I was one of those people who didn’t have the vocabulary or knowledge to understand my complex racial, gender, and sexual experiences until I was already in my (late) twenties. And my predominantly white college was the last place that I was going to figure any of that out.

In college, I fumbled through figuring out I was bisexual. I trudged through understanding how to love myself after I was sexually assaulted in high school. I even took years to figure out how the intersections of my identities made me predisposed to certain type of discrimination, harm, and violence. So, when I heard that Emory University was offering a course on “The Power of Black Self-Love,” it resonated with me so deeply.

According to an announcement on the University’s website, the new one-credit course is offered through the Interdisciplinary Exploration and Scholarship (IDEAS) program. The class was created by Dianne Stewart, associate professor is the Department of Religion, and Donna Troka, adjunct faculty member and associate director at the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence.

In the course, students are encouraged to “dive deeper” to investigate issues of love, coupling, and marriage and their intersections with the multi-faceted experiences of Black people in the United States. They focus on the unique historical issues and events that have undermined Black Love of the self and of the collective group.

“So many of these issues compel an exploration of black people’s history with love and lovelessness in North America,” Stewart explained. “The challenges racial justice activists confront today mirror the obstacles activists faced during the U.S. civil rights movement and earlier periods. Across such movements, the emphasis on love, or the lack thereof, deserves interrogation and reflection.

“As I tell my students, a lot of people in my field who work on black religious thought don’t give a lot of attention to love,” she says. “I thought that at a time when the humanities at many universities are being required to prove their worth, to return to an examination of love would be an important exercise — particularly love and the African American experience.”

These sentiments, while they seem pretty simple, are actually quite difficult in a world that denies the validity of Black love in all forms: between parents and children, between Black queer folx, between Black women, between Black friends, etc. It seems that there is always a movie, music video, sitcom, or other advertisement that makes Black Love invisible in some way. This class is changing that and the mentalities that come along with it.

The students perform their own free-form research projects, investigating how Black Love manifests in their own lives. Aiyanna Sanders, a sophomore majoring in Political Science at Emory, created a Black Girl Magic Gallery as a part of the course.

She describes her project saying:

“I define Black Girl Magic as an encompassing of all things that make black girls beautiful including their melanin, skin, hair, etc, but not limited to their physical attributes. Black Girl Magic is the ability of black women to rise above and beyond in a world that seeks to keep them down. In the context of my project and in the words of a friend, Black Girl Magic is the ability to just look at the camera and instantly slay without having to do or say anything.”

To be honest, this is truly inspiring. For people like me, whose life experiences have included multiple traumas, abuse, and other forms of isolation, these types of courses are imperative. However, the investigation of Black Love is important in demystifying and destigmatizing it for all people, especially non-Black people.

I sincerely hope more universities follow Emory’s lead in encouraging young Black thinkers to take seriously the topic of Black Love. If they do, we will all be better for it.


Image courtesy Aiyanna Sanders

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