My parents’ love was of the nauseating breed. Every Saturday morning I was sure to wake to the crooning of Beres Hammond and the smell of fried dumplings with ackee and salt fish while Patsy and Mikey doted on one another. They were unapologetic in displaying their admiration, a degree of devotion I was too young to appreciate at the time. Yet, even in my youthful naïveté I could not erase the imagery they left me.
So entangled was my parents’ affection—their brown skin interlocked—that I could not tell one from the other. So deep was their love I had no sense of what it was to be without passion, loyalty, and mutuality of respect. The way my father said my mother’s name, his Jamaican accent heavy; the way my mother always found herself cupped in her husband’s presence was sensual in an auspiciously unexpected way for a black couple. But this kind of love, black love, deep and lush remains grossly underrepresented.
“Black love,” an expression heralded sanctimoniously in the African American community as a nod to the outward display of black people healthily engaging in romantic relationship, is a necessary mantra though its significance still remains broadly unorthodox. The thirst for more fair representation of how black people relate to one another especially in the area of romantic pursuit remains unquenched. This is why the picture of my parents stays at the forefront of my mind.
If we allow mainstream culture to write the narrative of how black people date and marry, this culture veiled in bias would suggest we are incapable of having the kind of relationships afforded to the likes of our white and non-black peers.
If this idea feels banal consider the context in which black people live: a world where we are systemically disenfranchised in a way that has fractured the ability to develop and progress black family life. For heteronormative couples this means a generation of young black women being forced to watch young black men become victims of drug infiltration, imprisonment and lack of job accessibility.
When it comes to finding a prospect for relationship, the numbers are unbalanced. Frustration is bred from the hopelessness exacted by stymieing the life of the black community. There in the frustration black men and women have been pitied into a civil war. The trail of this civil war leading back to slave plantations when Africans were stripped not only of their culture but also the right to their very own families.
And we are not guiltless in perpetuating the stereotypes about how we love, or not do not love. White people have often pointed to the overt misogynistic storytelling in rap music and the willingness of black women to be objectified in these same songs. Reality shows profit off of black couples’ drama, baby mamas and the like. By this token, we are equally implicit in the assassination of black love and should do better to protect our images because though it is just entertainment the visuals are powerful. They unknowingly ingrain false beliefs about who we are, how we conduct ourselves and how we see our prospects for love.
The chasm of what is true and what is represented stays wide. To close this gap requires continued pushing of our romantic stories. Family programming has been a pioneer in showing positive images of Black Love. Almost every black American looks to The Cosby show as the prototype for building a loving black family. For those whose homes already reflected the care Heathcliff and Claire Huxtable shared, The Cosby show served as a sweet reminder. For those whose homes did not offer a loving environment the Cosby family became a beacon of hope for what could be possible.
Even today, the black love narrative in family programming is becoming more nuanced and shared with the kind of decadence reserved for whiteness. Take for example, Randall and Beth Pearson from NBC’s breakout show This is Us. Their relentless commitment to partnership within their marriage is refreshing. Their marriage represents a new kind of tokenism where black husbands can be determined to keep their homes safe and peaceful and black wives can be patient, supportive and “down.”
Going beyond television, artists are staking a claim in fairly representing black love. Beyonce’s Grammy Award winning album Lemonade gives an honest and beautiful portrayal of black love’s cycle, a story that is multi-generational as much as it is unilateral.
The black community knows black love to be true. We see it tucked away in our homes while our parents two-step to their favorite oldies but goodies. We live it as we explore the realms of our intimacy in relation to each other. We uphold it when we come together unified to advance our legacy. Black love is no secret but like any good love it must be shouted from the mountaintops.
Shakirah A. Hill is a culture writer living in DC. She enjoys good food, pretty clothes, running and hopping on airplanes. You can follow her meanderings @shakirahadianna and check out more of her work at shakirahadianna.com.