When it comes to Black love in America, it’s not as streamlined as everyone else’s story. Much like a relationship, it’s a complicated history which has repeatedly manifested into something positive. Relationships between Black men and women have always been a trying achievement since enslaved Africans were dragged to the Western Hemisphere. Our romance historically has never been validated or protected, but rather ripped apart through chattel slavery and a post-slavery America.
During the antebellum period, we lacked autonomy in every sense simply and because we did not belong to ourselves we were not expected to extend that privilege to our children none the less to each other, in the sense of romance.
We can’t help but think of traditions like jumping the broom, which was a way slaves showed their commitment to one another. However, this didn’t stop husbands from being sold when plantation finances demanded it, or wives from being reduced to concubines for slave masters. Their marriages didn’t prevent slave owners from pairing Black women with different men for breeding purposes, in the same way, farmers do with horses.
Despite the physical and mental atrocity that was slavery, love still existed. People still found it in themselves to fall in love.
However, when love is challenged and demeaned through abuse it’s difficult for it to flourish throughout generations. It’s hard for it to be sustained and nurtured. The relationship that Black men and women have between one another is a culmination of this history. And sometimes the joy and love is just as present as the bitterness and resentment. Like I said, it’s complicated, but we’re shown time and time again that through our blood lines, anything is possible.
Choosing to pursue love, knowing the risk of heartbreak, not born of a breakup but instead, an auction is both fearless and reckless. However, most of us wouldn’t be here had it not been for the choices our ancestors made. If there is anything they’ve taught us about love, it’s that it’s always worth the risk.
Fast forward to reconstruction, Black people in this country lived in the myth of freedom. They are met with petty Jim Crow laws intended to imprison and financially control and once again the emotional connection between Black men and women is strained. Thanks to journalists like Ida. B wells we know that Black men weren’t just disappearing but being lynched and strung up by the thousands. Between, 1882 to 1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States and 3,446 were Black victims, according to the NAACP. Laws like “reckless eyeballing” left men paying for looks with their lives or prison.
And how could we forget, New York City’s “man in the house rule.” During the 1950s, welfare workers were allowed to make unannounced visits to see if fathers were living in the home that was requesting assistance. If a man was found, the case was closed and welfare checks were blocked. Laws like this that not only targeted low-income demographics also put a large divide between Black men and women who were, in a sense given one life jacket and asked to choose.
The reason why Back love is so revered and for some, sought after, is because it’s enduring. We seek it because there were times when it was snuffed out through dehumanization and so it’s also an act of defiance to a system that was built on breeding us like mindless animals.
Even today when the media tries to sneer at our beauty and features and shows us limited healthy examples, we commit revolutionary acts against societal mainstream expectations by finding each other. Black love is manifested through sacred connections and although we didn’t all grow up seeing it, there’s something spiritual about being left in darkness and still managing to see each other.