of myself the better I am at loving others like myself. I feel that when I was keeping my distance from my own community, I was really distancing myself from a part of me. Being afraid to love others has more to do with being afraid to love and trust yourself. Love is hard and scary. Within the context of black struggle, love is dangerous because it requires you to put your guard down and to be vulnerable. Thus, these are my current reflections on the nature of black love.
Questions for the reader: I am curious to know; How do you define black love? What are your thoughts and responses to the ideas presented within this reflection?
By Aïcha Condé
Host of WiseAïchaTalk on IG & YouTube
Don’ t hesitate to follow me @aichanator3000
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