Romance is not the only type of Black love that matters
We should never devalue our non-romantic relationships or push them to the periphery, because our lives are full of love stories.
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within…”
— James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
Black love is important. Some call it revolutionary. There are an abundance of art projects and essays which make that argument and explain why Black love matters—be it because marriage between enslaved Africans was largely forbidden on the plantation unless it was sanctioned by their white owners, or because the prison industrial complex of the New Jim Crow Era funnels Black people into the prison system and fractures Black families.
Lovetractionlines books tell us that existing in this anti-Black world, we are taught to associate all things beautiful, bright, and right with whiteness, white aesthetic, and white knowledge production. This leaves so many of us unable to find the things worthy of love within our Black selves and the Black souls around us. It leaves us questioning the value, worth, and humanity of our Blackness. Finding our way to loving this Blackness and the people who carry it—sometimes even as we still believe the white lies about how ugly and inhuman it is—is an act of resistance.
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Black love is important, and I want the world to know it. I want it to be visible, and loud, and unapologetic, but I also want it to be inclusive and balanced.
In the mainstream movement to celebrate Black love, the predominant image has been heteronormative and cisnormative. Though it has afforded more and more visibility to queer couples throughout the years, it has also been largely romance-centric.
But life partners and significant others need not be romantic. I challenge us to trouble the idea that they always should be, because non-romantic types of Black love deserve to be celebrated with equal appreciation.
I want us to expand the mainstream idea of Black love to include platonic, queerplatonic, communal, and other non-romantic relationships among Black people.
Whatever impulse other people have that draws them towards the romantic, I ain’t got it. It took me years of adolescent uncertainty and one adult relationship with an emotional vampire for me to accept this as my truth.
During those many years of uncertainty, I was forced to wade through gaslighting and invalidation from people around me. I was shamed for my unwillingness to involve myself in romantic and sexual entanglements. My feelings and wishes about sex and relationships were continually dismissed and disregarded, and my boundaries repeatedly violated as I was inundated with concerns about others not wanting me to “end up alone.”
These experiences taught me that romantic relationships and partnerships were the only ones worthy of any significance. Likewise, my aversion to them meant that I was ultimately unworthy and insignificant myself.
This, unfortunately, is a sentiment shared and expressed by many, whether they realize it or not. It’s present in the belief that romantic and sexual partnerships are inherently more significant than relationships without these elements. It’s especially apparent in the sexist and misogynistic idea that married or romantically partnered womxn have more social and moral value than single womxn. The notion that romance should be at the center of our lives is one that is pervasive, limiting, and often harmful.
Building a community by forming strong platonic and queerplatonic bonds with like-minded, understanding, and supportive people has been essential to my mental health and emotional well-being. Especially my friendships with Black womxn.
The bonds that Black womxn share amongst ourselves are unlike any other. It is with Black womxn that I am able to be completely and unapologetically myself. It is with Black womxn that I have been able to foster a sisterhood, kinship, and camaraderie that fulfills me and will never let me be alone.
Black sisterhood provides us comfort, trust, accountability, support, transparency, sincerity, affection, and intimacy, even in the moments when we are silent. We all we got, and we work tirelessly to protect and mother ourselves in a world that has no interest in protecting us, but is constantly asking us to mother everyone else.
The revival of Zora Neale Hurston’s grave and writings is one of my favorite love stories, and I often turn to it to illustrate the power of love between Black womxn:
“Few know that [Zora Neale] Hurston died in a Welfare Home, and was buried in an unmarked grave in 1960. Few know that her work went largely unread for years afterwards. In fact, Their Eyes Were Watching God was almost lost in its obscurity, as were her other works, and even the location of her remains. But do you know who looked for her? Do you know who found her and pushed her writing back into the literary light? Do you know who, with help from a friend, paid to have a headstone made 13 years after Hurston’s death? Alice Walker.”
Alice fell in love with Zora’s spirit and brought her back from the dead, even though she had never known her in life. It is because of the love among Black womxn that works like Their Eyes Were Watching God and Tell My Horse are known to and appreciated by us today.
You will never convince me that this type of Black love does not matter as much because it is not romantic. This is friendship and community at work, and it is essential to life.
The lessons I have learned from my friendship and community with Black womxn have been abiding and abundant. They have taught me to stand firmly in my anger, to be gentle with myself, to know the value of my labor and that not everyone deserves it, to trust myself, to guard my heart, and to stand in my joy.
I will always very publicly and enthusiastically celebrate us, expressing my appreciation and admiration for the community that loves me on purpose, and I will do so in the same way that so many other folks declare their love for romantic partners. These Black womxn have been and are essential to me, my life and my journey, and what we share is just as valid and important as any romantic relationship.
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The audacity to challenge white ascendant ideologies by loving Blackness and Black people in the face of white supremacy is something that I believe is necessary for our survival.
We need these connections among and with other Black people in order to survive in this anti-Black world, and we should not limit the idea of revolutionary and resistive Black love to romance. We should never devalue our non-romantic relationships or push them to the periphery, because our lives are full of love stories and they all matter.