Last week, one of my writer sheroes, author Ibi Zoboi, wrote a post on Facebook about how difficult it is to be a Black writer in the middle of political-personal turmoil. Her next novel involves a Black teen romance and she feels torn between the frothiness of love and crisis. She dropped a line that split me in two: “How can I write a love story now?” My head rung. How indeed? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And then it occurred to me that Black people and POC cannot afford to not write love stories right now.
I grew up reading romance novels where none of the characters were Black. That is not to say no Black romance novels existed. I bypassed them. Something unnameable made me choose cover art depicting White women with frilly Victorian frocks bent over by swarthy rakes. Even to this day, on the blue-moon occasion I choose a romantic book, it’s not about Black people. No one has ever stopped to interrogate me as to why. Not even my own mother. I have never dared ask myself.
Love in print has often felt like a luxury. Everything in a romance novel swells quickly, if not unnaturally: language, seeds of feeling, drama, penises. The more robust the last four things get, the better. I saw the preoccupation with (White people’s) love affairs as a form of escapism because it was. The books that surrounded the few Caucasian covered novels in my mama’s house were all Black and serious. Biographies of Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks. Fictionalized autobiography of Ruby Bridges. My childhood readings were either books with little Black kids in the hood or books with Black historic figures catching hell.
I never learned how to make Black love stories a priority.
I cannot name a period in the United States where Black people were not facing crisis. Black people loved each other through it all. We have always embraced our children with one arm, using the other to brandish sharp objects. Even our marriage ceremonies testify to the hurdles our ancestors jumped to love each other. But what do we know of love not forged in a crucible? What love stories do we possess not pockmarked with the caveats “in spite of,” or “through it all?” Terror simultaneously makes Black love a precious commodity and an afterthought. Fight to live so we can love freely later. Love becomes a footnote rather than a part of revolution.
But I think we lose something of our humanity in that process. The further we advance into *45’s Presidency, I see us warring with the need for levity in the midst of grave times. Social gatherings take on the tint of social justice. We feel guilty for wanting to curl up with bae and watch Netflix instead of CNN. Or we feel loneliness exacerbated by the emotional strain of the news bombardment. We relegate our everyday love stories to the background and try to feel nothing.
But love during resistance is also resistance.
Maybe I have been thinking about Black love stories all wrong this whole time. I have always seen love as parenthetical to resistance rather than central to it. What else but love compels us to fight even while we struggle to breathe? I don’t know when we’re ever going to get a chance to love without the threat of fire licking at our heels. As impossible as it seems, love itself must be a fire inextinguishable.
When I think about any great Black accomplishment, love is at the center of it–propelling, nurturing, protecting. We have not survived this far without love whispering our true names when oppression screeches “Toby” in our ears. That we stand here is a testament to its power. All we have ever really owned is love, and even that has come at great cost.
I can’t deny it feels like luxury to focus on the heart in the middle of crisis, but it isn’t. Your heart pumps blood to your farthest extremities. If God is love, then in love, through love, we live, move, and have our being. We can’t write or march without it. Love must be the seed to growing not only our activism, but our businesses and our communities. Sure, we gotta #staywoke. But I maintain that doing so without an ethos that prioritizes both the bodies and hearts of Black folks is counterproductive.
So love up on someone, be it platonically or romantically. Brothas, I have been so fed by your displays of platonic, Black male love. I think I needed to see it as much as you needed to feel it. Sisters, thank you for the wellspring that you’re always showering on me. I hope I give back as much as I get. Love up on those babies–manchild and magical Black girl alike. Love up on yourself. Write those Black characters falling in love into your screenplays, novels, and poems. Paint a love story on a white canvas and populate it with people of color.
Oh, it’s much easier said than done, but it’s so, so necessary. If you’re wondering, like me, “How can we write a love story now?” Ask yourself instead: “What on earth will happen to us if we do not?”
Happy Valentine’s Day. I love ya’ll!